El Salvador


A densely populated state on the pacific coast of Central America, El Salvador has a coastal plain and volcanic mountain ranges which enclose a plateau where most people live. The coast is hot, with heavy summer rainfall, the highlands are cooler. Coffee (the main product of export), sugar and cotton are the main cash crops. Shrimps are also exported. Manufactures include processed foods, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, textiles and clothing.

Only Arabica

The coffee history of El Salvador dates back to 1740 when it was first planted for personal consumption in a small area of the western region. The first crop exported was that of 1855/56 with a volume of 50 mt. From 1950 to 1970 widespread modernisation of technology took place, new varieties were introduced and a coffee research institution was created. These factors, along with two decades of political stability, made the country one of the most productive coffee producers in the world, enjoying a respectful image for its quality. However, a series of setbacks have greatly affected coffee production since the early 1980s, plunging the country into a crisis.

165,000 ha is devoted to coffee production in El Salvador, close to 12 per cent of the nation's arable land. Although grown in 7 of the 14 provinces of the country, most of the plantations are located in the western and central areas of Santa Ana, Ahuachapan, Sonsonate and La Libertad. Some coffee is also grown in the eastern part of the country, in the provinces of San Miguel and Usulutan.

El Salvador produces only Arabica, the main varieties are Bourbon (a classic cultivar, grown on about 80 percent of the existing plantations), Pacas (15 percent), while the rest includes Pacamara and dwarf varieties such as Caturra, Catuai and Catistic. El Salvador coffee has acquired the reputation of being very consistent and increasingly more reliable in quality than most other growths. For this reason it has become popular in Europe and its appeal is even bigger because it is so regular in bean and style. The style in fact is generally Bourbon, as opposed to the more usual long beans of Central America. In other words, the bean looked at from above as it lies with its flat side uppermost, is almost circular instead of oval.

The natural soil properties and weather conditions, in addition to the expertise of the Salvadorian people, makes the production of high quality coffee a masterful art, deeply embodied in the culture of the country. 

Crop Periods

Flowering Period

Main : From February until May

Harvesting Period

Main : From October until March


Central Standard October / December
High Grown November / March
Strictly High Grown December / May

Shipping Period

Main : From December until August 


Central Standard November onwards
High Grown December onwards
Strictly High Grown January onwards

Transit Days

Port of Shipment




Santo Tomas de Castilla












Destination countries

1. Germany
2. USA
3. Canada, Belgium, France, Japan, The Netherlands


With improved local investment and a stable political climate, production in the 1990s reached levels of around 2.8 million bags (60kg), more than 3 per cent of the world's output. Coffee is an important source of employment, generating close to 135,000 direct jobs, or 25 per cent of the agricultural sector and 7 percent nationwide. As in the other Central American countries, coffee has traditionally been an important source of hard currency.

El Salvador's are classic Central American beans, full bodied and fragrant, and highly valued by the European roasters who rely on them for blends. The bulk of the production is exported to Germany, the U.S.A, followed by Belgium and the Netherlands.

Coffee production is El Salvador is facing a big crisis in the twentieth century. Mainly influenced by lack of investment and support from the government, ageing trees and modernization of its neighboring countries.

Nice to know

Smallholder production predominates. Local consumption includes imports of soluble and roast & ground (close to 200.000 b). Brazil and Mexico are the main soluble suppliers.

ICO Figures

By Region

Regions of coffee production

Eastern region : Usulutan, Morazan, San Miguel, La Union
Western region : Santa Ana, Sonsonate, Ahuachapan
Central region : La Libertad, San Salvador, La Paz, Cuscatlan, San Vincente

By grade

Central Standard


500-900 meters

High Grown


900-1200 meters

Strictly High Grown


> 1200 meters

By defects

U.S. Preparation


Maximum 12 defects

European Preparation


6 defects

Exporters recently tend to add the maximum number of defects within the coffee's description often because it exceeds the a.m. limits.

Nice to know

Most of the exporters are highly efficient and businesslike. Many exporters use the standard descriptions (CS, HG, SHG) together with the names of their own particular brands or marks, the reputation of which they do their best to maintain by adhering to certain personal standards.

Typical Description

El Salvador SHG ep (max 3/5 defects)

El Salvador Strictly High Grown, European Preperation with maximum 3/5 defects.


selectively by hand, 2 to 4 times

Washing (1)

majority are washed, very low volume of naturals

Fermentation (2)

from 8 to 15 hours

Drying (3)

natural sun-drying (superior qualities) & artificial in dryers (standard qualities)

Sorting (4)

mechanical and electronic sorting.


