This past harvest we purchased coffee through Aida Batlle and her project "Aida Batlle Selection," and were fortunate to visit Finca Plan de la Batea for the first time this harvest. This orange bourbon coffee from Tablon Miramar--a specific section within Finca Plan de la Batea, was one of our favorite coffees Dogwood has offered so far! As Dogwood has grown throughout its first year we've been able to offer more and more coffee, so we're expanding our purchasing to other farms Aida works with as well.
When I arrived in San Salvador it was muggy and hot, a nice change from the ultra-dry cold of Minnesota I had left several hours ago. Alejandro Mendez of Viva Espresso and the current World Barista Champion picked us up and drove us to one of the Viva Espresso locations in San Salvador. Pretty awesome coffee selection and staff.
Much of our time was spent driving around the farms and then visiting J.Hill. I'll let some of the pictures guide this blog:
Our first day was mostly spent at Finca Plan de la Batea. We met up with Mario Mendoza, manager of operations at the mill, and a group of agronomists from Brazil. They were doing some consulting with the mill on varietals, and they talked a bit about the work in a confusing Spanish-Portuguese mashup. After our stop there we drove further into the farm where pickers were sorting cherry. The roads are pretty rocky, meaning there are literally really large rocks everywhere. Driving was a lot of up and down, but Aida's car had 1000 times better shocks than my jeep, and I think it might have been smoother than when I drive over train tracks in Minneapolis. Her german shepherd, Chief, sat in the trunk and hung his giant doggie head over the back seat next to me. Definitely the raddest, nicest dog in El Salvador.
The farms that Aida works with for her Aida Batlle selection are all owned by owners of J.Hill. Part of what having her on board with these farms means that the sorting of the cherry is impeccable. Seeing these flawless piles of red, burgundy, yellow and orange cherries literally made my mouth water.
The other farm we spent a good amount of time at on this trip was Finca El Majahual, which we'll be offering coffee from this year. The farm is owned separately but managed together with two other farms, Sierra Nevada and La Florida. At El Majahual, there's a school, clinic and central kitchen that is available to workers at all three farms. The kitchen makes 850 chengas, which is like a thick tortilla, each day for the workers, and the most massive pots of beans and rice. Aida served up beans and rice for a bunch of the workers while we munched on ours on the front steps of the kitchen.
Later in the day, we toured the mill at J.Hill (technically called Las Tres Puertas) which is pretty huge. They work with all levels of coffee and types of customers. We walked around on the massive patios, looking at the view of the mountains in all directions. I think I would seriously enjoy raking pergamino there all day.
The mill has a smaller wet mill, where all of Aida's coffee is processed. These miniature fermentation tanks are where she's conducted many processing experiments too-- and as the demand for alternate types of processing grows, they're building more tanks. When she first started doing the experiments three years ago, she started with buckets as tanks, then grew to bigger buckets, and now these. I have a great video of her explaining each experimental process she's been doing, and when I figure out how to edit it, I'll put it in here.
The mill has an extensive water treatment system, as well as a giant compost area. They've brought in California red worms for composting pulp. Both the water treatment plant and the piles of cherry pulp were massive and incredibly fragrant.
Another impressive part of J.Hill was the nursery. Baby coffee plants are so cute. So many varietals, experiments and different species too. I got to hold/taste a Liberica cherry for the first time. Tastes like wood.
Santa Ana has pretty amazing weather, and really amazing coffee. The Finca Plan de la Batea orange bourbon has been one of my favorite coffees Dogwood has offered so far. I got to taste both the orange and red from this farm processed in a variety of different ways, as well as taste the Cascara side by side with the red. It's amazing the differences between the red and orange bourbon, and how they translate flavors through these different forms. The Cascara from the orange bourbon was much more floral and sweet, whereas the red bourbon was meatier, with deeper berry flavors. This year, we'll be getting a portion of the orange bourbon processed Kenya style, which means longer dry fermentation times, and leads to a remarkably different cup--ultra fresh, floral and crisp. We're also getting cascara from the Finca Plan de la Batea orange bourbon, which should make for some awesome iced summer drinks.
A few days in El Salvador was a pretty awesome way to begin 2012, and I can't wait for our coffees to arrive in a couple months!
For more pictures from this trip, please visit our Facebook Page.