Coffee production in El Salvador has fueled the Salvadoran economy and shaped its history for more than a century. Rapidly growing in the 19th century, coffee in El Salvador has traditionally provided more than 50% of the country’s export revenues, reaching a peak in 1980 with a revenue of more than $615 million. With the political and economic turmoil resulting from a civil war in the 1980s, the coffee industry has struggled to recover entirely, and by 1985 earned around $403 million from coffee.
- Size – 21,041 sq km
- Capital City – San Salvador
- Main Port Cities – Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala [NOTE: We buy coffee FOT here and ship it through a port in Guatemala]
- Population – 6,156,670 (July 2016)
- Language/s Spoken – Spanish (official), Nawat (aka Pipil)
Coffee production in El Savaldor
- Population Involved in Coffee – approx 20,000
- Average Farm Size – 5–50 hectares
- Bags Exported Annually – 500,000–600,000 bags (2016)
El Savaldor Coffee Profile
- Growing Regions – Apaneca, Apaneca Llamatepec, El Bálsamo–Quetzaltepec, Cacahuatique, Chalatenango, Chinchontepec, Metapán, Santa Ana, Tecapa-Chinameca
- Common Varieties – Bourbon, Pacamara, Pacas, Typica
- Processing Method/s – Washed (primary), some experimentation with Natural and Honey
- Country-Specific Grading – SHG (Strictly High Grown, 1200+ masl); HG (High Grown, 900–1200 masl); CS (Central Standard 500–900 masl)
- Bag Size – 69 kg (Café Imports also offers select coffees in 35 kg Pequeños bags)
- Harvest Period – November–April
- Typical Arrival – May–July
History and politics of El Salvador Coffee
Known as “the land of volcanoes,” El Salvador is the smallest Central American country (roughly the same size as New Jersey), but its reputation among specialty-coffee-growing regions has grown larger-than-life, especially since the early 2000s. While coffee was planted and cultivated here mostly for domestic consumption starting in the mid-1700s, it became a stable and significant crop over the next 100 years, notably increasing in national importance during the late 1800s, when the country’s indigo exports were threatened by the development and widespread marketability of synthetic dyes.
Different government programs designed to increase production through land, tax, and military-exemption incentives created a small but strong network of wealthy landowners who gained control over the coffee market, in addition to the individual smallholders who were growing coffee as part of their subsistence farming and would sell their cherry to the larger estates or to mills.
The political obstacle to the coffee industry
By the late 1970s coffee exports accounted for 50 percent of the GDP, but socioeconomic and political unrest hurled the country into civil war for more than a decade, and in the 1980s various land-redistribution projects and agrarian reform disjointed the coffee industry and caused the market to decline. Lacking the resources to continue farming, producers abandoned their coffee farms, and many were left overgrown and unharvested for years until a peace agreement was reached in the 1990s.
It is often said that the Cup of Excellence competition, which came to El Salvador in 2003, was the beginning of the new “wave” of interest in Salvadoran coffee, shining the first light on some of the special varieties the small country grows.
Variety Coffee in El Salvador
In part because the coffee farms were left unmolested during the 1980s (when many other coffee-producing countries were replacing lower-yield heirloom coffees with more productive and disease-resistant ones), as well as thanks to some specific local hybrids and unique cultivars, El Salvador has been able to capitalize on its reputation for a variety of, well, varieties:
Pacas is a natural mutation of Bourbon, similar to Caturra in Brazil and Villa Sarchi in Costa Rica. Similar to other widely cultivated Bourbon mutants, Pacas has a single-gene mutation that causes the plant to grow smaller (called “dwarfism’)
The variety was discovered in 1949 on a farm owned by the Pacas family in the Santa Ana region of El Salvador. In 1960, the Salvadoran Institute for Coffee Research (ISIC) began a program of pedigree selection (selection of individual plants through successive generations) for Pacas. It is still widely grown in the country; it accounts for about 25% of the country’s coffee production.
See more Pacas variety from World Coffee Research
The Pacamara varietal is a hybrid between Pacas and Maragojipe. First bred in 1958 in El Salvador, Pacamara is thought to have been developed in order to create a variety of Typica with larger coffee beans. The coffee varietal Pacas was discovered in 1949 in El Salvador and is a natural mutation of Bourbon with Caturra.
A selection of the Bourbon variety made by the Salvadoran Institute for Coffee Research (ISIC) beginning in the 1949 and released in 1977.
The name Tekisic comes from tekiti, a word meaning “work” in the Nahuatl language, and ISIC. It was indeed a lot of work to create the variety—the Salvadoran Institute for Coffee Research (ISIC) spent nearly 30 years performing selections to create it, beginning in the 1949 and culminating with its release in 1977. It is widespread in El Salvador, where Tekisic and unselected Bourbon make up nearly 70% of coffee production.
See more Tekisic variety from World Coffee Research
Very high susceptibility to coffee leaf rust (CLR)
Unfortunately, one of the things that has set El Salvador apart as a coffee producer over the past 20 years is also what’s made it very vulnerable: Those famous varieties, often grown in monoculture, are especially susceptible to coffee-leaf rust. Bourbon in particular is not hardy enough to battle the disease, and as Pacas and Pacamara both spring from Bourbon genetics, the country’s crops have suffered under the latest outbreak of coffee-leaf rust in the 2010s, causing both quality and yield to fall.