(1) About Washing


The close concentration of the coffee regions, an adequate network of feeder roads and the existence of more than 460 collecting points allow the freshly collected cherries to quickly reach one of the wet mills operating in the country, ensuring immediate pulping. El Salvadorian producers usually do not process their own beans. Processing is carried out by millers who are involved from sourcing till the export activity. The milling community is well organised. The vast majority is a member of "Abecafe" (Association of coffee millers and Exporters). 

Washed method : At first the cherries are presoaked in large tanks of water where they are washed and transported into drum pulpers. The pulp is separated and the pulped beans are pregraded with the aid of wet-drum screens.

Dry-Processing : After drying, the parchment coffee is bagged and stored in warehouses (sometimes in bulk silos) until it is hulled. Before hulling, the parchment coffee is precleaned in special machines with vibrating screens. All steel and iron particles are separated magnetically. Afterwards the parchment shell is cracked in hulling machines and the coffee is polished mechanically.

(2) About Fermentation


Depending upon the size of the Beneficio, between 2 and 40 tanks of plastered brick or concrete are used for fermentation. Depending upon the zone of cultivation and altitude, the time required for the fermentation process varies between 8 and 15 hours. In most cases the coffee is channelled into and out of the tanks (after the completion of the fermentation process) with the aid of water.

The coffee is then subjected to mechanical washing. Where, through the friction among the beans, dirt and mucilage are removed. Afterwards the wet coffee is mechanically graded with the aid of fresh water and special screens and is then transported to the drying ground, either pumped through tubes or washed through concrete channels.

The water required is taken from rivers or wells, and seldom from cisterns

(3) About Drying


Natural Sun Drying

The coffee, after being washed, is spread out in the Sun on the drying grounds. These are made from brick or concrete and the coffee is arranged in small strips and is continuously turned over by hand or with the aid of a tractor equipped with a slide or rake. At night or in rainy weather the coffee is pushed together into a heap and covered up. The length of the drying process takes from 8 to 15 days depending on the weather.

Artificial Drying

Using the artificial drying method, the coffee is first dried down to a residual moisture of 35% either in the Sun or in a predryer. Predryers and dryers work on a batch principal and are combined. Some of them being vertical drum dryers operating at different temperatures. These dryers usually run on diesel fuel, kerosin and direct or indirect air heating. Their capacity vary from 1,800 to 18,000kg per charge.

sundried coffee

(4) About Sorting


The coffee is sorted according to size and weight in combined air separators and screening machines. The sorting process can sometimes be completed by hand-picking to obtain "European preparation" which is superior to "US preparation".

Nice to know

Whereas the millers buy wet parchment from the growers/merchants in Honduras and Nicaragua, Salvadorian millers buy the cherries and do both: the wet and dry process. This approach benefits a lot to the quality and homogeneity of the lots. Botanical varieties include: Bourbon, Typica, Pacas (more or less Caturra), and Pacamara (a hybrid from Pacas and Maragogype).

About Exporters

The total coffee area is 163,000 ha, which represents 12% of the total agricultural land. The firewood produced from the pruning of coffee plants and shade trees is close to 1,4 million cubic meters a year. There are more than 20,000 coffee farmers in the country, and 93% of the farms are considered to be of small to medium size, each producing less than 700 bags of 46 kg. Among the large growers, there are 100 farm worker cooperatives with approximately 25,000 members. These growers produce 25% of total production and are members of such cooperatives as Ucafes (The Organisation of Coffee-producing Cooperatives) and Ucraprobex (The Land Reform Coffee Producing and Processing Cooperatives). Many of these also possess their own processing facilities. There are also producer cooperatives that have organised themselves to invest in processing facilities in order to integrate vertically into the coffee business. They process 25% of the total national production. As a result, coffee production and processing is not concentrated among a few producers, and a greater number of people benefit from this trade.

The revenues generated for the government, through taxing, have substantially helped in financing social investments such as roads, telecommunications, ports, the generation and distribution of electricity and water, education, health and housing. Furthermore, coffee income has had an important multiplying and positive effect on the economy and the El Salvadorian population. But the most important benefit is that, thanks to the laborious initiatives of the El Salvadorian coffee farmers, processors and government, coffee has contributed the most to the conservation of natural resources by preserving forests which are used for shading. 

The El Salvadorian Coffee Council (Consejo Salvadoreno del Café) is the local entity engaged in coffee promotion, statistic gathering and international cooperation.


Nice to know

In spite of 15 years of adversity, El Salvador's coffee growers and exporters are fighting to bring their country's industry back to the level of its past achievements. Quite a few plantations are very close to the cities. Low prices encourage the growers to convert their plantations into real estate developments.

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