Your guide to El Salvador Coffee
If you want to try something new and different, coffee from El Salvador, the ‘land of the volcanoes’, may be just what you are looking for. You'll find a drink that is pleasantly sweet and fruity with touches of caramel and chocolate. Like the tiny nation itself, the Salvadoran coffee industry has been rocked more than once by violent eruptions - and not only volcanic ones. But it is fighting back, thanks to the high quality and fantastic flavours of its coffee crop. of its most highly prized plants is grown nowhere else, and produces one of the most sought-after coffees in the world, the jewel in El Salvador's crown.
History of El Salvador Coffee
El Salvador is a tiny but densely populated country, wedged between Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, with the Pacific on its southern flank. With a land area of just 20,000sq km (7,700 sq miles), it is a twelfth of the size of the UK and a bit smaller than Massachusetts. Coffee cultivation has traditionally been important to its 6 million people and is starting to make a comeback after years of hardship and neglect.
El Salvador has no fewer than 20 volcanoes - some still active - and the mountainous terrain, fertile soil, abundant sunshine and copious rainfall have long proved to be the perfect conditions for growing coffee. It enjoyed a boom in the 19th century, and by the 1920s and 1930s was responsible for over 80 percent of El Salvador's exports. However, just 50 years later, that figure had been slashed to less than 2 percent, where it still stands now. The root cause was the civil war of the 1980s and 1990s that devastated the country's agriculture and economy.
On top of that, in October 2005, the Santa Ana volcano eruption in Ilamatepec, one of the coffee-growing regions, left 2,000 people homeless as it spewed hot ash and gas up to a height of 45,000 feet. Eight years later an eruption of the Chaparrastique volcano in the eastern area of San Miguel, another area known for its coffee plantations, led to villages being evacuated.
In its heyday, when El Salvador accounted for 4-5 percent of the world's coffee, the farms were in the hands of a few mainly government-linked owners. That all changed with land redistribution during the civil strife: there are now about 20,000 farmers, working plots covering no more than a few acres each, turning out an annual total of about 50,000 metric tons (850,000 60kg bags). Many El Salvador coffee plantations are grouped into cooperatives, and there are a few highly regarded larger estates. Production levels may have dived, but the reputation for quality has not suffered at all. The nation's producers and growers are renowned for speciality coffees.
Coffee production in El Salvador today
The Salvadoran government has pledged a programme of economic growth to turn the country away from the gang culture and violence for which it is infamous. A crucial part of the change is its coffee sector. In 2015, the national coffee council embarked on a five-year development plan to elevate the country's presence on the world market, incentivise coffee consumption at home, and increase the production of its higher-quality varieties.
According to the International Coffee Organisation, over 60 percent of the coffee grown in El Salvador is the Bourbon variety of the Arabica bean - high quality, but not the whole story. The rest of the crop is what makes it so special and prized: Pacas and Pacamaras, unique to this tiny nation.
The Pacas, a natural mutation of the Bourbon, was discovered in the 1950s by the Pacas family - hence the name. The high-yield Bourbon Pacas plants produce small coffee beans; they were crossed with Maragogype to create the Pacamara - a fatter cherry that is one of the world's most sought-after varietals. The drink it produces is creamy, medium-bodied with low acidity and a complex, syrupy flavour. Expect to find berries, citrus, butterscotch and milk chocolate tasting notes.
El Salvador Coffee Regions
It may be the smallest country in Central America, but El Salvador has several recognised coffee-producing regions. Almost all the plants are shade-grown, and the beans are harvested from December to March. Many coffee farms are remote, making harvesting more difficult, but that just adds to the premium nature of the beans. Traditionally used as a blend, El Salvador single-origin coffee is growing in popularity.
El Salvador's highest grade coffee is Strictly High Grown (SHG) at an altitude of 1,200 metres (3,900 feet). Anything grown between 900 and 1,200 metres (2,950-3,900 feet) is classified High Grown, and below that height, it is Central Standard.
The country's coffee research institute, Procafe, has classified seven growing regions.
The Apaneca-Ilamatepec mountain range, in the west, climbs from 500 to 2,300 metres (1,640-7,500 feet) and is the home of El Salvador's first Denomination of Origin; one of the most renowned areas, it includes the Santa Ana volcano and some very well-known farms. It is the birthplace of the Pacas plants.
