Finca Santa Rita lies high amongst the clouds in Sosonate, near the town of Juayúa to the west of El Salvador’s Santa Ana Volcano. The farm’s vista overlooks a rich valley, and Mauricio Escalon, the farm’s owner, takes great care to preserve the farm’s natural beauty and ecosystem as well as make the most of its privileged natural location for coffee production.
Mauricio, who is a landscape architect by training, is also a 5th generation coffee farmer and knows that ‘traditional’ methods can often give farmers an advantage if used wisely. He uses biological controls wherever possible, eschewing the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers where he can. He uses natural bacteria (Trichoderma) and fungus to manage soil diseases and promote root health, and foliage issues are managed primarily by pruning and renovation.
Santa Rita is planted out with a mix of Bourbon, and Pacas varieties. This ‘El Aguacate’ micro-lot – so named for the large avocado trees that stand on the plot where the coffee is picked – is made up of 100% Bourbon. On average, Mauricio maintains approximately 2,899 coffee trees per hectare at Santa Rita with good spacing between rows. This density of planting means that plants don’t over-compete for scarce resources and that air continues to circulate between the plants, ensuring their optimal health.
Mauricio is extremely passionate about supporting the pickers and sees their role as one of the most important in the chain. He is currently working to set up the Specialty Coffee League of El Salvador, which will focus on pickers and picker groups, and will work to try and elevate their roles and their appreciation for how they contribute to the end cup quality. Mauricio explained to us that he wants the pickers to be proud: ‘Fifty years ago the pickers were happy; they felt proud to pick coffee and they did with a sense of pride and purpose.’ Mauricio feels that this culture has been lost and wants to reinvigorate the pickers’ sense of purpose and value.
HOW THIS COFFEE WAS PROCESSED
All the coffee from Santa Rita (along with Mauricio’s other farms) are processed at Mauricio’s nearby Cafescal Mill, in San Jose. The small beneﬁcio is meticulously run and produces coffees using a wide range of processes. During the harvest, Santa Rita’s cherries are delivered to the mill to be pulped on the same day. After fermentation and washing, the coffee is spread to be sun-dried on traditional clay patios, where they are moved every 30 minutes or so – receiving up to 16 rakings in a day. Clay patios are traditional in this region, and Mauricio prefers them to the more modern concrete patios as clay is endothermic (absorbs heat) and, thus, very good at regulating temperature. Coffees dried this way dry very slowly (a minimum 9 to 10 days), and Mauricio ensures it is raked up to 16 times a day until it achieves the optimal humidity for storage.