Country: EL SALVADOR
Region: Apaneca-Ilamatepec, Ahuachapan
Owner: Alfaro Family
Altitude: 1300 metres above sea level
Variety: 100% Red Bourbon
Processing: Fully Washed and dried on a patio.
Silky and smooth. Notes of brown sugar, candied citrus and butterscotch.
About El Carmen (with thanks to Melbourne Coffee Merchants)
El Carmen Estate is located at 1,300m above sea level in El Salvador’s Apaneca-Ilamatepec mountain range, one of Central America’s prime specialty coffee producing areas. The estate has been owned by the Alfaro family for over a century.
El Carmen estate was founded in the middle of the 19th century when Antonio José Alfaro acquired a plot of land near the village of Ataco – meaning ‘Site of Elevated Springs’ in the indigenous Nahuatl language – and started to produce coffee. His son, Agustin Alfaro, founder of the Salvadoran National Coffee Company, followed in his father’s footsteps and established El Carmen as one of El Salvador’s leading exporters. His efforts were continued by Antonio Alfaro, head of the third generation of this coffee family and are carried through today by Fernando Alfaro, the fourth generation of his family to farm coffee.
El Carmen lies in the heart of El Salvador’s main ‘protected highway’ of forest, a part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor System that stretches all the way from Mexico down to Panama. In El Salvador, where more than 80% of the country’s coffee is produced under shade, this eco-system is based mainly in the coffee forest. For this reason, coffee farms such as El Carmen play a vital role as a sanctuary for hundreds of the migratory and native bird species found in this part of the world.
The high quality of El Carmen is due to the estate’s prime growing conditions and the family’s meticulous approach to harvesting and processing. The family place great emphasis on maintaining the identity of each lot from the moment its coffee cherries are harvested until the point when the green beans are ready for export. Fernando Alfaro explained their approach further ‘The lots that come through our mill are like babies to us’. The estate’s coffee is produced under approximately 60% shade cover, which helps protect the coffee from the sun and ensures the coffee ripens slowly and evenly. Prior to the rainy season, shade trees are then pruned to about 40% shade to allow the access of light necessary for new foliage growth.
The Alfaro family manage the processing of El Carmen with scrupulous attention to detail. The red and orange (also known as pink) Bourbon cherries are hand-picked only when perfectly ripe and de-pulped the same day, with the different colours kept separate. (Red and orange Bourbon coffees are widespread through El Salvador but are typically inter-planted, picked as they ripen and processed all together).
The beans are then pulped at the family’s wet mill to remove the outer skin, fermented and washed with pure spring water, and sun-dried on clay patios. The high altitude of the mill helps the coffee dry slowly, over 14- 16 days. Once dry, the coffee is stored in parchment in wooden silos to protect the freshness of each individual bean, left to ‘rest’ for a minimum of 60 days under controlled conditions to reach uniform humidity and colour. The lots are consistently cupped whilst in storage. Finally, the beans are prepared and screened to uniform size for export.
El Carmen has also expanded into tourism services in recent years, offering coffee tours and overnight accommodation in the farm’s original family home. An institution in the area, it has become a proud symbol of Ataco village.