Travelling around Chalatenango with Caravela we were really impressed with the infrastructures in place for smallholders around La Palma to produce really complex, stable lots, which we’re proud to showcase in this lot, El Mural.
The Producers & Their Approach
Maura Ochoa is an experienced coffee producer in El Salvador’s Chalatenango region, near the town of La Palma. She is working with her son, Carlos, and his wife Ceci, who live at the farm along with their daughter, Dani. The majority of Maura’s 10 children have emigrated to the US for work, whilst Carlos is one of only two who remain to continue in the family’s business of cultivating coffee. Carlos has been working with his mother in coffee production since he was 12.
They are growing typica, pacas, pacamara and bourbon varieties, which are kept separate and undergo different processing and drying protocols. They have an ingenious solution to bring the harvested coffee cherries to the wet mill, wherein they have built a pipe network with a hopper amongst the trees which feeds the collected fruit down into a reception tank, so the pickers don’t need to carry the heavy sacks or baskets down the steep terrain.
The typica is normally dried on patios, whereas the other varieties are dried on raised beds. They are fermenting the pacamara in sealed bags, whereas the other lost are treated more traditionally in large, concrete fermentation tanks. Before depulping they float the cherries in the water used to sluice the fruit down into the reception tank, which helps to remove damaged cherries and they subsequently scan through the raised beds whilst the parchment is drying to remove ‘secos’ or ‘pods’.
The other producer who has contributed to this lot is William Lemus. At just 29 years old he has less experience than Maura and her family, but since moving back to the countryside from the city he has made some big changes to his approach to coffee production at his farm, Finca El Sauce, which is just about 1-hectare in size. Up until 3 years ago he was selling his coffee as generic, commercial coffee, but Caravela noticed the potential for quality and so he has revised his protocols.
Tending to mostly pacas, with a little pacamara, his coffee is growing under native shade trees. He is experimenting with both honey processing and a revised approach to washed coffees, wherein the coffee is held in cherry for 24 hours before depulping and is then fermented for between 18 and 24 hours to achieve the a more complex cup profile.
Caravela & Their PECA Program
We visited the producers in Chalatenango with Caravela and agronomists from their PECA program early last year. It is heartening to see their sincere dedication to improving producers’ livelihoods through dispensing valuable agronomical and economical advice.
We witnessed them not only discussing farm practices, including approaches to pruning and shade management, but also when to apply different inputs and treat their coffee trees to ensure they are performing at optimal health. Something we hadn’t seen before was their usage of a ‘Cerezometro’ or ‘cherry meter’, which is a square block with 100 indentations. It is used to assess the quality of picking, arranging 10 rows by 10 rows of coffee cherries from the least ripe to overripe, and they explain what each end of the spectrum might contribute to the cup. Less ripe cherries may introduce astringency whereas overripe cherries can impart alcoholic or even phenolic flavours.
Directly feeding back at the farm level will arm the producers with more information as to how to produce specialty quality lots, earning them a premium payment. On the back of the board, depulped parchment coffee is assessed to garner information as to how well the depulper is calibrated and see how far the fermentation has gone to ‘dial in’ the right processing approach for each farmer they are visiting with.
La Palma, Chalatenango, El Salvador
Deep, fudgy caramels remind us of sweet chestnut paste. A luscious body like the juice from roasted peaches precedes an aromatic finish of browned butter & gentle lilac.