Country Profile: El Salvador

Pacas mill in El Salvador
Pacas mill in El Salvador. Photo by Christian Burri on Unsplash

With a reputation of volcanoes, rainforests, and agriculture, El Salvador has been growing and consuming coffee since the mid-1700s. The nation’s previous agricultural focus was indigo; an export crop that faced fierce competition with the introduction of synthetic dies. Due to this prevalent economic threat, the government diversified the nation’s agricultural efforts by incorporating the production of coffee. Since then, this small country (roughly equivalent to the state of New Jersey), has managed to develop a global reputation for producing exquisite coffees. 

The traceability of El Salvadoran coffee is notably strong and is the result of the governmental investment. In 2015, the Salvadoran Coffee Council initiated a 5-year development strategy, focusing on the revitalising of Salvadoran coffee by investing in local production, promoting domestic consumption, and strengthening its position on the global market. The benefits of this investment mean that there is now strong traceability, allowing high-quality Salvadoran coffees to be traced back to farm level. 

El Salvador has been able to distinguish itself from other notable coffee-producing nations, by focusing on the Bourbon coffee variety. Unfortunately, the local coffee producers have struggled to maintain outbreaks of coffee-leaf rust (for which Bourbon is more susceptible compared to other varietals). This has, in turn, resulted in seasons of decreased yield and quality. With the establishment of the Consejo Salvadoreño del Cafe (the national coffee institution, founded in 1989), El Salvador has been able to tackle the issue through investing into research, along with providing agricultural support in order to maintain the quality and accessibility of Salvadoran coffee. 

Out of all the coffee grown in El Salvador, it estimated that about 25% is of the Pacas variety. This native coffee variety is a natural mutation of the Bourbon variety and was discovered in 1956 by the Pacas family. These plants are desired for their high yields and small size, which means that more coffee can be produced within a smaller area. In terms of flavour, Pacamara (a hybrid of the Pacas and Maragogipe variety) boasts a medium to heavy body, an elegant acidity, with notes of chocolate, red berries and citrus. Pacamara coffee has grown to become a world-favourite. Almost all coffee produced in El Salvador is shade-grown, with over 60% of the Arabica being of the Bourbon variety, in addition to Pacas and Pacamara being the second and third-most popular varieties. 

Interestingly, a lot of El Salvadorian producers avoid the use of regional names when describing coffee. Instead, these producers use altitude classifications. The classifications are as follows: Strictly High Grown/SHG (grown above 1, 200m/3, 900ft), High Grown/HG (grown above 900m/3, 000ft) and Central Standard (grown above 600m/2, 000ft). While these classifications can infer the growing conditions of the coffee, they do not relate to the quality or traceability of the coffee itself. 

Apaneca-Ilamatepec Mountain Range 

The Apaneca-Ilamatepec region is known to be the starting point for coffee cultivation in El Salvador. While being subject to a level of volcanic activity (including the eruption of the Santa Ana volcano in 2005), the Apaneca-Ilamatepec region has still been able to produce a swathe of prestigious coffees. 

Chichontepec Volcano 

The volcanic-induced soil fertility has resulted in a boom of coffee farms in the area, with some farmers continuing the traditional practice of growing alternating rows of coffee and citrus trees (a practice which some believe to attribute a citrus flavour to the coffee profile). While coffee made a relatively late appearance to this region, it hasn’t stopped it’s capacity for producing a flavoursome beverage. 

El Bálsamo-Quezaltepec Mountain Range

Sitting atop of the Quetzaltepec volcano, this region overlooks the nation’s capital city, San Salvador. The fertile slopes are perfectly suited for the production of high-quality coffees. Additionally, the name of the region, ‘El Balsamo’ is a reference to the resin that is produced by the local Balsam trees. This aromatic resin is used in a variety of medicinal and fragrance products, as it has a potent smell with hints of vanilla and white flowers.

Coffee Map

Map of coffee regions in El Salvador
Image by Cafe Imports