Coffee used to be one of the most significant exports in El Salvador, but several factors over the last few decades have contributed to its diminished production.
El Salvador coffee brands, however, are on the verge of a huge comeback that could make the country a prime coffee-producing location once again.
The best of El Salvador coffee comes from its mountainous regions that produce high-quality, shade-grown Arabica beans.
We’re here to help you learn everything you need to know about coffee from El Savador, flavor profiles to expect, and suggest some El Salvador coffee brands to try.
- Las Lilas Coffee – El Salvador Whole Bean Medium Roast
- Smokin Beans Coffee – El Salvador
- Cuvée Coffee – El Salvador
- Cubico Coffee – Finca Santa Maria El Salvador
- Volcanica Coffee Company – El Salvador Peaberry Coffee
All About El Salvador Coffee
El Salvador coffee has gone through many changes throughout its history. Coffee beans from this country have very unique characteristics that are highly desired.
Let’s take a look at the history of El Salvador coffee, where it’s grown, its benefits, and what to look for when buying El Salvador coffee.
History of El Salvador Coffee
The coffee plant was first introduced to El Salvador in the mid-18th century with the Typica variety of the Arabica coffee plant. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that El Salvador’s coffee industry saw extreme growth.
In the 1930s, El Salvador became an established coffee exporter in Central America. By the 1950s, coffee was one of the main sources of income for the country. The crop played a major role in El Salvador’s funding for infrastructure, education, and health.
El Salvador was well-known in the 1970s for its high-quality coffee. It was one of the top agricultural producers and exporters in the world. By the end of the ‘70s, El Salvador’s coffee industry suffered greatly from internal social and political conflict.
The El Salvador Civil War lasted from 1979 to 1992, and had a long-lasting impact on its coffee production. During the war, many coffee farmers had to abandon their land due to being in conflict zones.
Another crisis came in the 2010s when Central America suffered greatly from coffee leaf rust, which significantly decreased coffee production by more than 50%.
In 2021, El Salvador entered a new stage in their coffee production, which has focused on implementing new strategies for increased production.
This new coffee campaign intends to promote sustainable coffee practices and help El Salvador become a major coffee producer and exporter once again.
Where Is El Salvador Coffee Grown?
Most of El Salvador’s coffee is grown at high altitudes near volcanoes and on mountain ranges that spread across the country. There are six main regions that are responsible for the majority of the country’s coffee production.
- El Bálsamo
Each of these regions has mountain ranges that provide excellent conditions for coffee plant growth.
Coffee farms in El Salvador are spread atop mountains and hillsides, intermixed with the forests’ lush vegetation that provides a shade-grown habitat.
The Arabica coffee plant is the dominating variety in El Salvador. The most common Arabica varietals that come from this country include:
When you’re shopping for El Salvador coffee, the beans will most likely be of these three varieties.
The Bourbon variety produces an average-sized bean that has great quality potential when grown at high altitudes. It is known for its sweet and complex flavor profile.
Pacas is a mutation that stems from the Bourbon varietal and is considered to be of excellent drinking quality.
Pacamara is a hybrid of Paca and Maragogype varietals created by the Salvadoran Institute of Coffee Research (ISIC). It is very bright and highly acidic. These beans generally have sweet and complex flavor notes of chocolate, honey, and cinnamon.
Benefits of El Salvador Coffee
El Salvador’s landscape and climate host an ideal environment for Arabica coffee plants to thrive. Beans grown in El Salvador come with many benefits, such as:
- High Grown (HG) or Strictly High Grown (SHG)
- Complex and exotic flavor notes
- Grown in fertile, volcanic soils
El Salvador coffee is generally grown at altitudes of 900 meters or higher. Coffee plants grown between 900 and 1,200 meters are classified as High Grown, while plants grown at 1,200 meters or higher are Strictly High Grown.
Coffee grown at these altitudes is considered to be of high quality. Coffee plants grown any lower than 900 meters are classified as central standard and are average or low quality.
All of El Salvador’s commercial coffee exports for the 2021/2022 year have been HG or SHG, accounting for 65.3% of its coffee exports.
Shade-grown coffee involves more sustainable farming practices. Coffee plants greatly benefit from the wildlife and vegetation of shade-grown practices, which allows farmers to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers that are harmful to the environment.
