1. 04 October 2012

    New Coffee: Finca El Zarzal


    We are very excited to launch our first direct trade coffee from El Salvador. A country which left a deep impression on us during our bus journey through Central America last year. Famous for producing top quality coffee, El Salvador also gained much traction in 2011 for being the first coffee-producing country to produce a World Barista Champion from its native land. Through friends from El Salvador, we got to know Ben Argueta and Finca El Zarzal. Knowing the limited quantities he has, we are very excited to be his very first buyer from Southeast Asia. 

    Finca El Zarzal is located on the San Vicente Volcano in central El Salvador. This estate coffee farm contains 40 hectares of coffee and a 10 hectares forest reserve. The farm’s altitude ranges from 1290 -1520 meters. The farm sits atop the Chichontepec Growing Region, one of the smallest of El Salvador’s coffee producing zones. While this zone produces only 5% of the national crop, the region’s unique flavor profiles has started to make coffee buyers from around the world take notice. 

    A family-owned business, Finca El Zarzal recently celebrated its 100th year of growing high quality coffee. Originally purchased in 1911, the farm has passed through the stewardship of four generations of the Argueta/Iglesias family. Since 1997, El Zarzal has been managed by Benjamin Argueta, who oversees all the farm and mill activities. Over the last few years he has modernized the business to focus on quality and accommodate the growing niche for direct-trade micro-lots. 

    Finca El Zarzal is cultivated with heirloom varieties of Red Bourbon and Typicas. All coffees are shade grown under high density native trees. With the expertise of the farm manager, Mr Hernan Linares, an agronomist with nearly 40 years of experience working in the coffee industry, the finca has implemented a lot of quality improvements over the last few years. Shade and soil management, tree pruning and plant nutrition are routinely experimented with and evaluated in the never-ending quest of producing a better tasting cup. 

    In 2005, the Argueta family set up their own ecological mill, Beneficio Monte Benny, in the town of Verapaz, San Vicente. This micro-mill processes only their own coffee and allows them to have complete control over the quality of the final product before export. In the wet mill, a Jotagallo model was chosen for its vast ecological benefits. In addition to outstanding quality coffee, the diminished use of water is dramatic lower than a traditional beneficio. Most of the coffee is sun-dried on patio but raised African drying beds are also used to custom process specialty micro-lots. The dry mill at Beneficio Monte Benny classifies coffee by size, density and gravity. For final cleaning of specialty lots, the coffee is always passed manually on cleaning tables with workers selecting out any remaining defective grains by hand.

    Last year the Argueta family began to export their green coffee under its own San Vicente Coffee Company brand. In June 2012, Finca El Zarzal emerged as one of the 28 winners at the El Salvador Cup of Excellence Award for a micro-lot called La Cuadrada. While we did not get a chance to sample this COE lot, we did manage to buy 3 different micro-lots from the samples we received from Finca El Zarzal. First to be launched is from a tablon (parcel) called Loma Alta (A). This micro-lot exhibits really sweet floral aroma, distinct sweetness, ending off in a clean cup with delicate acidity. As a brewed coffee, we tasted red apple acidity with brown sugar/molasses type of sweetness (think dried longan). The finish is coated with hints of cocoa and caramel. This is a very pleasing cup which works beautifully with the Kalita wave dripper or the Clever dripper. 

    • Producer: Ben Argueta
    • Parcel: Loma Alta (A)
    • Varietal: Bourbon and Typicas
    • Altitude: 1290-1520m asl
    • Region: Chichontepec, El Salvador
    • Processing: Washed and 100% sun-dried