Coffee in El Salvador: From Bean to Brewed at the El Carmen Estate

Starre Vartan raking the drying beans (it’s harder than it looks!).

El Salvador is one of the premium coffee-growing countries in the world, situated in an ideal location for growing java. And if you are visiting the country, spending some time checking out where your java gets made is a must-do. EcoExperiencias, who organizes eco-focused tours in El Salvador, got us an insider tour of the beautiful El Carmen Estate, which grows, dries, processes, packages and ships (and roasts, for the local markets) Ataco Coffee that’s sold to Starbucks and Illy.

You can also stay at the Estate, in beautifully-decorated, homey rooms with some seriously gorgeous surrounding gardens (I would definitely recommend it; so romantic, and – Coffee!)

Here’s how the coffee gets made (forgive me if I geeked out a bit)!

Picked beans are first washed and soaked in large vats; detritus, bad beans and other impurities float to the top and get skimmed off and composted.

Controls for the coffee washing and transit around the facility.

Then beans are sent through tunnels and funnels made of concrete, their flow controlled by wheels like this one (the factory is over 50 years old and four generations of the family have been growing and processing coffee); simple and effective.

Next, beans are laid out to dry naturally in the sun. El Salvador’s climate and many days of sunshine make this an ideal climate to dry beans out in.

Each coffee is kept separate according to type and quality. Labels like this one keep beans in their respective areas.

Zen-like, the rakers continually move the beans around so they can dry—until they are ready to be bagged up and taken to the next step.

Beans with their little casings still on; they pop off during the drying process.

If necessary, there is a bean heater/dryer that mostly burns excess, compost-like materials, for too many rainy or moist days. (Made in Buffalo, New York; so cool!)

Beans are now sent inside, and filtered, first by machine, later by hand.

The coffee is regularly checked for quality along the processing journey.

Coffee is sorted by machines like this one that filter out bad beans.

Beans are then sorted by hand, with imperfect beans pulled out on a conveyer belt, like this one (just a minute before, there were women sorting beans here, but just before I was going to take this picture, the lunch bell rang!).

Then the coffee is checked by an expert, who picks a random handful and compares it to industry standards.

Industry standards are set by the New York Coffee and Sugar Exchange which is now part of the ICE.

Coffee that’s ready to ship!

Not all the coffee from this company gets sent to the US and Europe. Coffee for the local market is roasted in-house, packaged up and sent on its way to the cafes in San Salvador, and other cities and towns.

Just-roasted coffee.

Feeling just a little enthusiasm for the freshly-roasted coffee 🙂

Packaged coffee for the local markets.

Brewing it up al fresco.

The pour! So excited to taste.


Loved the jewelry made from coffee that was for sale in the gift shop; I got a fun pair of earrings to bring home and remind me of the tour.

All images by Starre Vartan.