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The El Salvador Sourcing Trip Viva Espresso (Day 2 & 6)

from Tarra Samuelson

Viva Espresso - Day 2

Never have my barista skills been tested than the day I worked at Viva Espresso, A specialty coffee shop in El Salvador. I was invited to work for a day in the shop and experience barista life in another country. I knew I would have to be on my game that day. Viva Espresso holds five national titles and one World Barista Championship. I met the owner, Lico and Lily, as well as William, the new National champion and World Barista candidate. I met Alejandro Mendez, the 2011 World Champion as well. All were incredibly welcoming and helpful people. The relationship between coffee and the people who serve it is so different in El Salvador, so much more grounded and earthly in a sense. They visually see the process of seed-to-cup and live within a social economy whose welfare depends on it. I see their relationship to coffee as organic, or from their roots; many can even claim it’s in their blood. Such a passion translates into their work, and it was such a pleasure to have been a part of that craft, or better put, their craft. Adventures with Viva Espresso began on two day, when I arrived in San Salvador. Accompanied by Mike, Lucia de Ortiz and Heather, we head to Viva Espresso’s headquarter, or “lab” as I see it. We walk into a modern stage, ready for William’s practice performance. While performing, my job was to judge William on several sensual aspects of his coffee, such as quality of espresso, foam density on his cappuccino, contrast of his latte art, and his overall energy as a competitor. For his specialty drink, William used an AeroPress, combining espresso, dried coffee cherries, and a few other ingredients. The resulting drink was 2oz, highly concentrated espresso beverage with some tannic notes of vinegar, beautifully balanced with a dried red berry accent. Overall, an incredibly complex drink that is certainly worthy of competing. I wish him luck.

Viva Espresso - Day 6

My next encounter with Viva Espresso occurred on day 6. Arriving at their location in La Gran Via mall, I was welcomed by employees Yaqueline and Karen. Yaqueline, the barista, had me start helping me immediately with prepping for the day. Pulling shots after shots, we assembled all their blended drinks for the day, as well as created some in-house syrup. One of these syrups included Panela. A common flavoring to many Latin American treats, Panela is unprocessed sugar cane that has a molasses -like taste and texture. We discussed our histories as baristas, which both started roughly two years ago.

One aspect of coffee in Central America is that it’s more commonly enjoyed in the late afternoon. Perhaps this is because lunch is the big meal of the day, thus coffee serves as a little treat after. Not accustomed to mornings being so slow, I took advantage of the time to practice on the Simonelli Espresso machine this shop used. This practice served me well, since immediately at four o’clock, a new shift came in, along with a HERD of people. Not a trickle, not a flow, but HERD of people suddenly lined at the register. There was so little time, the new barista and I weren’t even able to introduce ourselves! We immediately begin “double baring,” as we say, which is when two people work on the same machine at the same time. This is not easy. It takes not only a lot of communication, but a lot of coordination as well! Little space to work and little time to prepare, this experience of double baring was nothing I’ve experienced before. Not only am I use to solely working on the bar, I had never experienced serving coffee in a “restaurant” manner as Viva Espresso does. Tickets buzzed in with several drinks per table. Our job was to prepare the drink, after they had been called out by an expeditor, and then neatly set them on trays prepared with appropriate sized plates and spoons. Like Klatch, Viva Espresso offers pour-overs of several coffees. However, unlike us who uses the Beehouse or Hario V60, Viva Espresso offers four more options: Chemex, Clever, french press, and lastly, Aeropress. In the midst of our non-stop rush, six orders for pour-overs arrived. I’m familiar with all these methods, except the Aeropress which I had just learned earlier that day. Realizing my efforts were best on just the bar, the other barista took on the pour-over orders all on his own. Indeed, a brave man. Two hours of this continued, and after my shift I felt incredibly energized. Confirming my capabilities as a barista, I left Viva Espresso knowing I’m right in the occupation. I came away having learned some great barista skills and met some down-to-earth and passionate baristas. Perhaps the biggest accomplishment was not hearing or speaking English for the full 9 hours of my shift. By the end of the day, I couldn’t even count the espresso shot time in English when I tried! Grateful to all that made this experience possible, I write this blog with that same enthusiastic feeling I had the day I worked Viva Espresso.

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The 2013 El Salvador Trip - Day 1
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