December 15, 2016

Producer Insight, Barista Skills—Micro Festival El Salvador Day 1


Micro Festival El Salvador is a one-of-a-kind event (if we do say so ourselves). A coffee festival in a producing country, it’s dedicated to discussing the big questions of coffee with the people most affected by it. And hosted on Finca El Manzano and Cuatro M processing mill, it enables international guests and speakers to experience the realities of farming and processing specialty-grade coffee.

Tickets were limited, and sold out it in a matter of days. So if you couldn’t make it, here are some highlights from day one. And don’t forget to watch the speeches live!

Spanish Version: Perspectiva del Productor y Destrezas de Barista -Micro Festival, El Salvador

drying patios

Coffees drying on patios at Cuatro M mill. Credit: T. Newton

Production Insight

It’s one thing to discuss the impact of trade models and climate change on coffee production. It’s another thing to discuss it when coffee is drying on patios outside. And when many of the speakers and audience are producers themselves, it focuses the conversation not just on the theoretical aspects of the coffee industry but on how it affects the entire supply chain.

When Matti Foncha’s discussion, Rethinking the Farmer-Purchaser Supply Chain, was disrupted by rain, it wasn’t merely an inconvenience. The staff at Cuatro M mill rushed to bring bags of green beans inside. Guests dove for their phones to contact their wet mills – “Quick, cover the coffee!”

Only 20 minutes earlier, Jesus Salazar of Cafeólogo had talked about how specialty importers don’t purchase coffee if the quality is low, which can be caused by rain out of season. On the patio, producers talked about how this rain could cause cupping scores to decrease by two to three points.


The rain was sudden and ferocious, causing concern for producers. Credit: T. Newton

Night Visit to Cuatro M Mill

Nothing puts the theory of coffee into perspective like a visit to a farm and mill. And day one featured a night-time tour of the Cuatro M processing mill. All processing is done at night at Cuatro M. The pickers and farmers pick and sort the cherries during the day, sending it to the mill only at evening.

First, we saw the quality control processes used when accepting cherries. Elmer, Head of Quality Control, takes random samples from each bags and sorts the coffees by ripeness. The percentages of over-ripe, ripe, and pink cherries are then combined and a grade is given: AA, A, B, or C. Next the brix is measured and the total number of cherries per bag calculated from the sample.

Coffee cherries

This sample contains over-ripe, ripe, and pink cherries. Credit: T. Newton

We saw this in action with Hermann Mendez’s crop; Hermann explained that his pickers get paid an additional $5 per 100 lb bag of ripe cherries.

Next we visited the mill, where they process natural, washed, honey, and pulped natural coffees. 800 bags of coffee arrive every day to be processed, requiring rigorous organisation. They also clean the whole machinery between different lots to avoid contamination.

Night tour Cuatro M

A night-time tour of Cuatro M mill. Credit: T. Newton

SEE ALSO: Why a Salvadoran Mill Believes in Relationship Coffee

Barista Skills Workshops

As specialty consumption grows in producing countries, the demand for skilled baristas only increases. But only twice has a producing country won the World Barista Championship (WBC). So when WBC Judge Anthony Rue hosted Barista Skills Workshops, it’s no surprise that they were a popular feature. Around 40 people attended, approximately 60% of whom were Salvadorans.

The espresso workshop took a practical approach, with an espresso-tasting exercise. The goal: distinguish the good espressos from the bad. Following that, the workshop looked at ideal extraction parameters and how grind size impacts that.

Next, Jonathan Rodriguez of Academia Barista Pro led the group in brewing Chemex coffees, supported by El Salvador Barista Champion Víctor Florez Menéndez. From detecting coffee’s profiles to the impact of brew time, water flow and pre-infusion, all aspects of filter coffee were examined.

Barista workshop

Barista Skills Workshop. Credit: A. K. Molina Ospina

A Constructive Look at the Specialty Supply Chain

There’s no doubt that specialty trade models add value for both farmers and consumers. Specialty means better coffee, better incomes, and a better environment. But we must keep asking what we can do better, or else we risk stagnating.

Jesús Salazar’s presentation, From Common Sense to Nonsense in Specialty Coffee, looked at the reasons the producers he works with in Chiapas, Mexico may prefer to work with local “coyotes” rather than specialty buyers like him: less demands, greater reliability, greater presence, and guaranteed purchases were only a few points from four slides of comparisons.

He emphasised that he was not doing this to criticise specialty buyers, but instead to ask: how can we be there more often? Do we provide consistent year-after-year support? How can we learn from “coyotes” to create relationships with farmers that benefit everyone?

Shortly afterwards, Matti Foncha of Cameroon Boyo looked at different profit-sharing models that could provide a better income for producers. “We must hold ourselves to high ethical standards,” he told us.

The theme is expected to continue as, on Day 2, Malian Lahey of Ka’u Specialty Coffee examines why human rights advancements have been frustratingly difficult to achieve using a premium pricing system.

While all present agreed that specialty achieves wonderful things, there was a consensus that we must strive to make it even better and even more present. There is still too much income inequality in the coffee supply chain, especially when producers often face the biggest risk.

Jesus Salazar

Jesús Salazar: From Common Sense to Nonsense in Specialty Coffee. Credit: T. Newton

Cupping Unusual Coffees

Khaled Almadi of Elixir Bunn brought Saudi Arabian roasts to the table, including one from Yemen, following on from his speech on the roast profiles trending in his country. And El Consejo brought coffees from the different regions of El Salvador, allowing us to taste the variety of the country.

Benji Salim Ang of Q Coffee Trading arrived with fourteen different Indonesian coffees, including two experimental processing methods, after discussing processing and production on Indonesian farms. Particularly popular were lots 8 and 10, both from the farm Solok Radjo. Lot 10 was a natural processed coffee; lot 8, “Forrest Bee”, was dried for three days before the pulp was removed, Benji explained.

coffee cupping

The tables set up for a cupping of Salvadoran coffees. Credit: T. Newton

Conversations, Not Lectures

With a limited number of tickets, the event had an intimate atmosphere. Add to that the large percentage of producers and industry professionals in the audience, as well as the thought-provoking topics, and presentations soon turned into conversations.

Mayra Orellana-Powell of Royal Coffee stood up after Matti Foncha’s speech to implore us to provide programmes for youths in coffee, while others asked practical questions about his proposed percentages for profit-sharing. Some agreed, others disagreed. But all responded thoughtfully, respectfully, and with practical solutions.

Similarly, throughout the day audience members engaged in discussion with the speakers, sharing their expertise.

That’s all for day one! Keep watching live on Facebook, and look out for the recap of Day 2 coming tomorrow.

Perfect Daily Grind

Want to take part in more discussions like this? We’re going to Brazil for Micro Coffee Festival 2017! Learn more or buy your ticket here!