To understand the history of coffee in El Salvador is to understand El Salvador itself. No other country in South America has been so deeply reliant on the crop, which the Salvadorans call “el grano de oro” or “the grain of gold.” Replacing indigo as El Salvador’s most important export in the late 19th century, coffee would decide the country’s economic and political stability for decades to come. During the course of the 20th century the Salvadoran coffee industry created vast fortunes for few and great misery for many others, spawning peasant uprisings, devastating massacres, and a 12-year civil war.
Agricultural tensions have existed in El Salvador since 1881, when legislation mandated that only land-owners had the right to farm the lush and fertile mountainsides of the country. Until then, many farmers had cultivated their crops communally, working together on shared land. For the next 100 years tensions between coffee barons and these landless campesinos simmered, often boiling over into violent confrontations. In the late 70’s–reacting to burgeoning communist sympathies in the country–the United States poured military aid and advisers into El Salvador. What resulted was a reform agenda that returned much of the land to plantation workers in the form of agricultural cooperatives set up by the Salvadoran government. Coffee barons opposed vocally and violently, and hundreds of cooperativists were killed as reform measures took effect. El Salvador had reached its breaking point.
The 12-year civil war that followed would claim 75,000 lives. However, when the UN helped negotiate a peace agreement between warring factions, hope for a new era of prosperity was almost tangible. In the 1990’s democratically-elected governments replaced rigged systems of oppression, 78 percent of coffee farms were back in the hands of small farmers, and the coffee industry employed 155,000 Salvadorans.
The challenges that Salvadoran coffee producers face now are largely external. Plummeting coffee prices have forced many farmers and pickers off the land and into cities in search of work.
The coffee we offer from El Salvador is grown on Finca Las Pampas, one of the many farms of the Magaña-Menéndez estate.
Located on the slopes of Cerro de Apaneca, in the Apaneca municipality, Las Pampas comprises a total of 60 hectares of land planted with Bourbon and red Caturra coffee. The area is known as one of the most fertile soils of the Apaneca-Ilamatepec Mountain Range. The Magaña-Menéndez estate is pledged to environmental stewardship, producing coffee that is Rainforest Alliance Certified.
The estate is just as concerned with the well-being of its workers and neighbors. It administers a central clinic (providing services in gynecology, pediatrics, and family practice) and pharmacy, providing free care to employees, employees’ families, and nearby communities. The estate has also supplied drinking water for adjacent towns and built soccer fields for school children. Workers at Las Pampas receive fair wages and extensive training in a safe work environment.
Coffee from Las Pampas boasts notes of toffee, cocoa, and lemon. It is a bright coffee with a clean and subtle body, fragrant but nuanced when compared with other Centrals. This exceptional coffee is a testament to the struggle, strength, and resolve of the Salvadoran people as well as their enduring commitment to el grano del oro.