Farm: Finca La Colombia
Altitude: 1,500 metres above sea level
Owner: Rafael Gerardo Caceres
Town / City: Canton Ojo de Agua
Region: Apaneca-Ilamatepec Mountain Range
La Corriona Pacamara Natural - El Salvador
This exceptional 100% Pacamara lot was produced by Rafael Gerardo Caceres, owner of Finca Colombia, high in El Salvador’s famous Apaneca-Ilamtepec Mountain Range. It was processed using the Natural method at the renowned Borbollon Mill in Santa Ana. All lots are hand-picked and collected in traditional hand woven baskets from December through March by pickers who have been specially trained to select only the best and fully-mature coffee cherries.
La Corriona is a small plot of land (sometimes called a ‘tablón’ in El Salvador) inside Finca Colombia. The name (which, as far as we can tell, has no meaning in Spanish) was given to it by the original owners of the farm, the Caceres family. Finca Colombia was founded in 1916 by María Magaña Menéndez de Llanos and her husband, Francisco Antonio Llanos. Dr. Llanos (the husband) had migrated to El Salvador a few years before marrying. He brought with him a deep love for coffee farming from his native country, and this was the engine to found the farm.
Colombia has always been somewhat remote and difficult to farm; however, Francisco and Maria continued working and cultivating their farm until the end of their days. When they passed, they left the farm to their only daughter Otilia Llanos de Barrios, who continued the legacy and taught passion for coffee to her daughter Evelyn Barrios. Sadly this legacy was broken in 2016, when Evelyn Barrios, together with her children, made the decision to sell the farm due to social and political turmoil in the region.
Rafael Gerardo Caceres’s family grew up listening to great stories about their native land of El Salvador: from about how their uncles were transported to work on various farms in the region to the legendary quality of the coffee. La Colombia was also legendary - considered the Jewel in the Crown of the Llanos family farms. The Caceres family wanted to preserve its history, which led them to purchase it on its 100th anniversary
Today, Gerardo Jr. manages all aspects of cultivation and processing. He’s shown himself to be up for experimentation and is always looking to explore new processing methods and varieties. Currently, the farm is planted out under only Bourbon and Pacamara, which are always separated by ‘tablón’ (lot). While he knows that these varieties are more susceptible to rust, they are also traditional – and tradition is hugely important to the family.
Coffee from La Colombia, including this lot, is processed at El Borbollon mill. Borbollon, owned by the Alvarez family (one of El Salvador’s foremost coffee farming families) manage post harvest processes with meticulous attention detail shown at every stage. The family and their staff are also skilled cuppers, and they regularly cup and re-cup their coffees to maintain quality.
Coffee cherries are hand-picked when fully ripe by pickers who have been trained to select only fully mature cherries. This lot was first floated to remove debris and then moved to raised beds, where it dried for around 19 days. The drying coffee is sorted regularly to remove any damaged or discoloured cherries.
As of 2019, El Salvador is still experiencing a great deal of political turmoil and social upheaval. This is why the Caceres family works closely with their workers and the community that surrounds them. They know that coffee must benefit everyone, or it benefits no one. To this end, they provide private doctors and medicine for free, they pay above the minimum wage for all labourers, and they help provide education to children in the area. These actions, built out of solidarity with the community, have ensured the safety of the family and their employees in a region where many other farms have seen violence.
More about Borbollon mill
El Borbollon mill is managed by Eduardo Alvarez, whose father (also Eduardo) bequeathed to him a passion for growing coffee and inspired him to always strive for the highest quality. Under Eduardo’s direction, the mill has increasingly accessed speciality markets and has provided key technical assistance and guidance to the farms with which they work. In fact, Eduardo’s hard work and advocacy has enabled many of these farms to place in Cup of Excellence competitions. Of the 15 high altitude farms with which El Borbollon works, 10 have won places in Cup of Excellence competitions. 4 of these, including La Reforma, have won the COE Presidential Award for achieving scores in excess of 90 points.
Eduardo manages activities at the mill to complement the natural potential of the coffees that he and other farms in the region produce. Natural lots, such as this one, are hand sorted to remove underripe and damaged cherries and debris before being delivered in very thin layers to dry on raised beds. Here, the cherries are turned frequently, often under shade, to ensure even drying.
Eduardo’s experience has shown that the longer the drying time, the better the cup, and the mill has even been experimenting with increasing drying time further through partial sun drying for small lots, where the coffee is placed on an area of the patios that only receives 4 to 5 hours a day of sunlight.
This meticulous attention to detail shown at every stage of production – from harvesting to milling to cupping – has enabled the family to survive the many struggles that the coffee industry in El Salvador has suffered in the last 20 years and even to inspire neighbouring farms to invest in the quality of their production. According to Eduardo, there is no other option – coffee runs ‘in his blood’ and he and his family could never leave it, so this is the only way forward. However, as El Salvador’s coffee industry and production continue diminishing in the face of coffee leaf rust and lack of governmental support, efforts such as his may prove to be crucial to the survival of some of the most notable coffees that Central America have to offer. His son certainly thinks so. The third consecutive Eduardo Alvarez, in his 30s, has recently joined the company as Operations Manager and looks forward to carrying the torch through to the sixth generation!
The Alvarez family’s farms and mill offers considerable social support to local communities and have recently been working with the local NGO www.librasdeamor.org to help tackle child malnutrition in rural communities. The family is also committed to developing sustainable practices in order to protect and preserve the natural environment.