Thursday, February 17, 2011

Finca Casa Blanca

Camilo, Francisco and Rob in the back of the Dakota.

Those of us who tour the international judging circuit hear roughly the same thing: "Wow, you're so lucky to see the world." And indeed we are lucky. However, the greatest irony that we joke about constantly is that we get to see the "greatest convention centers of the world."

Everywhere we go, we're typically ensconced in air conditioned comfort, away from the sunlight, in some concrete bunker known as a convention center where we quietly ply our trade of evaluating barista performances, technique and beverage quality. Our hosts are always welcoming, gracious, accommodating and take very good care of us. And since most of us actually work a real job, we must return to our "real lives" as soon as possible. This means that we usually don't get to see sights that "regular" people visiting that nation get to see.

Those guys are armed.

Which is why we're more excited than usual to get up at 6am to set out for a visit to Ana Elena Escalante's Finca Casa Blanca. With Angel at the wheel of our USAID funded Dodge Dakota pickup, we slowly make our way out of San Salvador and along the highway to Ahuachapan, along the Guatemalan border.

We're piled into the vehicle, where the privilege of tummy affords me the shotgun seat as we pass the Salvadorean countryside filled with bananas, coffee, papaya and more. It's beautiful countryside and I can see why so many visitors (including Andy Newbom) want to move here.

New seedlings cultivated for replenishment.

The problem with Finca Casa Blanca is that it has been severely hit by the Roya fungus - that yellow rust that destroys coffee trees like a cancer. Everywhere you turn on the finca you can see the devastating effects that the Roya has inflicted here. Camilo spies a few trees from Colombia that are resistant to the effects of Roya but most of the farm has been impacted.

The finca is a great farm to visit because it's so different that the lauded farms that you read about receiving high dollar from the roaster darlings of America. This is a working coffee farm. A farm that plies its' trade based on the C Market in New York City. In other words, this is the true Salt of the Earth coffee farm.

A hallucinogenic among the trees.

Aside from the immaculate stacks of firewood and the neat rows of seedlings, everything about Casa Blanca seems a little herky jerky. The beat up coffee trees are surrounded by vegetation, owing to the organic approach being done here, and the Spanish-style buildings are well past their grand days.

But the drying patios are dry and the machinery still works and everything is done on-site. From seed to green, the entire process is handled right here at the farm and we have the opportunity to see the dry milling in action.

Camilo and the Roya.

New coffee just getting started.

More seedlings.

Angel amongst the trees.

The main house.

The wet mill.

In parchment.

Through the dry mill.

Mechanical sorting.

In parchment.

Now green.

The drying beds.

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