This ain’t your grandfather’s coffee farm.
It’s Don Miguel’s grandfather’s coffee farm. And though the vibrant, hill-topping farmland is the same land that’s been passed down through generations, recent innovations have turned the Menendez farms into a highly-respected specialty coffee hotbed.
Of the nine Menendez farms, we spent the most time at Finca Las Delicias and Finca El Rosario--the native lands for some of CREMA’s most cherished coffees. The first thing you notice, walking the paths with Don Miguel and his son, Miguel, are the coffee plants. If that seems like an obvious thing to notice, well, you’re right, it is. Arranged in pristine rows, the wild symmetry of it all is breathtaking--row after row of bourbons and caturras (with some Gesha thrown in for good measure), running up and down the sides of comically steep mountains, with hardly a weed on the place.
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This weed-thing, is, in a way, the basis of the entire operation. It’s the little things, picking the weeds, cleaning the trash, sweeping the floor, and wiping the steam wand--doing the little things right, of course, is what makes the big things possible.
And the Menendez family does the little things right.
In a year that’s seen coffee rust devastate much of the El Salvadorian harvest, the Menendez’s attention to detail has salvaged almost half of their crop (compared to the 80% loss experienced by their fellow farmers). Farm managers have fought the rust (basically an airborne coffee assassin) with a concoction of molasses, lime, and copper. Additionally, towering windbreak trees planted at the farms’ peaks have served to protect the crops from outbreak. Originally meant to guard coffee plants from wind gushing over the hills, these trees form a wall around some of the higher-elevated coffees, protecting them from strong winds--and the rust the winds carry.
And it’s not just the little things--the Menendez family nails the big things, too.
Nowhere is the impeccable nature of the farms more evident than at Beneficio Piedra Grande, the Menendez family’s state-of-the-art mill.
The mill at a coffee farm is, simply, where it all goes down. The mill is where pickers bring their harvest. It’s where the red-orange cherries are washed, pulped, sorted, and dried. The mill is the headquarters for on-site roasting, cupping, and experimentation. And the mill sees the coffee off, bagged up and ready for export.
It’s where the magic happens.
And at Beneficio Piedra Grande, a beautiful, sprawling hub of activity, there’s a lot of magic happening. Boasting top-of-the-line equipment, knowledgeable mill workers, and a high standard of cleanliness, the Menendez mill stands a cut above others of its kind in El Salvador.
Many farmers in the region don’t have their own mills--they share a co-op with neighbors. The ones that have one will have what they can afford--the kind of equipment and technology that’ll get the job done.
It takes quite an investment--and quite a risk--to do coffee this way, professionally and impeccably. But for Don Miguel, his family, and his many managers and pickers and farmhands, the risk is surely paying off.
The benefits of an on-site mill with such great technology are many: quality is assured, experimenting is possible, and exporting becomes more manageable and relational. To have a say in the entire coffee process is unprecedented--and yet, the Menendez family has that.
Also, to power the mill, the family just up and ran their own power line, benefitting a local community on the way. They’ve now seen small businesses begin to spring up (including an ice cream vendor!). What an exceedingly cool thing--to play a (small) role in the story of a community (and also ice cream).
We’ve said so much here about the source of our coffees. We are in awe of the professionalism and care of Don Miguel and his family.
But we haven’t said much about the coffee. So let us just say: we had a lot. A lot. (Seriously, we cupped, like, a lot.) And let us just say: it was tight. The coffee was tight. We can’t wait to see those burlap sacks arrive, fresh from Beneficio Piedra Grande, and share a cup with you.