Strawberry, Tangerine and Chocolate
The Los Pirineos farm has been in the Baraona family for 135 years. The farm is named for the Pyrenees mountain range that separates France and Spain; the Baraonas thought the landscape was very similar. The family ran the coffee farms for generations, and they were a fairly steady source of income until the brutal Salvadoran Civil war forced the family to leave their land for 12 years between 1980 and 1992. During this period they lost 90% of their land. Gilberto Baraona was the only cousin that returned to the farms in 1992, against the wishes of his grandparents, who wanted their descendants to avoid the hardship they had been through during their time producing coffee. From this point on, fourth-generation coffee producer Gilberto sought to rebuild and refocus efforts on the farm. The family now owns and runs 5 farms, a coffee milling and exporting company, and a company who builds mills for other farmers. The farms are all located between 1200 and 1550 masl on the Tecapa volcano, just outside the town of Berlin in the Usulutan region of south-eastern El Salvador. Los Pirineos is the flagship of the project, with the highest altitude and widest selection of varietals, many rather rare. They specialise in Bourbon and Pacamara, and own some of the oldest heirloom Bourbon varietals still existing in El Salvador. The varietal garden is home to more than 17 varietals, and is a World Coffee Research accredited centre for testing experimental new varietals, and for genetic blueprints for iconic varietals such as the Bourbon and Pacamara.
All of the coffee from these farms is processed at the Tecapa mill, located just down the slopes from the Pirineos farm, at 1400 masl on the volcano from which it takes its name. Tecapa was built in 2014, specially designed to process high quality micro lot coffees, and takes cleanliness and systems very seriously. Gilberto compared the operation to a fine dining restaurant, where preparation and systems in the kitchen help to deliver the highest possible quality of final product with minimal stress during service (or harvest) time. This level of control and precision requires a well trained staff, so Gilberto makes sure of high pay and good conditions, meaning even the seasonal workers tend to return year after year. The mill is equipped with all stainless steel tanks and a unique location creates the perfect conditions for fermenting and drying to exacting standards. It is placed in a valley which runs from east to west, giving optimal sun exposure and creating a natural wind tunnel, aiding in drying coffee efficiently. This is also one of the highest altitude mills in the country, so temperatures are comparatively low, leading to longer controlled drying times and better shelf life for the coffees. All of this hard work leads to some of the best coffee in El Salvador, Gilberto’s farms are a mainstay in the top ranks of the El Salvador Cup of Excellence.
This lot of Pacamara is rather special, as it comes from a natural mutation on the farm, where the cherries have ripened orange rather than red. Seeds from these plants were then isolated, replanted on a new plot, and kept separate during processing. Coffees from this plot have generally tasted a little brighter and more fruit-forward, and this is enhanced by a careful honey process. The Pirineos ‘red honey’ process involves de-pulping and leaving 100% of mucilage on the seeds before transferring to raised beds. To accomplish a red honey process the seeds are left without turning for 3 days, allowing a build up of temperature and therefore more fermentation, turning the drying coffee a red colour. This also leads to enhanced fermentation character in the cup, bringing notes of rich strawberry and tangerine to a base of creamy milk chocolate.
When we choose to share a coffee, it’s because we feel it showcases clear character in the cup, the origin of which can be traced back through the coffee chain. We are inspired not only by sharing this carefully created raw material, but by conveying how each step of the coffee’s journey has led to what you find in your cup, be it terroir, varietal, post-harvest processing, or something else entirely.
We roast with a gentle touch in order to unveil these characteristics with the highest level of clarity. Be it a dense, high-grown heirloom varietal from Ethiopia, or a lower-grown Bourbon from Brazil, we always aim for this same clarity, and write taste notes as an introduction as to what to expect from the raw material. We would expect higher acidity and a lower body from Ethiopia, so would use notes such as citrus fruits and tea to describe this. From Brazil, we are more likely to use notes such as chocolate and nuts; to convey the heavy, sweet character and pleasant dryness we expect from lower-grown coffees.
With the honey process a certain amount of mucilage and pulp are allowed to remain on the coffee bean during depulping. The cover will stay with the bean during fermentation and drying thereby contributing to the sugars absorbed by the bean and affecting the flavour notes of the final cup. The amount of mucilage remaining defines the type of honey process - white, yellow, red or black in ascending order of mucilage concentration. If they are processed properly, the coffees can take on quite a lot of sweetness and flavours while remaining clean.
Raised drying beds (sometimes referred to as African drying beds) are often preferable when working with honey processed coffees, because of the additional airflow they allow. The air ensures that the beans dry evenly and reduces the incidence of fungi and bacteria formation. On the other hand, some farmers are accustomed to using sun-exposed patio drying that require a regular raking of beans to avoid moulds. While total fermentation and drying time depend on such choices as well as ambient temperature and moisture levels, red honey processing easily needs two weeks from depulping until drying has completed.
About La Cabra
A focus on raw material
If we don’t feel that a coffee suits our style or what we like to present, we simply won’t buy it. Sometimes this leads to issues in green buying; we have to pay very close attention, to a level of green quality that will support this approach, and to how this will develop over the life of a coffee. We are required to focus heavily on the freshness of coffee, both green and roasted, to avoid introducing taints into our cups. We always use clean and fresh water, of an ideal mineral content to present the coffee in its best possible light. Once we have the correct roasting profile, water, and coffee age, the act of brewing is much more simple. A wide variance in brewing parameters can still produce delicious and transparent cups. It is also important to note that this is not always the most consistent approach. The coffee is laid completely bare, so any flaw with the raw material is clearly on show. We could often develop some coffees slightly more, to make them more approachable or easy to work with, but wavering from our philosophy like this would compromise our commitment to complete transparency in coffee.Read more