As with many Central American countries, coffee production in El Salvador began early in the 19th century. By 1850 the national government began to recognize the huge commercial potential in coffee. In order to encourage production, the government provided benefits to coffee farmers such as exemptions from taxes and military service.
One of the many tragic effects of the devastating civil war in El Salvador in the 1980’s was the damage done to the coffee sector. Individual farmers suffered under pressure from both the guerrilla and military forces, coffee marketing and export was nationalized, and investment in farms ground to a halt. One of the interesting outcomes of farmers’ inability to tend to their property during this period is that some very special farms still have coffee trees that are 80 – 100 years old.
Beginning around 2005, a specialty coffee renaissance lead by the El Salvador Coffee Council (Consejo de Cafe), a small number of forward thinking farmers, and the Cup of Excellence program led El Salvador back into the spotlight. Strategic marketing programs aimed at roasters interested in building direct relationships with producers brought buyers to visit the country. There, roasters met with innovative farmers eager to learn what their end consumers appreciated most in a cup of coffee. Quality improved dramatically as a result of these roaster-farmer relationships, making El Salvador one of today’s most highly prized coffee producing countries in the world.
While the vast majority of El Salvador’s production is washed Bourbon coffee, farmers are experimenting with different cultivars and processing methods making it difficult to generalize an “El Salvador flavor.” Standard Specialty SHG EP coffees tend to have medium to light body, medium to high acidity and pronounced cocoa, toffee, caramel and red apple flavors. More exotic types can run the flavor spectrum, from elegant, citric and botanical to lush, winy and deep, and everywhere in between.