Place in world as coffee exporter (13/14):
Sacks (60kg) exported annually (13/14):
Percentage of world coffee market:
Less than 1%
Other major agricultural exports:
Sugar, Corn, Rice, Beans
Typical Varieties Produced:
Bourbon, Pacas, Pacamara, Caturra & Catuai
Key Coffee Regions:
Apaneca-Ilamatepec Mountain Range, Central Belt, Chichontepec, Cacahuatique Mountain Range & Tecapa-Chichontepec Mountain Range
Typical Harvest Times:
October - March
El Salvador is the smallest of the Central American nations, but don’t let its diminutive size fool you. It produces exceptional coffees to a consistently high standard. Mercanta regularly buys selected single varietals such as Orange/Pink Bourbon, Red Bourbon and Pacamara, and has strong, long-term relationships with many producers and mills in this small, coffee powerhouse.
The history of coffee in El Salvador is inextricably linked to the development of the nation, itself. Introduced in the late 1880’s, coffee quickly displaced indigo as the country’s chief export, and by the 1920s, coffee accounted for 90% of all El Salvador’s exports.
This substantial production was under the ownership of a small landed elite who possessed large swathes of land (by 1895 Pres. General Tomás Regalado, alone, had amassed more than 6,000 hectares!) and who were very much linked to the governance of El Salvador, which had negative and positive consequences for the development of the country. On the one hand, these leaders of the coffee economy (and the nation) heavily invested in internal infrastructure, such as roads, that benefited the coffee industry; on the other hand, those without land (which was most of the population of El Salvador) were largely omitted from the generated wealth.
By the 1970s, El Salvador was the world’s 4th largest producer of coffee; remarkable considering the size of the country. However, politics and overdependence on coffee for economic growth led to periodic struggles that culminated in a civil war lasting from 1979 through to 1992. This period and the aftermath of the war also saw the country engage in significant land reform and redistribution, which broke up many of the country’s large, traditional estates. Today, some 95% of the country’s producers grow coffee on fewer than 20 hectares, and no single person can own more than 245 hectares.
Unusual for Central America, approximately 60% of the coffee produced in El Salvador is Bourbon, characterised by an exceptionally clean, bright and sweet profile with strong citrus note. The country’s unusually high percentage of this renowned coffee varietal, however, is currently under threat from coffee leaf rust, whose impact on the country’s production has been sizable, resulting in a 20 percent drop in revenue from exports between 2011 and 2013.
Notably, El Salvador is also the birthplace of the Pacas and Pacamara varietals, the latter being a hybrid of the Pacas and Maragogype. The famous Pacamaras from El Salvador typically create a bigger body, with tropical fruits, syrupy mouthfeel alongside the citrus brightness and characteristic yellow grapefruit aftertaste.
95% of the coffee produced in El Salvador is shade grown and farmers’ passion and expertise combined with a skilled picking and milling workforce greatly contributes to the continued high quality of the country’s production. Furthermore, today, coffee producers are supported by the Consejo Salvadoreño Del Café which does great work in supporting and promoting El Salvadorian coffee, both domestically and overseas, and providing support for producers within the country. Through their work, there has been a tireless drive to stimulate export markets for the growers and to maintain and improve the quality of the coffee produced in El Salvador. As they say in El Salvador….Drink it and Smile!
Coffee is grown more or less across the entire country (well...it’s not that big, after all), which is divided into between 3 and 7 geographical regions depending on who you ask! All are regarded as differing from one another mainly in terms of altitude and flavour characteristics. According to PROCAFÉ (the country’s coffee research institute) there are 7 regions.
Apaneca-Ilamatepec Mountain Range:
Located in the western region, with altitudes ranging from 500 to 2,365 metres, this is one of the most renowned regions of El Salvador and home to El Salvador’s first Denomination of Origin. This region includes coffees on and near El Salvador’s famous Santa Ana volcano (which erupted as recently as 2005) and includes some of the country’s larger, more well-known farms.
Central Belt/El Básalmo-Quezaltepec Mountain Range:
Originally home to the Quetzalcotitán civilisation, this region includes San Salvador Volcano and its rich, volcanic soils. The region takes its name from the Salvadoran Balsam (an aromatic resin) produced there and benefits from altitudes of 500 to 1,900 meters.
Tecapa-Chinchontepec Mountain Range:
Home to highly varied altitudes, ranging on average from 500 to 2,000 metres, this region is home to the San Miguel or Chaparrastique Volcano with the highest peak of 2,130 metres. The region is the third largest producer in the country.
Cacahuatique Mountain Range:
This region is located to the east of Ciudad Barrios, between San Miguel and Morazan, with altitudes averaging between 500 to 1,663 meters. Known for its clay-like soil, farmers here often have to dig large holes and fill them with rich soil to plant new trees.
Nahuaterique Mountain Range:
Located in the Northern Morazán department, bordered by Honduras to the north and the Torola valley to the south, this region is known as the ‘land of evergreen forests’.
The coffee-growing zone here is quite high, rising between 1,000 to 2,000 metres. In the very north of the country, it is known for coffee of very high quality.
Chinchontepec (San Vicente) Volcano:
Located between La Paz and San Vicente, Bourbon and Pacas are common in this region, with the San Vicente Volcano rising to 2,130 metres. One of the newest coffee producing regions in El Salvador, the area is nonetheless well suited to farming coffee and is home to several notable farms.