After morning breakfast with Hermann and Nena Mendez, we’re on the way back down the mountain a bit to Cuatro M Coffees - a beneficio specializing in processing high-quality microlots. At the helm of Cuatro M is Emilio Diaz, coffee grower, miller, roaster and a vocal leader within the Roasters Guild of America. We’ve been invited by Emilio to stay at the mill, tour the facility, watch production and sample processed coffees from Hermann and Nena Mendez.
The upper drying patio. Exquisite.
Situated on a slope of the Santa Ana mountains, Cuatro M (also known as Beneficio La Manzana) is picturesque. While many coffee mills are designed for efficiency, Cuatro M seems to take advantage of its’ location, most notably the upper drying patios that are gleaming white concrete tile with panoramic views of the valley below and church tower-like observation platform overlooking it all. Stunning.
Dana and Emilio pour water for our cupping in the Cuatro M cupping lab.
For most of our stay, Dana Foster, is our guide. Dana’s previous experience with the Peace Corps brought her to a little town next to Finca Talnamica where she lived in a small house without plumbing or running water, having to port her water each day. Her Peace Corps project involved helping establish a bakery on the Talnamica property where she met Hermann and Nena Mendez and, in turn, Jeff Babcock and Jack Kelly. After a while, the coffee bug bit and Dana was on her way to Montana to work for a coffee company there before coming to Zoka in Seattle as a green coffee buyer. After leading Zoka’s buying program for over a year, Dana decided to return to El Salvador where she works as Quality Control Manager at Cuatro M.
The wet mill clean and ready for the evening's action.
We kick things off with a cupping of coffees from the Mendez farms. In addition to Talnamica there are coffees from El Guaje (also known as Natamaya) and San Jorge, also part of the Cafes OH (Ortiz Herrera) family of coffee farms. While the offerings aren’t numerous, they are focused and of great quality. Dana tells us that in the three years that the Mendez family has been working with them, this is their best year in terms of yield and crop quality. Dana confirms what we’ve seen at Talnamica, they’re delivering extremely high-quality cherries to the mill for processing.
As the sorting of natural process coffee begins, Dana holds up examples of segundos (seconds, on left) and primeros (first pickings, on right) that are sorted in the wet mill and separated into different lots.
Cupping coffees and determining which ones to buy is always a challenge. More so when the table is filled with top-quality coffees and you’re jockeying with your friends over coffees you agree are great. On more than one occasion, either Jeff, Jack or myself are bartering, trading or simply splitting lots. In some cases where the quantity is extremely small, there’s one a bag or two of coffee for each of us, but we leave pleased to have great coffee and happy to be working with our friends.
After being separated, a worker spreads primero natural coffee onto the patio for sun drying over the next two days.
Later, as we tour around the mill, I’m struck by the cleanliness of the facility - especially the wet mill at this late point in the harvest. Cuatro M mills coffee for 19 different farms and has been running non-stop since early October when the lower altitude coffees start arriving. The mill will run continuously until March, for a total of six months, non-stop operation. Despite this, the place is beautifully clean. It’s later in the afternoon when I arrive at the wet mill and start poking around. It’s spotless. The facility is immaculate. At 5pm, mill operations will begin again when cherries start arriving from the farms and will continue until about 3am at the earliest (and sometimes run until 11am during peak harvest). Once the coffees have been processed, the mill will be cleaned and prepared for the next day - a task that will take the workers an additional three hours labor.
After being partially dried on the patio, the coffee is scooped up and placed into bins for transport to the guardiolas where they are dried for up to 72 hours.
Emilio is a fanatic. He wants to process the best coffees in the best way and is obsessive about cleanliness at the mill, and it shows. As we’re touring the lower drying patios, faint purple dots mark the patio, a remnant of the natural sun-dried coffees that were processed here the last few days. Dana tells us that after tonight’s run of natural sun-dried coffees are done, the patio will be pressure washed to bright white perfection once again. I don’t know about the rest of the group, but there’s something I find tremendously enjoyable about prancing about on a very large expanse of bright white patio at origin.
After being fully dried and a purchase order obtained, the coffee is then sent to the dry mill to have the hull removed and then both separated by size and density in these machines.