Wow, another packed and crazy day. After breakfast at the home of Roberto and Lucia Ortiz, we were back on the road to the Santa Ana region of El Salvador. We went straight to the home of Aida Battle and then on to the J Hill Beneficio to tour the mill and cup some coffees from the Aida’s Special Collection, a group of farms and coffee’s who Aida works with to create special lots.
The patios at the beneficio were large and covered with a mix of washed, honey and natural coffees. Touring the grounds we visited the nursery where 220,000 (yes two-hundred and twenty thousand) coffee plants of various and unique varietals were growing. Up the path and toward the mountains we saw one million dollars. Ok, so it wasn’t really green money, but the end result of what $1,000,000 will buy. And what that bought was a water purification system with a series of 4 football sized lagoons at different elevations. The water travels from one lagoon till the other and after 21 days the water is purified enough to recycle back to the streams surrounding the mill.
After the tour we cupped our first table of coffee from the Aida special collection. All were fresh off the patio without much needed rest. Some were nice, a few flat, and a couple outstanding. Aida has promised to start sending us samples of the great coffee by J Hill. From cupping to lunch and onward to Finca Kilimanjaro (the prized organic lot that earned this farm the #1 COE of 2003). What makes her farm unique is not just her commitment to organic sustainability, but the African varietal of bean growing at her farm. The resulting cup is consistently at 90+ points. All but a couple bags go to our friends in Norway.
The road to Kilimanjaro was a long, narrow, really rough and rocky dirt road. I remember thinking this would be fun on the dirt bikes. As we got closer the temperature dropped from 90 to 60 degrees. Her farm, north facing so on the shaded side of the mountain, was draped with shade trees at 1700 meters (amongst the highest in El Salvador). Aida’s commitment to organic, like many others, comes at a price: her yield is low per hectare. And whether this low yield is due to higher elevation, considerable shade, resulting lower temps, or her organic practices - I do not know, but as long as the beans continue to produce a great cup, Aida is committed to continue this path. As a side note, Aida was the first coffee producer to pass the level 1 barista exam at Camp Pull a Shot put on by Heather and the Barista Guild of America. This training gave Aida a renewed appreciation for the baristas and the work they do to honor the farmer.
As darkness fell on the farm it was time to head back down the mountain, but our day was not complete as we drove to Benificio Las Crusas and joined Jose Antonio Salaverria. His family has been in the coffee business for 128 years and owns farms from Santa Ana to the Guatemalan border. He also manages many others as well as his own mills for processing. We enjoyed great conversation over dinner followed by a tour of the mill as cherry were being delivered and processed.
New this year is a wet process system that uses 16 aqua pulpers at the same time. This allows the delivered cherry to be processed right away. The aqua pulper uses a fraction of the water of a conventional wet processed mill. After processing and drying, another of the quality systems by Jose Antonio is the sorting that guarantees zero defects. Starting with a series of density separators to remove hollow or light beans, the beans then go through a cycle to further separate bad beans, followed by another density separator called an Oliver. From there the beans are run through a computerized color sensor that removes all off color beans. As a final step, the beans are run on a conveyor belt into a room full of ladies who hand separate any bad beans missed by all the mechanical equipment. It is this attention to detail that separates Las Cruces from many other benificios.
From there, and nearing midnight, we called it a day as morning cupping stated early our fourth day.
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