Several volcanoes are located amongst El Salvador’s mountain ranges. The rich nutrients of volcanic soil and its water-holding abilities allow better coffee plant development and growth.
What to Look for When Buying El Salvador Coffee
There are a few key things to look for when you’re buying El Salvador coffee. To find the best El Salvador coffee brands, keep an eye out for these characteristics:
- Single-origin El Salvador beans
- Altitude (HG or SHG)
- Acidity level
Some coffee brands sell El Salvador coffee that is blended with beans from other Central American countries. If you want to experience pure El Salvador coffee flavors, be sure to look for single-origin coffee that isn’t blended with beans from other countries.
Considering altitude is very important when buying El Salvador coffee. Central standard coffee is not as high quality. To get the most unique and complex flavor notes, look for HG or SHG beans.
If you’re not a fan of acidic coffee, you’ll want to be extra careful in finding an El Salvador coffee brand that offers low-acidic beans.
Some regions in El Salvador produce highly-acidic beans, such as Apaneca and Cacahuatique in the western and northeastern portions of the country.
Beans lower in acidity are typically produced in Chichontepec in the central east area of El Salvador.
El Salvador Coffee Brands to Try
1. Las Lilas Coffee – El Salvador Whole Bean Medium Roast
- Rich, full body
- Micro lot
- Slightly bitter for a medium roast
Las Lilas Coffee specializes in single-origin El Salvador coffee grown at high altitudes in the central region of the country. Their whole bean medium roast is a micro lot specialty coffee made from 100% Arabica beans grown 1,400 meters above sea level.
If you’re looking for a full-bodied cup of coffee, this might be a great El Salvador coffee for you to try. These beans are great for drip coffee, and can also be used to create a lighter espresso.
2. Smokin Beans Coffee – El Salvador
- Full body
- Sweet flavor profile
- Several grind and roast options are available
- Slightly acidic
Smokin Beans El Salvador coffee is Strictly High Grown at 1,200 meters above sea level and contains Bourbon varietals. If you like citrusy and spicy flavor profiles, this might be a great El Salvador coffee brand for you.
This brand is pretty unique as it allows you to personalize your preferred roast and grind by giving you several roasting temperatures and grind options to choose from.
A medium roast is recommended to get a full-bodied cup of coffee with complex flavors.
Cuvée Coffee has partnered with coffee producer Jose Antonio Salaverria to bring El Salvador direct trade coffee to consumers around the world. This specialty medium-roast coffee has a sweet flavor profile with tangerine notes.
The beans are grown between 1,500 and 1,800 meters above sea level in the Alotepec region and contain Bourbon, Pacas, Pacamara, and Catuai varieties.
4. Cubico Coffee – Finca Santa Maria El Salvador
- Produces a creamy and balanced cup of coffee
- Intense aroma
- Flavor lacks intensity
Cubico Coffee’s single-estate El Salvador coffee is a medium roast that consists of Red Bourbon varietals. Harvested in a large, family-owned estate, these coffee beans are grown at high altitudes between 1,250 and 1,650 meters above sea level.
This is a great coffee choice if you love fruitier notes that are complimented with smooth flavors of caramel and chocolate.
5. Volcanica Coffee Company – El Salvador Peaberry Coffee
- Full body
- Intense aroma
- Peaberry beans
- Close to central standard altitude
- Slightly bitter
Volcanica Coffee’s El Salvador Peaberry Coffee comes from Finca Serbia, a farm located near Santa Ana in the Apaneca region. These coffee beans are High Grown at more than 900 meters above sea level.
This single-estate coffee provides a rich medium roast with almond, praline, and floral flavor notes. The beans are wet washed and have an acidity of 5.1 on the pH scale.
Overview of El Salvador Coffee Brands
Smokin Beans El Salvador coffee deserves an honorable mention. The Arabica beans are SHG so you can experience the natural flavors of El Salvador coffee that really come out in high-altitude environments.
You can also customize the roast and grind type to get a personalized cup of coffee that fits your palette.
The highest quality coffee beans from El Salvador are grown at high altitudes above 1,200 meters. To get the best out of your El Salvador coffee, remember to keep an eye out for the following characteristics:
- High Grown or Strictly High Grown beans
- Single-origin (not blended with other Central American beans)
- Acidity level
While drinking El Salvador coffee, you can expect to experience a medium to a full-bodied cup of coffee with bright notes and unique flavors of citrus, smooth caramel, and chocolate.