Ep. 796 El Salvador San José Washed Red Bourbon

Melted milk chocolate, marshmallow, cherry, raspberry jam

Gloria Mercedes Rodríguez Fontan is a name you’ll likely recognise if you’ve been with us a while. She's a fourth-generation coffee grower who owns and, along with her siblings' support, supervises six farms located in the Apaneca-Ilamatepec mountain range that collectively add up to thirty-eight hectares: San José, Mamatita, El Porvenir, Nejapa, Nueva Granada and La Lagunita. Ever the strong woman, Gloria has overcome gender barriers in an industry that has historically been the province of men, and she personally supervises every step at the farm level.

Through the generations, Finca San Jose has passed through the hands of many committed farmers, beginning in 1815 when José María Rodriguez and Josefina Rodriguez (Gloria's great-grandparents) planted the first coffee trees with their own hands. It has since passed down the line through José's son, Israel Rodriguez, then followed by Jose Maria Rodriguez. Jose Maria took care of the farm until it came to Gloria as the most recent owner.

The mountain slopes of Finca San José sit at an average altitude of 1,500 metres above sea level and are fully shaded by trees that help to maintain and preserve the crop and the surrounding environment. In addition to the trees' diversity, the farm is home to a variety of wild animals and birds, which can be seen in their natural habitat. San José is nested in the northwestern slope of an extinct volcanic crater, with a unique microclimate with an average temperature of 17°C and rich and loamy clay soil, well suited to specialty coffee production - the farm mostly produces Red Bourbon, with smaller amounts of orange and yellow Bourbon as well as Elefante. The crater holds a small lagoon inside, named "Laguna de Las Ninfas" due to the abundance of water lilies.

San Jose is Gloria’s favourite of her farms. Until very recently, all the plants there were planted by her father – it’s productivity has been dropping off as the plants get older so she’s starting to replant now, but she’s also sad to have to remove those coffee trees her father planted. So far, about a third of the plants are new, whilst two thirds are around 60 years old. San Jose was originally bought by Gloria’s grandfather, at which time it was a big farm. It was split between Gloria’s father and three of his brothers, but he bought back land from one of them and recombined it into the San Jose we know today – it’s still pretty small by El Salvador standards at around 10 hectares.

One of the interesting things about Gloria’s farms is that her team, run by the foreman Tonio, still use a lot of traditional techniques and systems from El Salvador. One unique example of this you can see in my photo from her Nejapa farm. The techniques are called “agobio” and “agobio de raíz”. The English for Agobio is burden and refers to how a coffee tree bends when it’s branches are ladened with fruit. Agobio involves bending a young coffee plant at it’s base and running it horizontal. Upright branches are grown off this, which have their own branches. This effectively allows one seedling to provide four or more coffee plants with a shared root. Agobio de raíz is even more complicated, as it involves bending the young plant at the root and growing the uprights out of the soil. These traditional techniques are super interesting, but largely forgotten about in newer farms which have taken a more modern, standardised approach and it’s a pleasure to see traditional Salvadorean methods kept alive.

Melted milk chocolate meets silky marshmallow and a biscuity sweetness, as well as cherry and raspberry jam as it cools. This coffee brews a beautifully sweet, creamy and chocolatey cup which reminds us of Wagon Wheels.

  • Country: El Salvador
  • Department: Ahuachapán
  • Municipality: Apaneca
  • Nearest city: El Saitillal
  • Farm: Finca San José
  • Owner: Gloria Rodriguez
  • Farm manager: Antonio Avelino
  • Processing method: Washed
  • Varietal: Red Bourbon
  • Altitude: 1,500 m.a.s.l.
  • Average annual rainfall: 2,500mm
  • Average temperature: 17ºC
  • Type of soil: Clay loam
  • Type of shade: Pepeto, inga sp, and other native trees
  • Typical native fauna: Armadillo, gray fox, agouti, pocket gopher, magpie, turquoise-browed motmot

Tasting notes: Melted milk chocolate, marshmallow, cherry, raspberry jam.

Cup of Excellence Cupping Scores

  • Clean cup: (1–8): 6
  • Sweetness: (1–8): 7
  • Acidity: (1–8): 6
  • Mouthfeel: (1–8): 6.5
  • Flavour: (1–8): 6.5
  • Aftertaste: (1–8): 6
  • Balance: (1–8): 6.5
  • Overall: (1–8): 7
  • Correction: (+36): +36
  • Total: (max. 100): 88

Roast Information
Medium/Medium-dark: push this through the gap and up to the edge of second crack, but keep it light enough to showcase the intense jammy sweetness.