Salvadoran grower visits Bird Rock Coffee

Trying to put a face on coffee

Fresh, ripe coffee cherries picked at El Salvador’s Finca Loma La Gloria
  • Fresh, ripe coffee cherries picked at El Salvador’s Finca Loma La Gloria

Bird Rock Coffee Roasters

5627 La Jolla Boulevard, La Jolla

Local coffee enthusiasts got a rare glimpse into the supply side of specialty coffee when a farmer from El Salvador paid a visit to Bird Rock Coffee Roasters for a pair of Meet the Grower events in August. Anny Ruth Pimental represents Finca Loma La Gloria, a coffee estate outside San Salvador that recently provided Bird Rock with beans rated 94 points by CoffeeReview.com. Bird Rock owner Chuck Patton calls it, “One of the highest scores ever for a Salvadoran coffee.”

To find such coffee, Patton has made more than 40 sourcing trips to 11 coffee-growing countries, but Pimental is the first to reciprocate with a visit to San Diego.

“This is revolutionary, her being here,” says Jeff Courson of Bodhi Leaf Coffee Traders, the broker that facilitated import. Bodhi Leaf sources coffee from around the world, then sells the beans to commercial and home roasters. In this case, Bodhi Leaf brought back a full shipping container — 275 bags of beans weighing 150 pounds each. Forty of those bags were lots specifically picked out by Patton for Bird Rock; the rest will go to customers in other cities.

Whereas most Salvadoran coffee plantations go back five or six generations, Pimental’s father bought the 220-acre Finca Loma La Gloria 18 years ago. Built on the slope of a volcano at an elevation between 4000 and 5000 feet, the farm boasts nearly 450,000 trees and supports 60 to 65 employees — up to 250 during harvest.

A self-professed city girl, Pimental initially took no interest in her father’s farm. But once she “got bored being behind a desk every day,” she started digging deeper into coffee cultivation and began implementing changes to the farm designed to improve on quality.

“Learning to cup has been key to my process,” she adds, estimating that as many as 90 percent of Salvadoran coffee growers never taste their beans. By cupping her product, she’s learned to make the adjustments needed to attract direct traders like Patton. By any estimation, a smart move. Most coffee is traded on the commodities market, subject to fluctuations in price that neither reflect quality, nor even supply and demand principles — in the past year it’s dropped from $2.30 to $1.20 per pound.

Pimental says her coffee costs $1.80 to produce, and for most in her region about $1.45. By selling it at commodity prices, those growers only accrue debt. Bird Rock pays closer to $4 per pound, which allows Pimental to pay her workers 30 percent higher wages than neighboring farms, she says.

Patton is quick to point out, “This is not a charity.” He visits growers “trying to find the best of the best,” so he can offer higher-grade, exclusive coffees. He insists “the relationship established with the farmer doesn’t work if the quality of the coffee isn’t there.” But by hosting Pimental at his shops, he tells customers he’s “Trying to put a face on what you drink every day,” and hopes to do so again with other farmers.

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