Travelling to origin and seeing where the coffee you brew everyday comes from is one of the most exciting things I can think of, so when the opportunity came up for me to visit El Salvador and help source KIN+ILK’s direct trade coffee - naturally I jumped at the chance.
At KIN+ILK our brand has always revolved around the idea of collaboration. Building on the relationships that Clifton Coffee Roasters have with coffee producers in El Salvador, we have been able to offer coffee that is directly sourced from farmers & producers, without the need for importers or ‘middle men’. Buying directly and forming these relationships is beneficial for coffee producers but also for consumers who end up with a product with 100% traceability.
El Salvador was once the third largest coffee producer in the world, and during the 1980’s the coffee industry accounted for 50% of the country’s GDP. After a decade long civil war, coupled with poorly implemented land reform - yields and exports declined dramatically.
Despite all of this, there are coffee producers growing outstanding coffee and there has been an additional focus on producing specialty grade coffee rather than mass market commodity coffee.
For my visit to El Salvador, I was joining up with Clifton Coffee Roasters on their annual sourcing trip to the region. Clifton have made a bold step to go direct and buy from the producers in an effort to improve traceability, transparency, coffee quality and building valuable relationships with coffee producers in the region. Their direct trade offering from El Salvador is called the E1 project, having chosen El Salvador as the perfect origin due to the versatility & quality of the coffee grown in the region.
One of the relationships that has proven to be invaluable is with Fernando Lima. The Lima family own many farms in the Santa Ana region of El Salvador and are the most decorated Cup of Excellence winning family of all time globally. Fernando and his brother, Riccardo Lima were fantastic hosts - on our final night in San Salvador we had the privilege to have dinner with Fernando and his wife.
We spent the majority of our time in El Salvador visiting farms & coffee mills, from our base in San Salvador, we travelled west towards the Cordillera de Apaneca volcanic mountain range. The ride through the city into the surrounding country was fascinating, from the colourful busses to the striking level of poverty. We left the highway and began our ascent up steep, windy roads which are only accessible via foot or 4x4 to the coffee farms at high altitude.
One such farm is Finca El Corozo - a farm situated on Ilamatepec, a huge volcano which erupted in 2005 covering the farm in over a foot of volcanic ash. Fernando has rebuilt the farm, planting both Pacamara & Bourbon varietals which are thriving in part due to the fertile volcanic soil.
Another farm owned by the Lima family that we visited was Mirrivale, located high up in the mountains and shaded by cloud cover on one side but not the other in something that I can only describe as a microclimate. The cherries here were in huge bunches, only a few days from harvest - this farm was one of the most beautiful places i’ve ever been.
Next on the itinerary - Cuzcachapa mill, this is where coffee producers from the surrounding area come to process and get their coffees ready for export. Here we blind tasted & cupped the coffees available for purchase. One coffee on the table stood out for it’s sweetness and that turned out to be coffee from the El Corozo farm we visited.
Before we started tasting and comparing the coffees on offer at the mill, I knew that I was after a coffee that would make a great espresso - something that would taste great in milk as well as black. We tried the coffee from Finca El Corozo processed naturally, honey and washed, I picked out the honey process because it has the incredible sweetness and body I was after in our house espresso at KIN+ILK.
The trip was a perspective changing experience. Witnessing the sheer passion & hard work that coffee producers such as Fernando and Riccardo put into the quality of their exports was truly inspiring. Their knowledge of not just producing coffee at origin, but other aspects of the industry was surprising to me, but maybe I should have expected that - their livelihood depends on it after all.
One thing that I didn’t expect was the low density of the high altitude farms, I expected to be wandering through vineyard-like rows of coffee bushes but the farms we visited were more unorganised and low density. Thinking about how much coffee we can go through in a busy morning rush and how that relates to acreage on a farm was truly perspective changing!
We returned to the UK having tasted some incredible coffees. It was the first trip to origin for three of the four of us that travelled to El Salvador and we left with newfound perspectives and respect for the people that produce the coffee we use everyday.
We're excited to share the coffee we tasted in El Salvador - and can’t wait for you to try our very own Finca El Corozo very soon!