They met us with pupusas and cafes in the San Salvador airport, so things were off to a good start.
Our three, shall we say, amigos were co-owner Ben Lehman, and CREMA’s captains of Roasting and Green Buying, Sean Stewart and Winston Harrison. Our hosts were “Don” Miguel Menendez, his son Miguel, and all of his warm, eager family.
We were in El Salvador, at the source of things.
We were there, as we call it, to “source” coffee. Which meant we were there to walk the paths between coffee plants, to pick the ripe cherries from the trees, to bounce in all-terrain vehicles up man-made mountain paths. We were there to sort through cherries at the mill, to cup coffees right there on the spot, to eat plantains at the table of our friend and partner, Don Miguel.
Don Miguel is the patriarch, the head honcho, the quick-to-laugh third generation coffee farmer. With a hospitality that’s still hard to believe, Don Miguel walked with us among the coffee plants, welcomed us at his dinner table, and put us up in his own mother’s house. Though he’s now passed down much of the day-to-day operating duties to his sons, Don Miguel’s coffee-love remains strong. He knew the farms like the back of his hand--strolling through “rooms” of windbreak trees or twisting up precipitous mountain trails in his diesel Hilux. With a contentment or joy that he couldn’t help, Don Miguel pointed out the name of just about every plant, tree, and unique coffee varietal on his estate.
The pristine specialty-grade farms that Don Miguel oversees were inherited from his father, Miguel Sr., who likewise inherited them, much to his surprise, at age 20, while living in Kentucky with his mother.
Perhaps with dreams of horse farming trotting in his head, Miguel Sr. learned of his inheritance, and drove his Buick straight from Kentucky to El Salvador--he took over a coffee farm instead. (Also, during the twelve-year El Salvador civil war, Miguel Sr. was captured and held for ransom by guerrilla soldiers--but this is a story for another time, or another Cormac McCarthy novel.)
Among the nine farms belonging to the Menendez family today are the original plots Miguel Sr. inherited decades ago--before Miguel Sr. purchased more land, before Don Miguel molded the farms into a specialty coffee haven, before Don Miguel handed the reins to his passionate sons, Miguel and Guillermo.
Certainly, coffee is a family thing for Don Miguel--and what an amazing thing, to be welcomed into this unlikely global family.
Source some for yourself, pick up a bag of the Menendez's Las Delicias Pacamara Reserve. Buy now ›
We were constantly amazed by the generosity of the Menendez family--their over 300 coffee pickers paid honestly and treated generously; our plates never left wanting for more black beans or plantains--and somehow they saved room to care about us, a small group of people trying to do coffee right over here at 15 Hermitage Avenue.
Don Miguel and his family care deeply about how we at CREMA represent their coffee, truly their life’s work, the work of four generations of sons and daughters and wives and husbands and coffee pickers walking eight miles either way to work a job they can take pride in.
And we care deeply about how we represent Don Miguel and the Menendez family--our improbable El Salvadorian brothers and sisters--the hardworking source of our coffee.
Check back next Wednesday for more on our trip to El Salvador--we’ll look at the family’s state-of-the-art mill and taste coffee cherries from our trusty ol’ Las Delicias farm.