El Salvador Origin Trip January 2016

Posted on January 29, 2016 by Louis Nahlik


Dispatch by Frank McGinty, Tyler Zimmer, and Tony Auger. Photos by Tony Auger.

Jan 17 – After a full day of travel with the FeastTV crew and Emilio Lopez, we were all able to rendezvous in Houston and make the 2.5 hour flight to San Salvador. Emilio had a van waiting and we made the 45 minute drive through the night into the Salvadorian capital.

Jan 18 - We woke at Casa Mia B&B in San Salvador to the sights and sounds of the beautiful complex. After a delicious breakfast of eggs, papaya, and smoky beans, we were picked up by Dana, who does QC for Cuatro M, and Roberto (Emilio’s Cousin). An hour and a half drive later, with one pit stop in Santa Ana to pick up booze, we made it to the beautiful mountainside farm of El Manzano. We took a few quick minutes to take in the beauty of the coffee oasis, before a mill (or beneficio) tour, calibration cupping with us and Emilio’s team and a production cupping to begin building the blender coffee and microlots that will help fill the container we’re shipping back to Missouri. Later that afternoon we had the pleasure of meeting the Perez family (Luis Raphel, Luis Ferndado and Alicia) from the 12 acre farm of San Roberto as they brought in the scarlet cherry that had been picked that day and brought by truck to the El Manzano Mill. Their farm is over 1500 meters and planted with Bourbon and yellow Catuai. As night fell, we and the FeastTV crew were able to experience and document the extremely sophisticated wet mill that Emilio and his team have in place. The most astonishing realization was the attention to detail and information gathered by the team with each and every coffee that comes through the gates of El Manzano. Truly a pioneer with specialty coffee production, Emilio is tracking gram weight per cherry, brix of sugar content, sorting by varietal, ripeness, size, and cherry density. The complex milling and sorting system allows his team to sort, rinse, de-pulp, and choose the processing format (natural, pulp natural, dry fermented, mechanical washed), all being tracked every step of the 20-30 minute process.


Jan 19 – After spending the late hours of the night sitting around the bonfire sipping on rum, the 5:00am alarm came abruptly as we awoke to head to the top point of Emilio’s farm to catch the sunrise over the Finca El Manzano. The lack of sleep was worth the venue, as we were able to experience one of the most beautiful scenes over the farm. The crew spent the rest of the morning on a guided hike with Emilio through the higher plots of his farm, each planted with specific varietals of different coffees (Red Bourbon, Yellow Bourbon, Orange Bourbon, Pacamara, SL-28, SL-34, Geisha, and Pacas). Once back on the farm we were able to do a second cupping to finalize the selection of coffee for our container (275 bags, each 69 kilos) of green coffee to be shipping back to St. Louis from Emilio’s farm. That afternoon Emilio took the group down the mountain to his lower elevation coffee farm, these being planted in large lots of very organized rows of coffee trees, similar to the farms that Emilio experienced in his travels to Brazil. Looking to the future of the sustainability of the coffee industry, Emilio continues to push the boundary on what is expected of the farming practices in El Salvador. While most coffee in El Salvador is shade gown, Emilio feels that the future of coffee in El Salvador is the balance of business, quality and quantity, and is okay with challenging the norm to sustain the industry in his country with the practice of sun exposed, very systematic farming practice that allow him to produce greater yield and quick growth times.

That evening we were treated to Emilio’s grilling skills as he prepared pork ribs, beef tenderloin, tortillas, pickled vegetables, and black beans for us as we dined al fresco with the gorgeous back drop of the mountains and volcanoes surrounding us. As the sun set, we once again made our way around the fire pit, sipping on local beverage and sharing stories of travel, food, and family.


Jan 20 – Awakening to another beautiful Salvadorian morning on the farm to a full breakfast of plantains with black beans, eggs, and fresh, we packed our back packs for a day trip to visit the farm of Brett Markwort, a fellow St Louis resident, whose family is from El Salvador and Uncle Rene Cornejo operates a few smaller coffee farms just outside the town of Ahuachapan. We met Brett and Rene at the family’s home in the small town about an hour from Emilio’s farm and where we toured the multiple tablons (small plots of coffee) operated by the family, each being planted with bourbon, pacas, and pacamara. These farms were very different from what we experienced at Emilio’s, all being heavily shade grown in an almost jungle like setting in smaller, flatter plots. After checking out the breathtaking venue from the lookout point over the town of Ataco, we headed back to the family home and were treated to an amazing lunch in the courtyard, along with ping pong and a little Barry White on vinyl. That evening we made our way back to Finca El Manzano and were able to see a bit more of the nightly coffee deliveries from the farms and wet milling process before crashing for the night.


Jan 21 – Our final morning waking on the farm, we were able to check out the dry mill of Emilio’s operation, seeing how the coffee is brought through in parchment (pergamino in Spanish), loaded into the dry mill where the parchment is removed, the green coffee is sorted, screened, and cleaned, finally making it’s way to it’s final destination of the 69 kilo (152lb) bags that will be shipped to Houston, then sent on rail to the caves of Kansas City, then finally to our Roastery in STL.

Later that morning we said goodbye to the team at Finca El Manzano and were picked up by Maria Pacas of Cafe Pacas to tour her farms and mill about an hour away by car. The Pacas family has been in the coffee business for 6 generations, owning and operating multiple farms, a nursery, wet mill and dry mill, offices, and a QC lab. The farms were high in the mountains, on the Santa Ana volcano, set between 1500-1750 meters. We started high on the farm of San Joaquin, hiking our way down, as Maria and her farm manager lead us through the tight rows of Bourbon, Pacas, and Pacamara coffee trees. One of the most interesting practices is that her family utilizes is the “agovio” method, bending the main branches of the tree, allowing multiple shoots to grow and maximizing the production of each tree.  This is a unique way to grow coffee and we’ve only seen it in El Salvador.

After making our may back down the mountain and checking out a neighboring farm operated by Maria’s family, El Retiro, we took an hour drive to the Café Pacas offices and mill about 20 minutes outside of the country capital of San Salvador. Built 25 years ago by Maria’s father Alfredo, the nursery, office, and mill allow Café Pacas to have vertical control over each step of the green coffee that is stamped with their name. After a quick lunch at the office we cupped 9 different micro-lots of coffee that Maria and her lead roaster had prepared for us. This table proved to be some of the best coffees we had tasted over the past few days, all scoring between 84-86.5, convincing us to buy two of the different micro-lots on the table, one from Los Bellotos and the other from El Talapo. Leaving the cupping lab, Maria gave us a full tour of the wet mill, drying patios and dry mill there, allowing us to see the very well run operation and attention to detail at every step of the process by the Pacas family.

Back at the offices, we were treated to a small tasting of the Pacas family of rum, made from their sugar cane farm in El Salvador, proving to be a perfect way to wrap up our experience with Maria and her family’s impressive operation. That night we made our way back to San Salavador and spent the evening at Emilio’s home cooking and eating pupusa (stuffed masa pancakes).

Keep an eye out for the Feast TV episode about this trip, set to air this summer.

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