Jack (CEO) and Dismas (Head Roaster) are on a coffee buying trip to Central America. These are notes from their journey.

Sorting Coffee Cherries.

Feb 12, 2015

The alarm rings all too early but about 5 cups of AeroPress coffee get us to our flight on time. We arrive in El Salvador very early and Juan Luis, the Ortiz family driver for the last 42 years, meets us. He doesn’t speak much, but his welcoming eyes and smile are the perfect greeting. We hop in the car and drive to Talnamica, two hours away. El Salvador is beautiful with many volcanos that scatter the horizon.

Farmer with his coffee cherries.

About 10:45am, we arrive at Finca Talnamica, where the Ortiz family home is located. Nena and Hermann, husband and wife who represent the family in all decisions, greet us with big hugs! We have been working with them for over 4 years and have become very close. After catching up, we go inside for lunch. Sadly, our usual caretaker, Tita, is home recovering from surgery. Nena informs us Tita was incredibly upset she couldn’t be there for us and apologized. She is simply the sweetest! So, without Tita, we have lunch and head out to the farm. Miguel Angel is the manager of the farm and is essentially the Michelangelo of Talnamica. His attention to detail is completely amazing and has become the standard for all the Ortiz family farms. We see the harvest in full swing, with the patio full of people delivering cherry, sorting, and weighing their day’s pick. It is a wonderful time and kids are playing and eating ice cream. It’s getting late so we decide to visit Tita. We gently and happily give her a little hug and share some photos. Now our stay at Talnamica is complete. After dinner, we sit on the porch and drink some Flor de Cana rum, discussing the incredible day. It’s breezy and cool. We all sleep like babies.

Boy with ice cream at the harvest.

Feb 13, 2015

Jack and Dismas cupping.

We wake up and have a typical breakfast of huevos, beans, and tortillas. We talk of getting to Natamaya, but it isn’t likely we’ll have time. I brought another nice check to present to the remote village Canton Ojo de Agua above Natamaya. We raised almost $2,000 dollars this year! Nena promises to give them the check and to get pictures of the soccer field they built with last year’s donation. We pack up and wave goodbye to Talnamica.

Our next destination is CuatroM, the best mill in El Salvador, where the Ortiz family has its coffee prepared. Dana Foster, an old friend, is now the head of quality control and does all the cupping and scoring of coffees. During the harvest, she works 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 3 1/2 months! We arrive about 10:30am and Emilio Lopez Diaz, the owner of the mill, greets us. He’s also under a tremendous work load during this time. Not only does he run a very busy mill, but he has Finca El Manzano and is on the executive council of Roasters Guild.

We’re cupping the Ortiz coffees so we have ten to consider. We’re looking for a blender coffee for our Queen Anne and Espresso blends and we hope to find some micro lots for our Daring single origin line. The table is very strong, with coffee scoring a full point higher than last year. The micro lots are cupping 86.5 and our blender is a solid 85. The Ortiz family is doing an impressive job! We were their first specialty buyers and now they have many direct trade coffee buying customers. They used to sell coffee cherry to mills that put all the coffee together and paid a price based on the C market. This year, they would have received approximately $1.25/lb. By selling specialty coffee, they will earn between $2.70 and $4.00/lb. That remarkable increase is allowing them to put more money back into the farms.

CuatroM drying patios.

We enjoy a nice lunch next to the drying patios. It’s an amazing view and if you look at any Caffe Ladro storemenu you’ll see it in the background. Next, we tour the Beneficio and walk Finca El Manzano. It’s rewarding and humbling to be this close to the coffee and involved in this amazing process. It’s 6:30pm when we get back to the house for an awesome night with plenty of grilled meats, ron (rum), Cervezas, and—most importantly—lots of coffee stories. Dismas was holding court for sure but I managed a few lies too. Bed came very late!

Feb 14, 2015: Dia de los Enamorados.

We wake with a start. Bang, bang, bang on the door: “Get up, you’re late! Malacara B is here to pick you up.” It’s 7:20am and we’re supposed to be ready to go in ten minutes! Roberto Dumont picks us up and we head for Beneficio Bourbollon. Roberto is very easy to like: he’s tall, gracious, and doesn’t show his 60-plus years. We drive about 1 1/2 hours to the mill. When we arrive, we greet Roberto’s son, Rodrigo. We’re friends from last year’s trip and he came to the SCAA conference in Seattle last April.

Jack cup-fainting.

We tour the Beneficio and observe evidence of great sorting and quality control, then we sit down to cup Malacara B’s coffees. We’re there to explore their micro lots. From the big table, I choose two standouts that both show astonishing sweetness and balanced acidity. I’m happy to learn the coffees are the orange Bourbon we bought last year and its sister coffee, a yellow Bourbon. These coffees are still being harvested, so quantities aren’t available yet. Hopefully we can get some! We thank Jorge, the manager of Bourbollon, then we jump in the trucks and head for Finca Malacara B. Malacara has a rich history in El Salvador. Rodrigo is a fifth generation coffee farmer. His great grandfather famously led El Salvador into the world coffee market, making the Malacara brand synonymous with El Salvadoran coffee. When Roberto’s father passed away, his mother split the farm into three separate farms, Malacara A, B, and C, giving one to each son.

Yellow Bourbon.

When we arrive, we see a lot of the pickers delivering their cherry to be weighed. While touring the farm, we discuss their pruning and fertilization strategies. New trees take three years to produce cherry. They explain how replanting 15-20% of the land each year is very important since new plants fight the Roya (Rust). Though replanting isn’t cheap, old plants are more susceptible to this fungus.

We go for a drive and look at the housing and soccer field they provide for all their pickers. They also provide three meals a day and have a clinic and school for the families. Their workers return year after year. We stop at the original house where Roberto was born and enjoy some delicious soup and pupusas on the porch for lunch.

Dismas helping out.

The next part of our journey is a wonderful surprise. Roberto takes us to his house on Lake Coatepeque, in the middle of a volcanic caldera. Eruptions 72,000 years ago left a huge basin in the mountain that’s now a stunning lake encircled with mountains. He treats us to an amazing meal of seafood paella and banana cream pie. While so thankful for the nice break, we must say goodbye and drive back to the hotel. Morning—and our trip to Costa Rica—will come quickly.

– Jack