A North American country, El Salvador, once had a buzzing coffee industry. Like many other countries, it hit a few bumps on the journey. Nowadays, it is working to regain its once great reputation.
El Salvador is neighbors with some top coffee-producing countries. It shares its borders with Guatemala and Honduras. How does El Salvador coffee match up to its competitors? Let's take a closer look at the "Tom Thumb of the Americas".
El Salvador relies heavily on its coffee production. In the past, coffee made up over half of the country's export revenues. That number is smaller now due to a number of struggles that affected the coffee industry. That said, it remains a fairly important export. Let's see how El Salvador coffee is grown and how the industry now looks.
Growing coffee in El Salvador
Coffee plants in El Salvador grow at an altitude of 1200-1500 meters above sea level. Between October and March is the harvest period - this is when farmers are busiest! They wash and sun-dry the coffee beans. You can expect a range of Arabica varieties growing in El Salvador.
What if you only want the best coffee from El Salvador? I wouldn't blame you! Go for the highest grade known as Strictly High Grade (SHG). Coffees grown at a higher altitude boast some preferable traits. The plants take longer to grow. This gives them optimal time to absorb sugar and nutrients and, in turn, flavor.
One issue that farmers experience is "coffee-leaf rust". In the 1980's, other countries chose to replace lower-yield coffees. Instead, they planted more productive, disease-resistant ones. El Salvador chose to not mess with their crops. This was great for its reputation, but of course had its downfalls. The latest outbreak of coffee-leaf rust was in the past 5 years. It affected both quality and yield of the coffee.
The coffee industry
The reputation of coffee from El Salvador has been damaged. Due to political unrest, the country was unable to consistently produce good coffee. Of late, that reputation is changing. The country is now able to produce some of the best gourmet Arabica coffee beans. Slowly, it's making its way onto the single-origin market.
The high-quality El Salvador coffee beans get exported in bulk and are great for the economy. El Salvador may be the smallest country in Central America, but it's big on coffee!
Coffee production hasn't always been plain sailing. El Salvador depends highly on its coffee growth, and it's seen some tough times. Through perseverance, it's now seeing a light at the end of a long tunnel. Knowing the history and journey of your coffee can make all the difference to your caffeine experience.
Coffee became El Salvador's most important crop. Before this time, it relied instead on indigo. This was a positive time for the country. Leaders saw coffee as the path to development. It brought in new wealth and opportunities.
The glory days didn't last long, though. Shortly later, in 1881 and 1882, things changed politically. Farmers could no longer freely access common lands. Instead, they had to work for low wages on coffee and sugar plantations. Half of the population lost their land.
General Regalado became president. He gathered 6000 hectares of land, creating 6 separate provinces. Following on from Regalado, coffee enthusiasts continued to take power. They made their own fortune from the coffee industry. This did wonders for the country, as coffee production boomed.
Coffee was back in the number 1 spot, by a huge amount. Coffee exports made up 90% of El Salvador's total exports.
However, the global depression saw El Salvador take a hit. Coffee prices fell to 1/3 of their previous value. Most workers in the industry were either fired or took steep pay cuts. Rural unemployment was at an all-time high and farmers weren't happy. They organized a riot, causing many to be shot by police. Around 30,000 peasants were killed.
El Salvador's coffee industry survived the Great Depression. It even continued to improve. Processing systems adopted more modern technology. El Salvador was now one of the most advanced coffee producers. In the 70's, it was the fourth largest exporter in the world.
This was a great benefit to the rich, but the poor continued to suffer. They barely survived on the wages and had no power to make a change. Many workers abandoned their farms. The plants became overgrown and the cherries rotted.
Another angry movement began, which was met with more violence. In response, the US government pushed for a land reform. Plantation workers soon became owners of cooperatives.
78% of all coffee farms now belonged to small producers. Coffee was once again a source of employment. It provided 155,000 locals with jobs.
El Salvador now hosts the Cup of Excellence competition. This event shines a light on the country's coffee. Other parts of the world realized this small country could produce strong coffee.
If you've never tried coffee from El Salvador, it could be time to pick up a bag! The taste and other traits of coffee depend on many different factors. Things like location, altitude and processing methods all matter. Before you make a cup for yourself, take a look at the El Salvador coffee characteristics.
El Salvador may be a country you've never considered visiting. It may also be a country whose coffee you've never tried. But, that's all changing! An increasing number of foreign visitors are arriving at El Salvador. The visitors and those overseas are enjoying El Salvador coffee.
It's mild but pleasing flavor makes it a diverse option. Use it in a blend or drink as a single-origin coffee. What tips do you have for anyone thinking of trying El Salvador coffee beans?