El Salvador was the first country to commercialize coffee in the 1850s. It quickly became a popular crop, with farmers receiving tax incentives. Coffee cultivation became a significant element of the economy and the country’s principal export, and by 1880, El Salvador was the world’s fourth-largest coffee producer, producing more than twice as much as it does today.
After the development of chemical dyes in the mid-nineteenth century, El Salvador began to move away from its former main crop, indigo, resulting in the growth of the coffee industry. The indigo-growing region had previously been owned by a small landed aristocracy. Coffee cultivation necessitated a different sort of land, therefore these landed gentry used their political clout to create legislation that forced the poor off their property, allowing it to be absorbed into the new coffee plantations. Indigenous peoples were rarely compensated; instead, they were often given the opportunity to labor seasonally on newly developed coffee plantations.
El Salvador would become one of the most progressive Central American countries by the early twentieth century, with paved highways, railroads, and lavish public works projects. Coffee helped fund infrastructure and integrate indigenous communities into the national economy, but it also served as a mechanism for the country’s landed elite to maintain political and economic control.
From the 1930s onwards, the aristocracy of the time wielded power with the help of military dictatorship, resulting in an era of relative stability. In the decades that followed, the growth of the coffee business aided the establishment of a cotton industry and light manufacturing. El Salvador had a reputation for quality and efficiency in coffee manufacturing before to the civil war in the 1980s, and had established partnerships with importing countries. The civil war, on the other hand, would have a significant impact on this, as supply decreased and foreign customers sought coffee elsewhere.
Despite the decrease in production and exports, the coffee sector reaped an unexpected gain from the civil war. At the time, coffee growers in much of Central America were replacing heirloom kinds with newly produced high-yield varieties. Although the new types’ cup quality did not match that of the heirloom varieties, the yield was prioritized over quality. El Salvador, on the other hand, has never gone through this procedure. The country still has an extremely high concentration of heirloom Bourbon trees, which produce approximately 68% of the country’s coffee. The country’s potential for producing spectacularly delicious coffees is enhanced by its well-drained but mineral-rich volcanic soils.
The pacas variety
In 1949 a mutation of the Bourbon variety was discovered by Don Alberto Pacas on one of his farms. It was named after him and was later crossed with Maragogype, a variety of coffee with very large beans, to create the Pacamara variety. Both desirable
varieties remain in production in the region and in neighboring countries. For more information on varieties, see Coffee Varieties.
El Salvador has worked hard to recover its position among coffee-producing countries and re-establish previous relationships with consuming nations, and this has been the focus of most of its recent coffee marketing. El Salvador still has large estates, but it also has a lot of small farms. It’s a fantastic nation to visit since there are so many beautiful coffees to sample, many of them are full of sweetness and depth.
The infrastructure in place means that it is relatively easy to retain the traceability of high-quality coffees right back to farm level, and many farms are able to create micro-lots based on process and variety.
El Salvador still sometimes classiĀes coffee based on the altitude at which it was grown. These classiĀcations have no relation to either quality or traceability.
Strictly High Grown (SHG): grown above 1,200m (3,900ft)
High Grown (HG): grown above 900m (3,000ft)
Central Standard: grown above 600m (2,000ft)
The Bourbon variety coffees from El Salvador are famously sweet and well balanced,
with pleasing soft acidity to give balance in the cup.
Number of 60kg (132lb) bags in 2016: 623,000
Most coffee roasters do not use the region names when describing coffees. While they are distinct, well-deĀned regions, some would argue that El Salvador itself is so small that it could be classiĀed as a single region, with clearly deĀned pockets of coffee growing within it.
Apaneca-ilamatepec mountain range
Despite the volcanic activity in the area, this region produces many award-winning coffees. The Santa Ana volcano erupted in 2005 and had a significant influence on production for a few years. This is the country’s most productive region, and it is likely that coffee was first grown in El Salvador here.
Altitude: 500–2,300m (1,600–7,500ft)
Varieties: 64% Bourbon, 26% Pacas, 10% others
Alotepec-metapan mountain range
This mountain range is one of El Salvador’s wettest, receiving over a third more rainfall than the national average. Despite its proximity to Guatemala and Honduras, the coffees produced in this region are distinct and unique.
Altitude: 1,000–2,000m (3,300–6,600ft)
Varieties: 30% Bourbon, 50% Pacas, 15% Pacamara, 5% others
El bálsam-quezaltepec mountain range
From high on the flanks of the Quetzaltepec volcano, several of the coffee fields in this region have a view of the capital city of San Salvador. The pre-Hispanic people lived in this area. The Quetzalcotitán civilization worshipped Quetzalcoatl, a feathered serpent god who is still a popular icon in Salvadoran society today. The Peruvian Balsam, an aromatic substance used in perfumes, cosmetics, and medicines, is also named after the mountain range.
Altitude: 500–1,950m (1,600–6,400ft)
Varieties: 52% Bourbon, 22% Bourbon, 26% mixed & others
Coffee was a latecomer to this region in the country’s center, with only fifty bags of coffee produced in 1880. The volcanic ground, on the other hand, is exceptionally fruitful, and today the area is home to numerous coffee growers. Planting alternating rows of coffee and orange trees for shade is still a typical practice; some say this adds an orange blossom flavor to the coffee, while others ascribe this gentle citrus accent to the Bourbon variety produced here.
Altitude: 500–1,000m (1,600–3,300ft)
Harvest: October– February
Varieties: 71% Bourbon, 8% Pacas, 21% mixed & others
Tepeca-chinameca mountain range
This region is the third-largest producer of coffee in the country. Here they serve coffee with
corn tortillas called tostadas, made with salt and dusted with sugar or made with a little
panela (cane sugar).
Altitude: 500–2,150m (1,600–7,100ft)
Varieties: 70% Bourbon, 22% Pacas, 8% mixed & others
Cacahuatique mountain range
Captain-General Gerardo Barrios was the first Salvadorian president to see the economic possibilities of coffee, and it is said that he was one of the first to plant coffee in El Salvador, on his land near Villa de Cacahuatique, today is known as Ciudad Barrios. Clay is abundant in this mountain range, which is used to manufacture pots, platters, and decorative things. Farmers in this area frequently have to dig enormous holes in the clay-like soil and fill them with rich dirt before planting their young trees.
Altitude: 500–1,650m (1,600–5,400ft)
Varieties: 65% Bourbon, 20% Pacas, 15% mixed & others