Barista Magazine

AUG-SEP 2018

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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Page 116 of 123

KRO: At that point in your life, did you know you would continue the family legacy in coffee? ELD: Cool that you asked. Actually, the minute I got to Portland and saw what the microbrewery industry was like, I was convinced I wanted to go back home to open a brewery. As a matter of fact, my father had been brewing beer at home for about two years, so I started buying home-brewing equipment and ingredients to bring them home. Also, every chance I had in my engineering classes to choose a project, I would do it on setting up a brewery. But soon the plans would change. In November of 2000, my dad visited me and proposed a coffee project. I have to be honest though, it was not until a month before I graduated—so Novem- ber of 2001—that I finally gave up on the brewery idea. Literally I had two printouts in my hands: in one hand I had the American Brewers Guild program, and in the other I had the newly formed Roasters Guild program, and as you might guess, I chose the latter. KRO: Your family has long been involved in producing coffee in El Salvador. Can you share some of the history? ELD: My ancestors migrated into El Salvador back in the mid-1800s after the independence of Central America, and they soon began purchas- ing land. Back then, coffee farms were more like haciendas, where they were not only plant- ing coffee but also other produce like cacao, tobacco, chickens, dairy, and cattle. But the coffee side of the business kept growing, and they became very successful at it, to the point that by the turn of the 20th century, they were already running full mill operations and exporting dozens of containers. And here I'll try and tell a story about direct trade: Most people that have entered the specialty-coffee industry in the last two decades believe that direct trade came from specialty, and that traveling to origin by the roasters and then the farmer going to visit the roasters is something new. Well, actually, the earliest stories I have of my family about coffee is how they would host the European or American roasters and then how they in turn would host my family back in Hamburg, Paris, or San Francisco. We are talking mid-1800s and early 1900s here, so a journey to origin was a real trip. Roasters would come for the harvest and stay one or two months. The same would happen on the opposite side: My family would travel to Europe or the U.S. along with the coffee on the ship to personally deliver it and to spend time with the customers at their roasteries and even visiting for coffee expos. Another thing to bring up here is noting what kind of processing and what kind of coffee was produced and exported in the late-1800s and early 1900s from El Salvador. Well, it was all natural-processed coffee—yes, natural coffee from Central America! It was not until later in the 1900s that depulping and washing became the norm in El Salvador. It really took sev- eral years to transition from naturals to fully washed, and the same holds true about the variety that they were planting, originally only Typica, but by the turn of the century, Bourbon slowly began replacing Typica all over the country. Business kept growing not only on the exporting side, but also in terms of the amount of land that my family had. At one point they became the biggest producers of coffee in the country with about 5,000 hectares, operating the biggest mill in the world. Remember that El Salvador at this time was the fourth-biggest producer of cof- fee in the world. There is actually an article from 1944 in National Geographic called "Coffee is King in El Salvador," and the article is about my family, the Alvarez family, and about their coffee operation. This coffee business has its periods, though, and when you are a sixth-generation coffee producer in El Salvador, that means that you also have a huge family. So between having hundreds of uncles and aunts, badly managed businesses, civil wars, agrarian reforms, nationalization of the coffee trade, and coffee crises, when I got 117

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