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Steampunk Coffee Roasters

El Salvador Los Chelazos

El Salvador Los Chelazos

Regular price £11.00 GBP
Regular price Sale price £11.00 GBP
Sale Sold out
Tax included.

Region: La Palma, Chalatenango
Altitude: 1200–1800masl
Variety: Pacas, Bourbon, Catuaí, Caturra
Processing: Natural

Tasting Notes: Beautifully balanced with a milk chocolate aroma, flavour notes of dried apple rings, vanilla, brazil nut and dark maple syrup. Overall creamy and easy drinking.

This is a regional lot that comes from 25 farmers in Chalatenango, a northern district of El Salvador. It is a blend of coffees from two main cantons: Citalá and La Palma, both of which are part of the Montecristo Trifinio, a tri-border national park shared between El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Designated as a biosphere reserve in 2011, this is a protected area of incredibly rich biodiversity. Caravela, the importer who brought us this coffee, started developing relationships with producers in the area in 2012 and they opened a buying station and cupping lab in La Palma in December 2015. Over the last decade the number of farmers wanting to work with them has grown and today, Caravela says, the producers behind this community lot have become long-standing partners who, harvest after harvest, deliver highly consistent coffees.

The coffee growers who contribute to this lot own small to medium-sized farms that have the privilege of sharing very similar agro-climatic conditions that favour excellent plant development, in addition to the good fertility of the soils. Because it is an area with average elevations between 1,200 and 1,800 metres above sea level, traditional varieties adapt well so coffee farmers can obtain an outstanding cup complexity. The main varieties that make up this coffee are Pacas, Bourbon, and Catuai, but growers also grow other varieties such as Pacamara, Cuscatleco, Costa Rica 95, and Anacafe 14.

The name Los Chelazos is a reference to both the location where this coffee was grown and the ethnicity of the farmers who grew it. Chalatenango is a lesser known coffee region than Santa Ana in the west, where our previous El Salvador lots came from. The name comes from the Nawat language and translates to words chal or shal meaning “sand”, at meaning “water”, and tenango meaning “valley”. So, Chalatenango means “valley of sandy waters”. 

In reference to the people of the region, Chelito means fair-skinned or white. Chelitos (or the feminine Chelitas) have lighter skin than other El Salvadorians and they also have green or blue eyes. In the 1700s, finding that there weren’t enough indigenous people left to exploit for labour, Spanish colonists recruited lighter-skinned Spanish labourers to work in the production of indigo. Today’s Chelitos inherited the lighter features of these Spanish labourers.

Coffee in El Salvador

In the 1970s coffee made up 90 percent of El Salvador’s exports and it was the fourth largest producer of coffee in the world. But in 1980s political unrest, guerrilla warfare and land reform severely impacted coffee farming and export. During this period, properties owned by individuals with over 500 hectares were reorganised into cooperatives managed by the properties’ former workers. The reform meant that the country’s large estates were broken up and although that land was redistributed among workers, the government maintained control, with no single farmer permitted to own more than 245 hectares. Today, the reform is still intact, with more than 90 percent of production supplied by smallholders with fewer than 20 hectares of land. 

According to Global Coffee Report, despite the impacts of land reform and nationalisation, which disrupted the industry’s preexisting structure and efficiency, coffee was still very lucrative through 2000. But the turn of the century brought several natural disasters and economic blows in quick succession. In 1998 Hurricane Mitch left millions homeless. Then, the country was hit by a major earthquake in 2001. That same year the global price of coffee fell to only $0.43 per pound. Simultaneously there was a blight of coffee leaf rust that swept through Central America in the early 2000s. According to International Coffee Organization data, in 2001 El Salvador’s production dropped by more than 34 percent. 

It took a decade to recover from the coffee price crisis and the leaf rust epidemic, and still today, along with labour shortages and other impacts of climate change, coffee leaf rust, or la roya, is cited as the biggest challenge facing El Salvadorian coffee farmers.

Given all of this, El Salvador’s coffee farmers have shown remarkable resilience and commitment to quality and experimentation. It’s the birthplace of varieties like Pacas and Pacamara and the origin of the first crop of prizewinning Gesha. Today the picture is mixed. The increase of specialty coffee growing and processing and an influx of younger producers looking to innovate and reinvigorate the coffee industry seems hopeful. But the most recent USDA Foreign Agricultural Service report on the country notes severe labour shortages and an increase in the rate of farm abandonment, which is currently at 35 percent. The report warns that unless the underlying issues in finance and technical support for farmers are addressed, the numbers of producers giving up coffee growing will continue to rise. According to the report, as reported in Daily Coffee News, “The future of El Salvador’s coffee sector relies on implementing a comprehensive strategy including debt restructuring, extended repayment periods, and a unified coffee association for research, technical assistance and quality control.”

How We Bought this Coffee

This coffee provides an opportunity to explain a little more about what goes on behind the scenes when we buy greens. It’s one of the first lots Steampunk has bought based on what’s known as an “offer sample,” which is a sample provided by the producer of a particular lot that’s been harvested but not yet dry milled and loaded onto a container for export. Previously we have worked closely with importers to buy coffee based on arrival samples, which are taken as soon as the coffee arrives in the UK or Europe.

The difference between buying coffee that is still at origin vs buying it when it’s in a warehouse in London may seem unimportant but actually it highlights the supply chain relationships we’ve been working to build over the last few years. It not only means we’re buying the freshest coffee available but also that it’s both less expensive for us and more profitable for the farmer.

How are relationships, seasonality and economy linked? Buying based on an offer sample means that the importer can bring a specific amount of a specific coffee from origin rather than having to import a range of coffees and hope they sell them. The latter scenario means there’s money lost on leftover coffee sitting in a warehouse (space isn’t free), degrading in quality (coffees age and become muted over time), and still needing the administrative work of finding a buyer. These coffees - the ones already in the warehouse and ready for shipment - are called spot coffees. Selling spot coffees is inefficient and expensive for importers. They make less profit and therefore so do the farmers they work with.

But, contracting a coffee based on an offer sample introduces risks for both the importer and the roaster. Roasters need to trust that the coffee that gets delivered will be the same as the coffee they tasted a few months ago when contracting. This means having confidence in the skills and professionalism of the people cupping at origin and every step along the way. The importer needs to trust that we’re confident in our buying choices, that we’re careful and professional enough not to simply change our minds and refuse the coffee once it’s imported. Or, if something does go wrong like a shipping delay, we'll still honour the contract.

As roasters it’s invaluable to know that the importers we work with are sharing information about the harvest, what’s available and offering us samples of coffee that is likely to work for us. In the same way as our customers trust us to source selections that are delicious, ethically produced and within a price range; we look to our importers to connect us to coffees that we can afford to buy and that we want to sell. 

El Salvador: A federation for the future - Global Coffee Report (

El Salvador Coffee Report: Migration and Farm Abandonment On the RiseDaily Coffee News by Roast Magazine

A note about packaging

Our coffee comes packaged in beautiful and hard wearing tins. It is important to keep those beans away from air and light (see our blog post about coffee storage) and we think tins are the very best way of keeping those guys fresh. 

Tins can of course be easily recycled (with other metals) but the very best and most environmentally conscious thing to do with them is to refill them. Find out how to refill or dispose of your Steampunk packaging HERE.

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