Earlier this year we again headed back to El Salvador to visit JASAL our longstanding partners, run by Jose Antonio and Andres Salaverria at their Las Cruces estate in Santa Ana. Typically the lots we purchase from them come from Finca San Francisco, but we tasted coffee from another of their farms which caught us completely by surprise.
Cupping at the Las Cruces lab, we tasted a coffee which once revealed made our jaws drop! Initial flavour notes of marshmallow, rose water, dried raspberry, plump, carob and sugary, we’d earmarked this coffee as something to pursue. When revealed we almost did a double take. “It’s a Catimor!?” The brothers nodded. “This coffee always tastes amazing, but once people find out it’s Catimor, they’re no longer interested. This is why it is so important to cup blind!” The name Catimor acts as a portmanteau, telling you of the variety’s heritage; a cross between Caturra and East Timor Hybrid (a naturally occurring Robusta-Arabica cross). We’re not prejudiced against the variety, but this coffee goes against a lot of what we thought we knew, and what we’d historically tasted of Catimor. Wanting to learn more, the next day we visited the farm.
The Catimor 5175 variety was planted on Finca Santa Rita ‘Vivero Santa Clara’ 35 years ago, alongside their own Hybrido San Francisco and Catuaí, underneath a canopy of Gravileo shade trees. Managing the growth of the trees in a cycle, they prune back one row in three each year, which they call ‘Snake Pruning’ as the height of the rows shimmy up and down in a snakey fashion. They also eliminate new vertical growth on trees with bumper crops to promote greater lateral growth. When harvesting, the Catimor coffee cherries are picked beyond the normal ripe-red colour we know. Instead, they’re an intense purple, almost turning a winey-brown; if you eat a cherry at this stage, the juice inside is so concentrated and sticky it feels like honey in your mouth!
The beans themselves are quite fat, mirroring the tree’s leaves which are broad and rich in colour, and it was fascinating to see the Catimor’s built-in tolerance to the coffee rust fungus. Whilst some patches of rust on the leaves are present, the hybrid’s genetic hardiness means the decimating threat of the small orange rust circles are kept under control like it has antibodies or white blood cells to combat roya.
Over the years, with Jose Antonio’s expertise in the field, JASAL have worked out how to prune and care for their Catimor trees and when the variety needs to be picked to get the best results. Andres, having cupped the coffee each season processed in many different ways, has concluded that the best expression of this coffee requires a combination of very ripe (some would argue over-ripe) harvesting protocols, before drying with all the mucilage left on the parchment; what some might call 100% mucilage or black honey processing.
We hope you find this coffee sweet and complex, just as we do, and that it might make you reassess the role of hybrid coffee varieties within specialty coffee.
Apaneca, Ahuachapán, El Salvador
Rustic and satisfying, look for notes of muscovado sugar, brandy snaps, cedar, dark chocolate and toffee, as well as a full, chewy mouthfeel.