Tangerine, Apricot and Brown Sugar
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 part of a new set of experiments at Pirineos. Gilberto often made analogies with food and restaurants, and compared experimentation in fermentation to experimenting in a kitchen; constantly trying new variations in order to find new and exciting flavours. In fact, before this year’s harvest the number of raised beds at the Tecapa mill was increased from 600 to 1000, in order to give extra capacity for separation of experiments during peak harvest. This lot was processed using a carbonic maceration process, developed in collaboration between Gilberto and the team from Project Origin coffee.
To create a carbonic maceration lot, the cherries are first picked very ripe at a dark red colour, on the edge of overripe. This means there are a great many sugars in the coffee to feed the long fermentation. These cherries are then floated and cleaned thoroughly, making sure that low density cherries, along with any foreign material, are removed from the final lot. The cherries are then transferred into a plastic tank and sealed carefully. The tanks are placed in a temperature controlled container, kept at 15°C in order to control the pace of the fermentation. As the fermentation starts, CO2 is created in the tank, pushing oxygen out and creating an anaerobic environment. After approximately 72 hours of fermentation, the cherry skin contact and anaerobic fermentation have led to a great deal of complexity in the cup, and a distinctive mouthfeel. Here, we’re finding a great deal of fresh fruit, with rich melon joined by crisp tangerine and soft strawberry.
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.
The Carbonic Maceration process has been used in the wine industry for several decades, particularly in the Beaujolais region, producing fruit-driven, juicy structured wines in a very controlled manner. The application of this process in coffee is only a few years old, but has the same goals. Carbonic maceration is a complex process, requiring precise measurement and control of fermentation variables. Cherries are sealed in tanks without access to oxygen for an extended period with constant monitoring and cataloging of PH, temperature, and CO2 levels. Ambient temperatures are also monitored and controlled to ensure linearity in the processing. After the required time inside the tanks, or when the required pH is reached, coffee is then removed and dried, most often on raised beds or in mechanical driers.