Farm: Finca La Reforma
Varietal: 100% Red Bourbon
Processing: Honey Process
Altitude: 1,300 to 1,500 metres above sea level
Owner: The Alvarez Family
Town / City: Santa Ana
Region: Santa Ana Volcano(Apaneca-Ilamatepec)
Overall: Cherry, cascara, balanced, milk chocolate
Finca La Reforma - El Salvador
The Alvarez family has been growing coffee in El Salvador for over 100 years and across four generations. Their award-winning farms are located on the lush green hills of Santa Ana, in the west of the country, whose rich volcanic soils and mild climate provide ideal conditions for growing coffee. The family owns several farms and also the renowned Borbollon Mill, where this lot was processed. All lots are hand-picked and collected in traditional hand woven baskets from December until March by pickers who have been specially trained to select only the best and fully-mature coffee cherries.
Finca La Reforma was established by Rafael Alvarez Lalinde in 1892 on the rich, humid slopes of the Santa Ana Volcano. Originally from Colombia, Don Rafael immigrated into the region, bringing some of his best coffee seeds with him to begin a new legacy for coffee production. Four generations later his descendents still own and manage this pair of small neighbouring farms – originally part of this initial farm, which was broken up for inheritances – on the fertile slopes of the Santa Ana volcano.
The Alvarez Diaz brothers are the fourth generation to farm coffee in this exceptional region. Following in their father’s footsteps, both farms to this day are planted solely with Red Bourbon variety coffee trees, demonstrating the family’s commitment to quality even in the face of El Salvador’s recent struggles with coffee leaf rust, to which Bourbon trees are particularly susceptible. The family is experimenting with orange and yellow bourbon, but plan to only stick with this single variety.
This 36 hectare estate is planted out with 100% Bourbon coffee trees and benefits from excellent growing conditions, as well as scrupulous farm management. The Alvarez family’s hard work was recognised in the 2011 Cup of Excellence, when La Reforma was awarded third place in the competition final with a score of 91.72.
La Reforma's coffee trees are shade grown under native shade species (at a density of around 50%), which enrich and conserve the soil and provide an important habitat for birds and other wildlife. The trees are managed according to a stringent pruning schedule that maintains the health of the trees and improves their resistance to diseases and insect damage. The excellent growing conditions and the commitment to sustainable growing practices have helped the family to harvest some of the best coffee from this elite region of El Salvador.
The coffee cherries are hand-picked when fully ripe by pickers who have been trained to select only fully mature cherries. The coffee is then processed in the family’s modern wet mill, sun dried on patios and stored in their purpose built facility. This allows the Alvarez family to manage the entire production process - with meticulous attention detail shown at every stage. The family and their staff are also skilled cuppers, and they regularly cup and re-cup their coffees to maintain quality.
El Borbollon mill is managed by Eduardo Alvarez, whose father (also Eduardo) bequeathed to him a passion for growing coffee and inspired him to always strive for the highest quality. Under Eduardo’s direction, the mill has increasingly accessed speciality markets and has provided key technical assistance and guidance to the farms with which they work. In fact, Eduardo’s hard work and advocacy has enabled many of these farms to place in Cup of Excellence competitions. Of the 15 high altitude farms with which El Borbollon works, 10 have won places in Cup of Excellence competitions. 4 of these, including La Reforma, have won the COE Presidential Award for achieving scores in excess of 90 points.
Eduardo manages activities at the mill to complement the natural potential of the coffees that he and other farms in the region produce. Honey coffees, such as this lot, are floated in clean water and then pulped. After this, they are very carefully dried. Many mills will dry the honey processed coffees on patios. Eduardo never does this, as he believes it contributes a muddy flavour due to the mucilage ‘sucking up’ the clay particles. Instead, the parchment, with mucilage intact, is spread onto raised beds with screens in thin layers, where it is regularly turned so as to ensure even drying.
Eduardo’s experience has shown that the longer the drying time, the better the cup, and the mill has even been experimenting with increasing drying time further through partial sun drying for small lots, where the beds are placed on an area of the patios that only receives 4 to 5 hours a day of sunlight. He is also experimenting with covering the beds during the hottest period of the day.
This meticulous attention to detail shown at every stage of production – from harvesting to milling to cupping – has enabled the family to survive the many struggles that the coffee industry in El Salvador has suffered in the last 20 years and even to inspire neighbouring farms to invest in the quality of their production. According to Eduardo, there is no other option – coffee runs ‘in his blood’ and he and his family could never leave it, so this is the only way forward. However, as El Salvador’s coffee industry and production continue diminishing in the face of coffee leaf rust and lack of governmental support, efforts such as his may prove to be crucial to the survival of some of the most notable coffees that Central America have to offer. His son certainly thinks so. The third consecutive Eduardo Alvarez, in his 30s, has recently joined the company as Operations Manager and looks forward to carrying the torch through to the sixth generation!
The Alvarez family’s farms and mill offers considerable social support to local communities and have recently been working with the local NGO www.librasdeamor.org to help tackle child malnutrition in rural communities. The family is also committed to developing sustainable practices in order to protect and preserve the natural environment.