Coffee was first made in El Salvador in the 1850s. It soon became a popular crop, with tax breaks for growers. Coffee production became an important part of the economy and the country’s main export, and by 1880 El Salvador was the world’s fourth-largest coffee producer, producing more than twice as much as it does today.
The growth of the coffee industry was due in part to the fact that El Salvador moved away from its former dominant crop, indigo, in the mid-19th century after the invention of chemical dyes. The land used to grow indigo was ruled by a relatively small earthly elite. Other types of land were needed to produce coffee, so these landed families, under the influence of the government, passed laws to displace the poor from their land so that it could be absorbed into new coffee plantations. Indigenous compensation almost existed, sometimes they were simply given the opportunity to work seasonally on newly established coffee plantations.
By the early 20th century, El Salvador was becoming one of the most progressive among Central American nations, first with paved highways and investments in ports, railroads, and lavish public buildings. Coffee helped finance infrastructure and integrate indigenous communities into the national economy, but also served as a mechanism for the descending elite to maintain political and economic control of the country.
The aristocracy of the time exercised its power with the support of military rule from the 1930s onwards, and this became a period of relative stability. In the decades that followed, the growth of the coffee industry helped the development of the cotton and light industries. Until the Civil War of the 1980s, El Salvador gained a reputation for the quality and efficiency of coffee production, with well-established relations with importing countries. However, the civil war would have a dramatic effect on this as production fell and foreign markets sought their coffee elsewhere.
Despite the decline in production and exports, the civil war brought unexpected benefits to the coffee industry. At that time, coffee growers in much of Central America replaced their inherited varieties with newly developed, high-yielding varieties. The cup quality of these new varieties was not the same as that of the hereditary varieties, but the yield was preferred. However, El Salvador never went through this process. The country continues to have an unusually high proportion of inherited Bourbon trees, which together produce 68 percent of coffee. Combined with its well-drained but mineral-rich volcanic soils, the country is capable of making staggeringly sweet coffees.
The Pacas Version
In 1949, Don Alberto Pacas discovered a mutation in the Bourbon species on one of his farms. Its name was named after him, and later the Pacamara variety was crossed with a coffee called Maragogype, the very large coffee bean. Both desirable varieties continue to be produced in the region and in neighboring countries.
Much of El Salvador’s latest coffee marketing has focused on this and has worked hard to regain its position among coffee-producing countries and restore old ties with consumer nations. There are still large estates in El Salvador, but there are also plenty of small farms. Great country to explore as there are many stunning coffees full of sweets and sophistication.
The existing infrastructure means that it is relatively easy to maintain traceability on high-quality coffees down to farm level, and many farms are able to create micro-and-batches based on process and variety.
Although volcanic activity can jeopardize production, plantations in the Apaneca-Ilamatepec region continue to grow competitive coffee thanks to their excellent soil.
El Salvadoran Bourbon coffees are famously sweet and balanced, with a pleasant soft acidity to create balance in the cup.