by Ted Stachura
In early November I had the pleasure of attending a conference in El Salvador called Let’s Talk Coffee. The purpose of this annual conference is to bring coffee roasters and producers together to build relationships and discuss issues related to the coffee supply chain. It is also an opportunity to celebrate achievements taking place in coffee producing countries. This visit I was able to meet with well established partners like the team from Granja La Esperanza, the Colombian coffee producers who grew the Geisha variety coffee that we won the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s 2013 Roaster’s Choice award with. We reviewed the successes of the past year and looked forward to new coffee offerings we have planned for the New Year.
El Batan cooperative leaders Eduardo Santin and Ramiro Sisalima with coffee buyer Ted Stachura
Another long time partner I was able to connect with was the leadership of the Ecuadorian cooperative that long time drinkers of Equator coffee should be able to recall. El Batan is a community in southern Ecuador that we have been working with for last eight years. Earlier this year, when I traveled there to visit the 22 member co-op, I discovered that many members have been impacted by leaf rust (also know as roya) a disease that attacks coffee plants, defoliating them, drastically reducing yields. We continue our practice of paying high prices for this excellent Fair Trade and organic certified coffee. The growers requested that we forgo Fair Trade certification this year so each individual farmer could collect the premium that is typically designated for group expenses. Instead of honoring their request, we opted to add an additional premium, which would allow each farmer to collect the extra money while still contributing to their social fund. Since yields were down this year, we have expanded our reach in this region, purchasing coffee from neighboring communities collectively know as El Airo. Both lots are currently on the water and we plan to begin roasting them in the New Year.
Coffee buyer Ted Stachura with members of the all woman COMUCAP cooperative
In addition to well established partners, I also met with new and prospective partners from Brazil, Colombia and Honduras. The group from Honduras was of particular interest because the entire co-operative is made up exclusively of female coffee farmers. As a woman owned company, Equator looks to establish relationships with female growers whenever possible. In addition to the Honduran cooperative we also support projects in Guatemala and Nicaragua that directly benefit women coffee farmers. As I was meeting with two representatives of the co-op, our team back home was roasting through the last bag of a special micro-lot from group member Luz Zelaya. We purchased more than just this micro-lot however; we also use coffee from this growers group in a couple of our Fair Trade and organic certified blends.
Finally, my visit to El Salvador would not have been complete without a couple of side trips to farms located within the country. For the last couple of years we have been purchasing coffee from Finca Buenos Aires, a farm in the Santa Ana growing region that works in partnership with Aida Batlle’s Selections program. This year we secured three lots from Buenos Aires, each processed by a different method. It was great to see how different each coffee tasted when just one variable was changed. Additionally, I was able to venture to Usulutan to meet with coffee producer Gilberto Baraona and visit his farm and mill, called Los Pirineos. We have been roasting coffee from this farm for several years and are impressed with the high quality. The most interesting part of the visit was to see the farm’s seed bank that is nearing completion. A small portion of the farm is dedicated to plantings of nearly fifty different varieties of coffee. The plan for the future is to see how each type naturalizes in Los Pirineos’ terroir, with intention of focusing on the ones that taste best.
Coffee sourcing trips are often romanticized; the reality is usually comprised of long flights, bumpy dirt roads and lack of sleep. Because of the relatively small size of El Salvador (it takes just a few hours to dive across the country) I was able to have an immensely productive trip, filled with beautiful views, new learning and delicious coffees.