China ‘good client’ now of Sal­vado­ran spe­cial cof­fee sell­ers

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Business - XIN­HUA

SAN SAL­VADOR — Mauri­cio Samour watched as freshly-roasted moun­tain-grown cof­fee beans cas­caded onto a tray for cool­ing. Each bean had the same brown lus­ter, he pointed out — a sign of qual­ity and care in the pro­cess­ing.

Nes­tled in the El Bal­samo moun­tain range in western El Sal­vador, Samour’s cof­fee plan­ta­tion, called Las Tinieblas (The Dusk), ex­ports gourmet cof­fee to Ger­man, Bri­tish and US mar­kets.

Samour de­cided seven years ago to ded­i­cate his 180-hectare prop­erty in the cen­tral de­part­ment of La Lib­er­tad solely to grow­ing and pro­cess­ing pre­mium cof­fee beans, us­ing a painstak­ing process. Nat­u­rally dry­ing the beans alone can take up to 20 days.

“I con­trol the en­tire process from plant­ing to port,” Samour said. “I can of­fer cof­fee to any mar­ket that val­ues spe­cialty cof­fee.”

The plan­ta­tion ex­ports El Sal­vador’s high-end “Pa­ca­mara Honey” va­ri­ety around the globe, as part of the coun­try’s push to cater to the gourmet cof­fee mar­ket fol­low­ing the in­dus­try’s re­cov­ery from cof­fee rust, a blight that hit Cen­tral Amer­ica at the start of the decade.

Hugo Her­nan­dez, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the state-run Sal­vado­ran Cof­fee Coun­cil, said pub­lic pol­icy aimed to re­ac­ti­vate the sec­tor after the dis­ease dented out­put by de­stroy­ing the plant’s leaves, leav­ing cof­fee beans ex­posed to sun­light, changes in weather and in­sects.

The re­cent har­vest yielded 905,000 quin­tals (or 40-kilo sacks), a 14-per­cent in­crease over the pre­vi­ous har­vest. An es­ti­mated 700,000 quin­tals will be ex­ported, he said.

“We know we have a low pro­duc­tion com­pared to what El Sal­vador had in prior decades. How­ever, we are spe­cial­iz­ing in qual­ity,” said Her­nan­dez.

“We are bet­ting on im­prov­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity, by grow­ing out­put, but with a fo­cus on qual­ity ... from the mo­ment the seed is pro­duced to the pick­ing and pro­cess­ing.”

Pro­duc­ers can sell gourmet cof­fee for up­wards of $300 per quin­tal, triple the av­er­age in­ter­na­tional price of $100 for reg­u­lar cof­fee, which means work­ers earn more as well.

“They get paid a lit­tle bet­ter be­cause it’s spe­cial­ized work,” said Her­nan­dez.

El Sal­vador’s Ara­bica cof­fee bean, which along with sugar is the coun­try’s top agri­cul­tural prod­uct, gen­er­ates some 100,000 di­rect jobs and 400,000 in­di­rect jobs, ac­cord­ing to the cof­fee coun­cil.

Las Tinieblas, lo­cated 1,250 me­ters above the sea level, em­ploys as many as 70 fam­i­lies, and from 200 to 400 fam­i­lies dur­ing the pick­ing sea­son.

To­day, Ja­pan and the United States are the main buy­ers of Sal­vado­ran gourmet cof­fee. But since the Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­try es­tab­lished diplo­matic ties with China in Au­gust, trade be­tween the two coun­tries is ex­pected to pick up, with cof­fee top­ping the list of ex­ports, said Her­nan­dez.

China is al­ready fa­mil­iar with El Sal­vador’s spe­cialty cof­fee, im­port­ing small ship­ments from the last two har- vests since 2016 be­fore ties were an­nounced on Aug 20.

“Of the 2017/2018 har­vest, we suc­ceeded in ex­port­ing 1,400 quin­tals at an av­er­age price that sur­passed $500 per quin­tal. For us it was quite an im­por­tant in­di­ca­tor that in China we are go­ing to find a mar­ket for spe­cialty cof­fees,” said Her­nan­dez.

The sec­tor is look­ing to part­ner with Chi­nese cof­fee as­so­ci­a­tions or in­dus­try groups, and par­tic­i­pate in the cof­fee fairs China holds an­nu­ally.

Orestes Fre­des­man Ortez, El Sal­vador’s agri­cul­ture min­is­ter, agrees the fairs are the best way to pro­mote the pre­mium prod­uct.

“In ad­di­tion to cof­fee, they can make var­i­ous other prod­ucts, I’m sure, with all the in­ge­nu­ity of Sal­vado­ran pro­duc­ers,” said Ortez.

One ex­am­ple of an added­value cof­fee prod­uct is cof­fee liqueur, which Sal­vado­rans are ac­cus­tomed to drink­ing as after-din­ner drink, or us­ing as an in­gre­di­ent in desserts.

days

Ana Maria de Ja­come works for Bosque Lya, a pre­mium cof­fee pro­ducer in the western moun­tains of Apaneca that makes a line of cof­fee liqueurs. The com­pany pro­duces some 2,000 bot­tles a year and ex­ports part of its out­put to Ger­many.

“Our man­ager was in­vited to a liquor and wine fair, so we took this (liqueur) and found that is was well liked,” said De Ja­come.

El Sal­vador also in­vested in pro­mot­ing its pre­mium cof­fee at home, with the coun­cil open­ing up El Sal­vador’s School of Cof­fee to train baris­tas.

Since it be­gan op­er­at­ing 12 years ago, the cen­ter has trained some 7,000 na­tional and in­ter­na­tional stu­dents to dis­tin­guish dif­fer­ent types of cof­fee and roasts, and han­dle an espresso ma­chine.

The coun­cil’s head of qual­ity con­trol, Ernesto Ve­lasquez, be­lieves the more con­sumers know about cof­fee, the more they will be able to ap­pre­ci­ate its qual­i­ties.

“We would like to be ed­u­ca­tors in China be­cause you may have good cof­fee that has been treated cor­rectly agri­cul­tur­ally speak­ing — in pick­ing, pro­cess­ing and roast­ing — but some­thing goes wrong when it comes to pre­par­ing the cof­fee,” said Ve­lasquez.

New diplo­matic ties can be an op­por­tu­nity for Chi­nese in­ter­ested in the in­dus­try to travel to El Sal­vador and train at the school, he said.

Mean­while Samour, the owner of the Las Tinieblas plan­ta­tion, is look­ing for­ward to ex­panded trade ties boost­ing cof­fee ex­ports.

“We be­lieve China can be a very good client. It has po­ten­tial. I would like to sell to just 1 per­cent of China,” Samour said. “It would make me the hap­pi­est per­son in the world.”

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