This is Part 4 of our Coffee Origin Trip to Central America, follow along on Instagram with #OrigenCA2015. For Parts 1, 2 or 3.
A worker picks out defects from African-style drying beds at Beneficio El Borbollon.
After a night of grilled meats, beverages, cigars and bonfires, the thought for Valentine’s morning was a leisurely cupping followed by breakfast and then a trip to visit Finca Malacara B - that is, until Roberto “Chele” Dumont showed up at our door at 7:30am.
Rodrigo Dumont details an example of the Agobio Parra style of coffee tree cultivation.
Some of you might remember the name Chele Dumont from our previous offering of the Pina #74 microlof from Finca Las Mercedes, a wonderfully bass-noted coffee that showed up in a few of our blends and as a single origin coffee. For me, it was exciting to meet Chele in person for the first time and learn a little more about him and his coffee farms.
A little girl with her family of pickers sorting the days harvest at Finca Malacara B.
Once upon a time, Finca Malacara was a large, 200 manzana farm owned by Chele’s grandparents. Before turning operations to their children, they divided Malacara into three equal lots, roughly 70 manzanas each in size, naming them Malacara A, Malacara B and Malacara C. A fourth-generation coffee farmer, Roberto Dumont, along with his son Rodrigo (the fifth-generation farmer) now run Malacara B, Las Mercedes and a third farm at a lower elevation, while Chele’s cousins operate Malacara A and C.
A picker sorts his selection of ripe cherries at Malacara B.
Despite the letter designation, not one of the three Malacara farms is “better” than the other, they’re simply plot designations rather than grade or quality designations - though many coffee industry types still make that mistake today. The cousins share the resources of the farm and work together to maintain the overall property while growing their own crops, cultivating their own clients and developing their own techniques and varietal plantings.
These women sort through verdes as a method of clearing the trees at the end of harvest.
Located on the slope of the Santa Ana volcano, at an altitude between 1350 and 1650 meters above sea level, Malacara B is currently switching their tree cultivation to a method known as Agobio Parra. This style of agronomy plants less trees per manzana (about 1200 per manzana) with greater spacing between trees. As the trees grow, the main branch is bent to allow a new branch to grow vertically. Over a period of several years, as older branches are bent over and new branches allowed to grow vertically, this increases the number of producing branches, increases crop yield and keeps the Bourbon trees at a height more easily managed by coffee pickers.
Brilliantly ripe coffee turns an angry purple when ready for harvest. Malacara B.
About thirty year-round staff are employed at Malacara B with those numbers swelling in January-February to about 150 during the peak harvest season. Like Finca Talnamica, the pickers are paid a roughly twenty-five cent premium per arroba with the best pickers harvesting upwards of eight arrobas per day. Meals and accommodations for pickers not from the surrounding area are provided daily as well.
The wet mill at Beneficio El Borbollon.
All of the coffee produced by Chele is processed down the mountain at the Beneficio El Borbollon. Another coffee business owned and operated by the extended family, the beneficio is operated by his cousin, Eduardo Alvarez. Expecting to process just over 30,000 quintales of coffee this year (about three million pounds), Eduardo and his son, Jorge, are busy men, processing, cupping, evaluating, categorizing and warehousing hundreds of lots per day.
Some of this year's harvest from Finca Las Mercedes being held in the bodega at El Borbollon.
Since it is towards the end of the harvest in El Salvador, the mill is slowly getting a little calmer. There are still a number of men on the patios slowly and patiently raking the drying coffee back and forth under the warm sun, workers are in the taller fixing machinery, women still line the sorting tables and coffee is being stacked to the roof of the bodega. While all this happens, a steady stream of visitors just like us come by daily to tour the facility and taste the coffees from their favorite coffee farm.
Ready for our cupping of Fincas Malacara B and Las Mercedes at El Borbollon.
The cupping room at El Borbollon is simply beautiful and elegant. With touches of the Spanish Colonial era, framed bags of coffee line the walls demonstrating past award winners processed at the beneficio, seating area, coffee relics and a large, wooden coffee table with thirteen samples from Roberto Dumont’s Malacara B and Las Mercedes farms.
Women work the green defect sorting line at El Borbollon. They are the last line of defense of defect removal before the coffee is bagged and shipped.
The cupping table itself is huge. Large, milled timber that’s five feet across by twelve feet long, lined with thirteen coffee samples for us to try. When you do a coffee tasting such as this, the samples are cupped blind - meaning we don’t know which coffees we’re trying. This is done to keep the anonymity of the cups and the authenticity of the evaluation. For this session, we’re tasting many cups that seem quite alike and while they are really nice coffees, it’s a bit difficult to discern why one sample is different than the other since they are so similar.
A mill worker continues the lonely task of carefully raking dry the coffee on the patio at El Borbollon.
Turns out that the reason for this similarity is that a number of the coffees are the same type from the same farm. Nine of the coffees on the table are variations on the same coffee. Perhaps the picking day is different, or perhaps the lot might be different but the cup profiles are quite similar and we wondering why they didn’t just combine such similar lots? Of course, that’s something that we can specify should we decide to buy those coffees. As in most cuppings, one coffee emerges as the exemplary coffee of the day and it’s usually the coffee we end up fighting over. Today was no different with the exception that the best coffee on the table was an experimental lot whose total production for the year was about two pounds (from six trees). Chele tells us that the coffee might be ready in about four years.
That’s just how it goes on the green side of the business.