A cup of El Salvador

I have tried coffee from El Salvador a few times before but hardly had any memorable moment with it. Most of the time, it tasted ordinary, especially when Ethiopian and Kenyan coffee were always there to steal the spotlight. Furthermore, Panama Geisha has done such a great job that it’s the first and only name popping up in my memory when talking about Central-American coffees.

However, these 2 bags have made me wonder if I missed something for the past 6 years.

Both of them were roasted on August 24th, 2020 by Square Mile Coffee Roasters (UK) and reached my place on September 7th, 2020. This means they had full 2 weeks degassing, which I believe a good start for an explosion afterwards. As you can see, the red font bag on the right is for Espresso, naming San Andres. The other one in green font is for Filter, naming El Guayabo. This time, I decided to visit Tuan-Anh’s roastery (Intenso – I once mentioned here) and try the coffee with his team so that we can share our sensory experience together.

We started off with a blind cupping session for an overall evaluation and the result was interesting! We immediately fell in love with San Andres and scored it higher than El Guayabo in almost every category: sweetness, acidity, body, flavor and aftertaste. San Andres tasted better than El Guayabo, but it’s undeniable that El Guayabo won the fragrance and aroma. I would never forget that fresh and sweet smell of it, reminding me of a basket of longan and candy!

When Thanh (Intenso’s roaster) made his first pour-over with El Guayabo, surprisingly, we all agreed that it tasted sweeter than the espresso one. Its mild acidity and silky body also highlighted a clear flavor of roasted nut, which can keep you drinking all day long. Thanh then did some technical measurement on Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) and Sugar (Brix) index and the numbers look so satisfying! While 1.63% TDS is not rare, its combination with the golden 2% Brix made the coffee amazing! Tram (Intenso’s PickBean team) also found an underlying note of orange peel in El Guayabo.

One thing I like about Thanh is that he loves experiments. Despite of receiving mostly compliments for the first brew, Thanh still went for some recipe alternatives to see if he could get more out of El Guayabo. The only difference in the latter brews that we found was just a strong fragrance of red beans at the beginning. So, let’s get back to the first recipe. Thank you em, Thanh, for sharing with us your golden profile!

Ratio (coffee:water)1:14
Dose (weight of coffee grounds) 25 grams
Yield (weight of coffee liquid)350 grams
Water temperature93 Celsius
Water flowMake it 5 infusions:
(1) 50 grams blooming, 45 secs break
(2) 70 grams, 35 secs break
(3) 60 grams, 35 secs break
(4) 60 grams, 35 secs break
(5) 110 grams, hold the flow still till the end
Total brew time3 mins 45 secs

While Thanh was having fun with El Guayabo, at the other side of the bar, Tuan-Anh dove into finding the best shot of San Andres. He is the guy in yellow shirt manually grinding coffee on the right of the picture. But it didn’t last long because our camera man Cuong took over this job then so that Tuan-Anh can focus on his espresso profiles. You’re the best, Cuong!

This picture was taken by Cuong (Intenso)

The first shot of San Andres was perfect! The bright acidity of citrus fruits stood out, following by creamy body and flavor of berry jam. It started with a scent of milk-chocolate, playing around on my tongue for a long time before ending with a sweet hint of spice.

The shot was pulled through a VST basket: 15g in – 38g out, with grind size 4 on Comandante Hand Grinder. The weirdest thing about this shot is that, it took only 14 seconds but the product was thick and bold like other 30-second espresso shots. This 14-second-record is such unbelievable that I asked Tuan-Anh to try a finer grind size to extend the extraction time. The result was terrible, though: dull, harsh and watery.

Please let me know if you’ve ever had a positive experience with incredibly short extraction time, I would love to understand why!

After all, I had a really good time with El Guayabo and San Andres. They completely changed my mind about not only El Salvador coffee but also other Central-American countries. In the future, I’ll definitely write more about this progressing sub-region of the Americas.

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