This is Part 2 of our Coffee Origin Trip to Central America, follow along on Instagram with #OrigenCA2015.
Three year old Oscar Jesus welcomes us to Finca Talnamica while the workers sort their harvested coffee cherries.
The journey from Nicaragua to El Salvador was a relatively easy one, except for waking up for the first flight out after having spent the evening eating and imbibing at one of my favorite restaurants in Managua: Taska Kiko.
I’m on the road with Jeff Babcock (owner of Zoka Coffee, Seattle), Celeste Clark (Zoka’s head roaster), Jack Kelly (owner of Ladro Coffee, Seattle) and Dismas Smith (Ladro’s head roaster). I’ve known just about everyone in our group for nearly the entirety of my coffee career. They’re an easy-going, adventurous and good-natured bunch, which makes traveling through the coffee wilds a much easier and enjoyable experience.
Red Bourbon branches chock full of ripe coffee ready for picking.
Arriving at Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport can be a bit chaotic at times but we’re greeted by Jose Luis who massages us into two SUVs and whisks us along our way through the capital of San Salvador and onward to Ahuachapan, about a two hour trip. We’re heading to a little place known as Finca Talnamica.
Women bring in their day's harvest from the fields. Each bag weighs 80 to 100 pounds.
Situated on the edge of the Apaneca-Illamatepec mountain range is this farm of 140 manzanas at an altitude of 1,375 meters. In the distance is the Pacific Ocean and the farm is nestled between the western towns of Apaneca and Ataco. Founded in the 1950s by Alfredo Ortiz Mancia, the farm is now run by his daugther Nena Ortiz de Mendez and her husband Hermann Mendez. The majority of the coffee grown at Talnamica is Bourbon with some Pacas variety, and a bit of Colombian Castillo - all of which are grown under large shade trees that provide both protection from the sun and resistance to the winds.
Farm Manager Miguel Angel weighs each load of cherries for payment to the pickers.
We’re greeted upon our arrival by Hermann and Nena, a warm and welcoming couple and I feel instantly at home. Jeff and Jack are longtime friends of the Mendez family, having played an instrumental role in their transition from traditional coffee farming to specialty coffee production. It’s a relaxing afternoon at the farm filled with catching-up stories, industry gossip, local news and coffee talk before heading out to tour the tablons (designated coffee growing areas).
The guy with the blue hat adds or removes coffee from each sack of cherries to the prescribed 150 pounds for delivery to the beneficio.
With only about ten days to go, it’s nearly the end of the harvest at Finca Talnamica. Trees that haven’t been picked yet are full, ripe and robust. This is the fourth year since Hermann and Nena asked Jeff and Jack to help them make the transition and the results are looking quite impressive. Deep red and crimson cherries line the branches of the Bourbon and Pacas coffee trees and it’s looking to be a stellar harvest.
Pickers sort through a bag of generico sorting out ripe and verde cherries.
After our tour of the fields, it’s back to the patio where the pickers have gathered to sort their day’s work and do their final weigh-in. At Finca Talnamica, workers are paid by the lata and are paid more than the average coffee farm because they’re instructed to pick only the ripe red and crimson cherries, resulting in a twenty-five cent per lata premium (a late is a unit of measurement used on the farm equivalent to 25 pounds). At this time of year, we also see a lot of green and unripe cherries being brought in from the fields because the harvest is about to end and leaving coffee cherries to rot on the branches can lead to disease and other crop problems.
The women work together moving a 150 pound sack of ripe uva to the delivery area.
The workers look happy and work hard, and a good picker can pick upward of eight latas per day. While a picker can work solo, most pickers (especially families) create work teams that combine their efforts, exponentially growing their volume and revenue.
Hermann Mendez discusses the quality and quantity of the ripe uva with one of the supervisors.
The coffee coming in is then weighed by Miguel Angel, the farm manager, to determine that work group’s payment for the day and then the sacks of cherries are separated between the ripe red cherries and the generico (mixed ripe) and verde (green) cherries. The ripe cherries are then culled into 150 pound sacks for delivery to the mills at Cuatro M Coffees that evening. For this day's production, the pickers harvested 93 bags of uva, or ripe cherries, 54 bags of generico, and six bags of verde. This equals a total of roughly 23,000 pounds of coffee harvested in a single day of picking.
Producers Hermann and Nena Mendez of Finca Talnamica at the Cuatro M coffee processing mill.