Honduras/El Salvador Diaries, Part V: Land of Enchantment

Our coffee director, Byron Jackson Holcomb, traveled to Honduras and El Salvador earlier this month to meet with some of the farms we work with. This is the fifth in a series of his travel diaries.

Coffee at La Encantada, El Salvador. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

Coffee at La Encantada, El Salvador. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

La Encantada is a story that is too good to be true. Ten years ago the Figueroa family with the help of some investors in the United States purchased a plot of land that is about 600 acres in size; it is 99.9% a nature reserve. The family has a perfect mix of siblings: an environmentalist, an industrialist and a farmer. The three siblings all have their own set of priorities, so in the end they all balance out and the story only gets better and better. The environmentalist has her priorities set 100% in conservation of the cloud forest. The industrialist is incredibly proud of the cup score and quality and is excited to produce more and more of this fantastic coffee. The farmer couldn’t be happier to have a high altitude coffee farm in the family.

La Encantada is just that, an enchanter. A short hike above the farm quickly becomes a cloud forest. The trees are covered in orchids and bromeliads. There are primary old growth trees and secondary and tertiary growth trees. As I walk through a narrow path the forest becomes dark. Barely any light can make it through the multi-layer canopy to the ferns below. At one point I joked that a T-rex was going to jump out and eat Luis because it looked like a scene from Jurassic Park. I spent the trip with the industrialist, Oscar. He passionately described his family’s mission to reestablish a cloud forest on the top of this mountain because that ensures water for the entire watershed and the towns below, like Metapan where he is from. Oscar clearly has done his research: he eloquently described how the cloud forest has moved up the mountain and now at the very top there are species that really shouldn’t be there. The middle elevation species and biodiversity has migrated up the mountain with deforestation. La Encantada is at the very top of the mountain. The cloud forest has nowhere to go but into thin air.

The coffee farm was started about seven years ago as a way to generate some employment opportunities for the community and provide income to the reserve so that it can be self-sufficient. They have a payroll of six full-time employees. In the family there are two farms: Miraflores and Encantada. This is where Alejandro played a crucial role in discovering La Encantada. Every year the family would harvest Encantada and blend it with the 20 acre farm, Miraflores, and sell it internally. Last year, Alejandro asked him to keep Encantada separate until he and Luis could cup it. Boom. The coffee sprang off the cupping table and we danced a little jig, knowing that we could buy that coffee last year. This year again we did a little dance.

encantada-drying

Here is where I was totally surprised. I walked on to the tiny two-acre plot of land to find white sandy soil (like I’ve seen in Brazil) and coffee trees that weren’t in perfect health. Alejandro, a farmer himself, showed me that when areas were heavily farmed with corn the coffee shows signs of a lack in sulfur. It looks like a thin yellow rim around the leaves. Other leaves showed signs of a lack of boron, others zinc, there was some leaf rust present on the leaves. This coffee was struggling to survive and yet the cups on the cupping table were bursting with life.

Like most farms there was a majority of one coffee variety but then there were some others too. The farm is mostly Pacamara. The rest looks like a combination of Pacas, Bourbon, and some old tree that none of us could identify (between three well-traveled farmers). For me it looked like a short berry variety from Ethiopia, the cherries were comically small, it was tall and spindly like a Typica, but upon closer inspection it just looked more like something I’ve seen in Kochere Ethiopia that I was told was “green tip”. The farm manager, who’s nickname is Tucan, said the trees were at least 50 years old. We could call it a Mokka, and nobody could say we were wrong. Considering that it so different in form shape, bean and Brix % of 29, I proposed that we call it Tucan.

encantada-brix

We had them pick the Pacamara separate from the other varieties. The other varieties all together would earn a perfect score for sweetness on the the Cup of Excellence form from me (92 cup). Coffees this tasty don’t happen on every cupping table. Coffees like these don’t happen every year. The Pacamara was a fantastic Pacamara (86+). It still holds on to some of that Pacamara flavor and but has layers of fruit and chocolate in between that make it a joy to cup.

After getting the premium for the quality last year (which was 5 times more than they got the year before for the same coffee), the family is looking at options to produce more coffee. The environmentalist gave the industrialist permission to clear a few more acres, but on one condition, it must be done organically. This means the farmer needs to learn some more skills about organic production, the industrialist needs to wait at least one to two years longer for decent harvest and the environmentalist has more a more financially sustainable reserve.

When I heard this story from Luis the first time, I said it sounds too good to be true. I’ll wait until I get there before I get really excited. Well I can tell you that this is all true because I saw it for myself.

Stay tuned for Part Six of Byron’s Honduras & El Salvador trip, coming soon.