With the air turning crisp and hot beverages taking over again, it’s the perfect time to sip a fresh cup of coffee from El Salvador as harvest season starts now, in late October, and extends through early January. The ritual of drinking a cup of coffee in the morning goes as far back as the 15th century, and the beverage remains one of the most popular today. While most coffee drinkers get a dose of caffeine from the nearest Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, few are aware of the lengthy process that goes into producing those delicious morning pick-me-ups.
Coffee farming has fueled the Salvadoran economy and defined its rich culture for more than 200 years. The cultivation is considered an art form, and its producers are highly skilled by acquiring the know-how from past generations. Today, it’s estimated there are nearly 20,000 coffee growers producing the elite Bourbon and Pacarma varietals throughout the five growing regions of Apaneca-Ilamatepec, Chichontepec, the Cacahuatique Mountain Range, and Tecapa-Chichontepec. With such a long history, it is not surprising that El Salvador produces exquisite cups of coffee.
The Coffee Route of El Salvador
Visitors who want to experience El Salvador’s coffee culture can learn about the process from plant to cup – the proper methods of growing coffee beans, harvesting, sorting, drying, roasting, and the delicate process the fruit (that is right, a coffee bean is considered a fruit) goes through before it can be brewed into the iconic beverage that helps kick start a morning. Travelers can search for the best beans through numerous tours along the dedicated tourist route, which is located along the Ruta de Las Flores, from Sonsonate to Ahuchapán, and stretches 20 miles, offering experiences across the charming colonial towns, national parks, coffee plantations, rainforest, and artisan towns.
One working plantation not to be missed is:
• El Carmen Estate: The estate is one of the most well-known coffee plantations to visit for a behind-the-scenes look at how the delicious daily drink is made. Guests can also stay at the Estate in charming rooms surrounded by a lush landscape and most importantly, coffee. Founded in 1930 by the Alfaro family, the mill is located in the Apaneca-Ilamatepec mountain range next to the quaint town of Concepción de Ataco. The high quality of El Carmen’s coffee is due to the estate’s prime growing conditions and the family’s meticulous approach to harvesting and processing. The crop at El Carmen – like most of the coffee growing regions in El Salvador – is grown under approximately 60% shade cover, which protects the cherries from the sun and ensures that they ripen slowly and evenly. A prime time to visit and witness the Alfaro family manage the harvest is in December and January, when the red and orange Bourbon cherries are hand-picked when perfectly ripe and de-pulped the same day. The beans are then pulped at the wet mill to remove the outer skin, fermented and washed with spring water then sun-dried on clay patios. During the experience, guests are welcomed at La Casona, the original farm house, for a special tasting.
After enjoying the perfect cup of coffee, tourists should continue to take in El Salvador’s natural aspects by birdwatching. As El Salvador grows mainly Bourbon and Pacas coffee beans – which typically grow in the shade – the plantations provide most of the forested areas in the country and these shade farms offer refuge for birds and wildlife. Birds attracted to the region include the Buffy-Crowned Wood-Partridge, Orange-Billed Nightingale-Thrush and Red-Legged Honey Creeper and Bar-Winged Oriole to name a few. To take in more lush scenery and coffee, visitors can camp, bike, and hike throughout Portezuelo Park, which is located just outside of the town of Juayúa in the Sonsonate region, surrounded by more than 240 acres of coffee farm land.