The El Básalmo-Quezaltepec mountain range is named after the Salvadoran balsam, an aromatic resin. Here, plantations are between 500 and 1,900 metres (1,640-6,230 feet) and the area includes San Salvador volcano.
The Tecapa-Chinchontepec mountain range is the third biggest coffee-producing region in the country. Altitudes range from 500 to 2,000 metres (1,640-6,560 feet).
A little lower, rising to 1,660 metres (5,440 feet) is the Cacahuatique mountain range, sitting between San Miguel and Morazan. The area has an abundant clay soil, which the farmers have to dig out and replace with rich volcanic soil from elsewhere, making growing coffee plants in this region quite challenging.
The Nahuaterique mountain range, with Honduras to the north and the Torola valley to the south, is known locally as the 'land of evergreen forests'.
Alotepeque-Metapan in the northernmost part of El Salvador is known for very high-quality coffee, grown at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,000 metres (3,280-6,560 feet).
Chinchontepec (San Vicente) Volcano is a relatively recent addition to the coffee growers' almanac. Between La Paz and San Vicente, where the San Vicente volcano climbs to 2,130 metres, the main varieties grown are Bourbon and Pacas.
What does El Salvador coffee taste like?
Generally speaking, El Salvador's coffee tends to be soft, mellow and gently acidic, with variations in the flavour profile dependent on the coffee varietal and the area. Some regions produce a somewhat spicy mouthfeel, while others tend towards sweetness and fruitiness.
Cacahuatique presents something very light, and if you want more of a kick, try Chinchontepec.
San Miguel offers some complex flavours of caramel, citrus fruits and apple in a smooth, creamy mouthfeel with a medium body.
El Manzano coffee is honeyed and sweet, medium-bodied and smooth, with a taste hinting at nuts and apples (manzano is Spanish for appletree).
Santa Maria, grown near Santa Ana's peak, is full-bodied, complex and smooth, with an intense caramel aroma and flavours to match, adding notes of chocolate, nuts and fruit.
At the top end of the taste spectrum for many coffee drinkers is the Pacamara, with its intense floral and fruity aroma, full-bodied texture and citrus acidity, with a chocolatey sweetness reminiscent of butterscotch.
Santa Ana coffee is quite heavy, rich and dark, with touches of chocolate and spice. Tastes of sweet honey, with a high acidity and medium body accompany a red fruit tone and long aftertaste with our El Salvador La Joya coffee. This is a relatively strong coffee.
Our San Salvador is a wonderfully mild coffee, yet still packed full of flavours and perfect to enjoy at any time of the day. Grown in the central region of El Basalmo-Quezaltepec, this mellow coffee makes a good espresso but is best enjoyed prepared by filter or a cafetiere.
El Salvador Coffee Reviews
What are people saying about San Salvador and La Joya? Take at look at the recent El Salvador coffee reviews from our customers:
“I didn’t quite know what to expect with this one. It is of medium strength with a pleasant, mellow aftertaste. Not as acidic as many. An all day drink.”
David S. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Another good coffee, very good taste, yet quite mellow, which I love!”
Sally H. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Light, almost citrus flavours. Good start to the day”
Jolyon O. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“very enjoyable, good strength”
Marlyn C. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Very nice indeed, with a rich flavour and aroma, and a good depth of roast. Highly recommended”
Sean C. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Both our El Salvador coffees are available as whole beans or ground options, depending on your preference.
How much coffee does El Salvador export?
Annual coffee production is approximately 850,000 60kg bags, considerably smaller than many other countries. From this quantity of coffee, El Salvador exports around 600,000 bags per year. This is why you can now often buy El Salvador coffee beans in the United Kingdom and around Europe, which helps to increase its popularity.
Is Salvadoran coffee good?
Despite challenges in the past, El Salvador now produces some of the best Arabica coffee beans and also hosted the Cup of Excellence in 2020. It is clear the country is being recognised as a serious player in coffee production. While it will never compete with other central American areas in terms of volume, the coffee is grown in a controlled manner, ensuring quality and consistency.