Some of Atlas’ longest standing producer relationships are in Central America, so we tend to travel there several times a year. Despite Central American countries being located relatively close to each other, harvest seasons can be months apart, so it’s not always the most efficient plan to bundle travel to several countries in one trip. We’ve found over the years that, very generally, our main producer partners in El Salvador and Costa Rica tend to harvest on the early side (Dec-Feb,) and Honduras and Nicaragua on the later side (Feb-May.) I do mean very generally, as there is coffee being harvested throughout Central America from Nov-June.
January tends to be a terrific time to visit El Salvador and Costa Rica, so we’ll typically plan a trip around the second week of the month. These two countries are also relatively small and have terrific roads compared to other areas of Central America, so getting around to visit our partners is very efficient. In Jan’16, I spent a week between these two countries focusing on short visits with our main farmer and exporter partners there. In El Salvador: Café Pacas and Cuatro M Cafés. In Costa Rica: Santa Elena Estates and Deli-Café.
Atlas’ relationship with Café Pacas began in 2008 and every year we’re proud to feature their stellar coffees. Charismatic siblings Maria and Alfredo Pacas personify the company’s values of responsibility, respect and integrity, with a healthy dose of fun thrown in. With over a dozen specialty coffee farms in several of El Salvador’s main growing regions, each divided by tablón, Café Pacas is able to offer a huge range of profiles. While most of their coffees are fully washed, they’ve recently developed excellent protocols for pulped natural (honey) and full natural processes for even more selections. This trip included visits to their farms La Providencia and La Esperanza, both perennial Atlas favorites and fantastic locations to see. Café Pacas has recently planted a variety garden Finca La Providencia, with around half an acre each of over 60 different genetic varieties and cultivars for research. They’ll plant similar gardens in other growing regions of El Salvador in order to identify the ideal varieties for each location, and hopefully discover some new gems in the process.
Cuatro M Cafés headed up by the indomitable Emilio Lopez Días is another one of Atlas’ longest standing producer partnerships. In the past several years, the quality of Cuatro M’s coffees has catapulted them into popularity so great that Atlas is rarely able to purchase their lots to sell on a spot basis. Along with their own estates Finca El Manzano and Finca Ayutepeque, Cuatro M represents a number of other local specialty estates that deliver some of the finest coffees in the country. Cuatro M’s Beneficio El Manzano includes both wet and dry mills, as well as a state-of-the-art cupping lab. Finca El Manzano is a sterling example of farm management, and is one of the most efficient and productive farms we’ve ever seen. Emilio’s currently in the process of renovating large areas of the farm, replacing old trees damaged by leaf rust with young, healthy trees that will be more resistant and productive. El Manzano also boasts a number of exotic varieties, including Pacamara, Yellow and Orange Bourbon in addition to the traditional Red Bourbon. While Finca Ayutepeque is technically classified as an “HG” farm by elevation, cup scores are consistently 83+ which is a direct result of Emilio’s outstanding farm management.
The second half of my trip was spent in Costa Rica, visiting our two main exporting partners: Santa Elena Estates and Deli-Café. Costa Rica has a rich coffee legacy and a great diversity of producer types. These two groups are terrific examples of two different coffee operations both focused on specialty quality.
Grace Mena, Deli-Café S.A.’s Founder and General Manager hosted me my first day in Costa Rica. Grace travels so often that it’s rare to catch her in the office in San Jose, so it was a rare treat to be able to meet and cup with her. Atlas has worked with a number of privately-owned estates and micro-mills for the past several years, with the support and exporting expertise of Grace and her team at Deli-Café. Additionally, we regularly carry coffees from Deli-Café’s own mill “Lomas al Rio” in the West Valley.
Santa Elena Estates and Beneficiadora Santa Elena are owned by Luz Marina "Luzma" Trujillo, a wonderful woman who has done amazing things for Costa Rican coffee. Finca Santa Elena is actually several medium-sized farms located around the town of Frailes in Tarrazú. In the past few years, Luzma has started to separate the harvests from these individual farms, resulting in an exciting array of profiles that are surprisingly unique given their close proximity to each other. In addition to farm separations, Luzma has been processing Peaberry, (Pulped Natural) Honey and Full Natural lots from her estates adding to the spectrum of profiles available from her company. After the 2015 harvest, Luzma had a few dozen sturdy, metal raised drying beds built on the mill’s property to properly dry her full natural lots. Tarrazú often experiences cool temperatures and misty low clouds that can slow down sun-drying, making raised beds critical for uniform air drying of natural process coffees.
We’re quite proud of our relationships in El Salvador and Costa Rica, and look forward to visiting them each year. Lucky for us, many of these producers also visit the U.S. for the SCAA Expo on a regular basis, so we’re able to see many of them several times each year. If you’re a coffee buyer for a roasting company and you’d like to meet them someday, feel free to reach out to our office to see about upcoming travel opportunities.