“When we first started in 2008, we didn’t even know what kind of coffee we were drinking.”
Not so long ago, coffee producer Carlos Murcia and his family from El Salvador, La Palma, El Tunel couldn’t tell you what type of coffee they were growing. Much less what kind they were drinking. For as long as they’d been in the industry, coffee for them was just that – coffee. They grew it, they harvested, they sold it for whatever price they were offered, repeat. The idea of scoring was foreign to them – a knowledge only exporters had. Now, seven years into their participation in the PROTCAFES Project, they own their own specialty coffee brand and provide training and guidance to other producers in their community. PROTCAFES is a project in the Trifinio region of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala with the aim to improve the economic, environmental and community conditions of the coffee growing regions in the upper catchment area of the Rio Lempa. It is co-financed by International Coffee Partners and implemented by Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS). “Now, we can assess coffee quality in any part of the area, in the mountains. We can see it in any coffee in the cooperative, as well,” Murica says proudly as he shows off his family’s own roasting room, “Now, we speak this language and we practice it.”
The transition from simplistic farmers producing coffee with a one-track mind to business producers with a holistic approach focused on quality doesn’t come overnight. “What we do is to train the coffee producers,” explains HRNS-PROTCAFES Project Coordinator, Fredy Menendez, “change their chip and give them a new way of thinking. We take the coffee producers basically from zero and make them see themselves as businessperson in coffee.” When the project first started, some of the process’s producers used were unknowingly deteriorating the quality of the coffee before it even left the field.
“Before, we just harvested the coffee,” explains Amalia Solis, a young producer in El Salvador, “and if it was possible to be able to save money, we would de-pulp the coffee after two days. But now we know that by doing that, you lose the quality. We learned that everything is a process, right from the time you fertilize it. The cutting process, the drying process, the roasting process. What we hope is to have a good coffee. And in order to have a good coffee, we must know how to fertilize it, and how to implement different processes.”
Talking to the producers who have been involved in the PROTCAFES Project since the beginning, there is an echo of a one hundred and eighty degree transformation, not only as businessmen and women, but also as families and communities. “Before, we didn’t have the knowledge of how to achieve a specialty coffee. That didn’t exist. We just knew the conventional coffee, and we didn’t even know to call it conventional coffee.” Murcia explains.
“Now, we have knowledge, not just about our coffee, but in the region – which types of coffee and being grown, the varieties, the international prices. Thanks to the support we had when we learned about the chain of value in the area, of how to be able to generate the most income, my children went to college. So, this is an opportunity that has transformed the family, and not just the family, but also where we live.” For families like Murcia’s and their small businesses, the theory has been tested and proven: quality is everything.