By Nanelle Newbom
The slender young man leaned in through the driver side window. Gilberto Baraona had waved him over for a quick word.
“You guys gotta make a stop, I need a few things.”
Notepad in hand, “Ok, what are we getting?”
“The driver knows.”
“Ok, grab me 2 grams of cocaine, some vodka and a shotgun.”
With that we’re off like a rocket heading east toward Usulutan at break neck speed with the booming voice of Gilberto Baraona, the forward leaning owner of Finca Los Pironeos and Exportadores Tecapa schooling us as we went.
He doesn’t wait around for things to happen and neither do his coffees. Innovation is a word I heard him use about fifteen times, and it does seem that he is continually pushing forward.
The Tecapa Mill is located between two hills that channel a constant breeze across the drying coffees. Add to that his over 600 raised drying beds placed on the dryer side of El Salvador and you have a great setup for the mucilage dried coffees he likes to present. Gilberto loves him some honeys.
But don’t we all?
As we reach the town at the base of the mountain we transfer to more rugged vehicles. “And now, not even Mad Max can stop us.”
He means it. This car is literally bulletproof. He works late at the mill sometimes and just feels better with the added protection. I believe he was explaining some of the finer features when the gas pedal got stuck in the down position. Regardless of Mad Max’s position on the matter, he turned the ignition off and jumped out to have a look. Both trucks that were following us hummed impatiently.
We all got curious too and one at a time exited the vehicle. I don’t know if you have ever personally locked the keys in a high security tricked out bulletproof Mad Max car on a rural road where the locals are in favor of bulletproofing. As the last one out of the car, I technically have.
Gilberto wasn’t waiting for Mad Max. Without skipping a beat he tossed us all into the backs of the remaining two trucks and off we went.
On arrival the farm and mill are both impressive. The nursery holds more varieties than I can name. A few are for show, such as the rare Poli Perma, with huge cherries that yield six seeds each, some are prized for resistance to disease, others for their quality in the cup. Gilberto does not sit and wait around for either disaster, or opportunity.
On this days visit we met the pickers who brought in the days lot. It was a rich red Pacamara, and we had the honor of processing it three ways.
The first portion of the cherry was whisked to the depulpers where the skin was removed. The sticky gooey coffee seeds, still covered in sweet mucilage plopped into the buckets slow as molasses. We spread it out on mesh beds to dry in the steady breeze.
The washed coffees were de-pulped and rinsed, freed of all that sticky mess and left to settle at the bottom of a clean tiled tank for 24 hours. Not only will the last bits of mucilage be washed off, but many people say the soak serves to even out the moisture content of the beans, creating a stable start point for the drying process.
Lastly, we spread a thin layer of ruby red ripe cherry across a mesh bed to dry. The coffee will be turned on a strict schedule, and once it is dried the fruit and husk will be removed to reveal a coffee with rich, complex and fruity flavors.
Our trip down the hill was entertaining as well. As we followed behind one of the other trucks, I chuckled as I watched the three men riding in the back. Two standing up and holding on using their legs to absorb the bumps, but a third crouched down and bouncing like a lottery ball in the dusty jumble.
We processed three coffees, destroyed and then locked ourselves out of a Mad Max ready vehicle, and learned how not to ride in the back of a truck on a dirt road. It was a good day in coffee.