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.

Basecamp in South Lake Tahoe: Eco Chic for Outdoor Lovers


It’s always a bummer when outdoor-oriented hotels seem to have little interest in conservation (this is especially true for those close to ski mountains, which are especially dependent on the health of the local ecosystem and mitigation of climate change). Which is why I love Basecamp in South Lake Tahoe; not only are they a bit minimalist-chic affordable, but they are eco-conscious through-and-through.

Our 50 stylish rooms are designed for adventure and relaxation seekers alike, with the amenities and style of a modern resort, but at more affordable motel or inn-like prices.


Just five minutes from the lake, and even closer to the Heavenly gondola, this feels-rustic-but-is-actually-cozy accommodation features a filling breakfasts, a bar stocked with local brews and communal dinners on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.


Green credentials include:

All new double paned windows and doors
All new insulation
New efficient heaters
Dual flush toilets
Opt-in laundry for towels
Recycling bins in every room
Reclaimed barn wood trim pieces


Hawaii Island Retreat: An Eco-Friendly Travel Destination For Perfect Relaxation

Hawaii cliffs and tree

This piece originally published on The Green Beauty Team.

Journal Entry on January 21st, 2013

Today I rose with the sun and a choir of birds; I ate a farm-fresh breakfast overlooking the ocean; walked to an ancient circle of stones; heard inspiring stories of faith and spirit; took the best yoga class of my life with the doors wide open to the sea and trees; ate a healthy lunch; walked through thick brush on a narrow path to the dramatic cliffs of the sea; had a massage in an outdoor cabana overlooking the sacred valley below (which I walked back to before sunset for more meditation); dined on an organic feast set on a covered patio with the scent of gardenia rushing past on gusts of wind while a native Hawaiian singer told historical stories about music, her ukulele and traditional dancing; then fell asleep to the sounds of ocean wind on a bed covered with soft organic sheets. Bliss.

Having never been to Hawaii, I used my 35th birthday as the excuse to treat myself to a trip to the land of Aloha. Of course I couldn’t just stay at just any resort, I needed a place that was truly inline with my holistic, green and peace-seeking side. If you are like me in what you consider to be a vacation, something that nurtures the inner and outer Self, then this could very well be the kind of heaven for you that it was for me.

The criteria for my holistic retreat had to include the following:

  • A hotel committed to natural, organic, eco-friendly practices
  • A beautiful spa with massage treatments available
  • Healthy, organic meals three times a day
  • A serene environment (aka no screaming kids wooshing down waterslides at the pool built for 100 people)

It turned out that was quite a tall order! So after a very in-depth search, the one place that kept coming up was Hawaii Island Retreat.

Hawaii Island Retreat front

This off-the-grid, purportedly eco, fully sustainable resort, offered all of what I was looking for (and more) in their all-inclusive spa package. Powered almost 100 percent by their onsite windmill and solar panels, Hawaii Island Retreat truly embodies every virtue of being connected to and respectful of the earth.

Their love for Hawaii and the land led Jeanne and her husband Robert to build a retreat center in a way which honors the environment, takes nothing from it without giving back, and offers a place for spiritual nourishment to anyone who visits.


Why Exactly Is Flying Bad for the Environment?

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Dear EarthTalk: Why is it that airplane exhaust is so much worse for the environment than engine emissions on the ground?
– Winona Sharpe, New York, NY

While air travel today accounts for just three percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, the carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants that come out of jet exhaust contribute disproportionately to increasing surface temperatures below because the warming effect is amplified in the upper atmosphere.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific intergovernmental body set up by the United Nations (UN) to provide comprehensive scientific assessments of the risk of human-induced climate change, reports that CO2 emitted by jets can survive in the atmosphere for upwards of 100 years, and that its combination with other gas and particulate emissions could have double or four times the warming effect as CO2 emissions alone.

Modern jet engines are not that different from automobile engines—both involve internal combustion and burn fossil fuels. But instead of gasoline or diesel, jet fuel is primarily kerosene, a common home heating fuel used around the world. Just like car engines, jets emit CO2, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and soot.

Beyond their contributions to global warming, airplane emissions can also lead to the formation of acid rain and smog, as well as visibility impairment and crop damage down on the ground. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that aircraft engines contribute about one percent of total U.S. mobile source nitrogen oxide emissions and up to four percent around airports in some areas.

What worries environmentalists is the fact that the number of airline flights is on the rise and is expected to skyrocket by mid-century, meaning that if we don’t get a handle on airplane emissions, our other carbon footprint reduction efforts could be for naught. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports that commercial flights grew nine percent from 2002 to 2010 and will rise another 34 percent by 2020.


Best Travel BB Cream Ever: Marie Veronique Organics Moisturizing Face Screen

Starre Vartan wearing Marie Veronique Organics Moisturizing Face Screen—and nothing else.

Remember that old tagline from American Express in the 80′s? “Don’t Leave Home Without It” was said zillions of times about all sorts of stuff when I was growing up (and not just because my father was part of the ad team that came up with the expression). The phrase is less popular now, but still comes up often to me when I’m traveling; in the last year or so, it’s been in reference to Marie Veronique Organics Moisturizing Face Cream. This BB cream really does it all—which is what you need when on the road (when I don’t wear any other makeup); moisturizer, sun protection and skin-evener all in one natural product.


According to the Marie Veronique Organics site, the cream “Protects against both UVA and UVB rays with higher concentrations of non-nano zinc oxide, ideal for heavier sun exposure days,” which I’ve found to be true. Even though I almost always wear a hat and keep out of the midday sun, I find that it can be hard not to be out and about when you are traveling, and for that, I need a real sunscreen, not just a basic moisturizer with a bit of SPF. This screen is 30 SPF and not only does it block sun naturally, it moisturizes beautifully, and covers up my imperfections very thoroughly. It doesn’t rub off easily, and has never made me break out (which other sun protection usually does). Zinc oxide, a natural sunblocking agent, and a green tea/white tea infusion work together for sun protection, and red raspberry seed oil was “the subject of a study published in 2000 that showed that it could help prevent rash, eczema, and other skin lesions, and had superior anti-inflammatory properties. Raspberry seed oil also showed the potential to act as a broad-spectrum UV-shield due to its high anthocyanin content.”


Active Ingredient: 20% non-nano zinc oxide

Camellia sinensis (green& white tea), non-nano zinc oxide, Simmondsia chinensis (jojoba oil), Prunus armeniaca (apricot kernel oil), Limnanthes alba (meadowfoam seed oil), Helianthus annuus (sunflower oil), emu oil, Tocopherol (Vitamin E), vegetable glycerin, Elaesis guineensis (red palm oil), Rubus idaeus (red raspberry seed oil), lecithin, potassium sorbate, allantoin, Cosmocil CQ*, xanthan gum, mica, Hippophae rhamnoides (sea buckthorn oil), Calodendrum Capense (yangu oil), Rosemarinus officinalis (rosemary oleoresin), pearl powder, Daucus carota (carrot seed) essential oil, Cistus incanus (cistus) essential oil, Helichrysum italicum (helichrysum) essential oil, iron oxides, Spirulina platensis (spirulina) (medium tint only).

*Paraben-free anti-microbial agent

**Not a vegan product

Eco Chick Tested means that this product passes the personal ethical, health and environmental standards of the staff at Eco Chick (as any product we feature in any way has to); it also means that we genuinely love how it works, smells, and wears.

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