Finca Argentina is based in the Apaneca-Ilamtepec mountain range, near the town of Turin in the Ahuachapán department. The beautiful 35-hectare farm has natural hot springs dotted all over, and is situated at an altitude of 1300 metres above sea level. My very dear friend Alejandro Martinez owns the farm along with his father Mauricio, who inherited the land along with a handful of other coffee farms in the region from Guillermo Martinez, MD (Ale's grandfather) back in 2008.
The family currently have 2 farms locally, the other being Finca Manuella that our lovely friends at 3fe regularly buy from, that they run with the help of a farm manager and approximately 25-30 staff during the non-picking season. Argentina have taken a supportive approach with their labour: this team have been with the farm for 6 years now and work on maintaining and tending to the plants year-round. The number of workers goes up to 50 during the busy harvest period, including the staff members' families who also participate in the harvest cycle to help them complement their income. Furthermore, Ale and Mauricio host a yearly lunch with the crew to thank them for their hard work, and plant corn on the land for their employees and each staff member gets about 50lbs annually to help support their families. They have also been contributing labour and materials to support the necessary improvements to the access road for the community. This is a joint effort with the municipality, community leaders and a few other local farmers.
I've been working with the family since back in 2008, and in that time our relationship has gone from strictly professional to Ale being one of my closest friends. He became involved in coffee after he had just relocated to El Salvador from New York, where he'd been working as a city banker. With his son Lukas on the way and the hustle and bustle of New York, no place to bring up a family, the draw of home and El Salvador was just far too strong to ignore. While looking for work in El Salvador, Ale decided to help his father with some of his business interests and investments, including the coffee farms he had just inherited.
One of the investments pricked Ale’s interest, and this was a farm called Finca Argentina. The reason it really got Ale's attention was that he saw the farm once yielded loads of coffee but was producing a fraction of its old productivity. His father gave him permission to see what could be done to make the farm successful again. Historically, Argentina used to produce on average 1250 quintales (1 quintal = 100 pounds) with some years even producing 1500 or at the very highest harvest roughly 2000, however, the productivity levels had gone right down to 400-500 quintales by the time Ale started looking into it.
Alé began working the farm with more attention and better management in general (pruning, shading control, fertilization etc) and managed to get the harvest back to 1,100 quintales right before Roya devastated the crop the following year. In 2013 they suffered the worst harvest on record, with only 70 bags harvested due to the massive issue with leaf rust - from 1,100 qq down to 200 qq... In Ale's own words "brutal"! Since 2013 the approach has been to renovate the farm with younger trees and to diversify the varieties from the vast majority being mainly Bourbon, with the goal of the plant stock being more resilient and able to handle disease. It has been slow going since their other farm, Manuela, took precedence for replanting and so far about 60-70% of the farm has been replanted.
Since then, Finca Argentina has gone from strength to strength, but not without bumps in the road. With investment and hard work, the future is amazingly bright for Ale, his father, his family and Finca Argentina. Things are also looking up for the local fauna as the farm has, over the last five years, transitioned to a more ecological management utilizing compost and other organic products to minimize impact to the environment. Such management has led to more biodiversity: the team have seen deer at the farm as well as several species of birds, frogs, and snakes, and they noticed it has also helped improve cup quality.
Alongside these measures, they have also intercropped beans to enrich the soil in some areas of the plantation, the harvests from which serve as a bonus to the workforce alongside their corn provisions. My most recent trip to El Salvador in February of this year was an especially interesting one as it was the first time I got to visit Finca Argentina and be shown around by Mauricio instead of Alejandro. Mauricio was an amazing host during my stay at his house, and even helped to set up props to propose to my (now) fiance while we were there! Soppy Steve Alert! 😍
The farm is broken down into 7 areas or tablons, these are approximately 6 hectares in size each, but there are some smaller due to their location and other landscape characteristics:
The highest tablon is San Jorge at 1300-1360 masl. This is 2 hectares in size and was replanted with Yellow Pacamara 4 years ago.
Fincona 2 is the most productive tablon at a size of 8 hectares, sitting at between 1250-1300 masl.
Fincona 1 is 4 hectares, sat at 1200-1250masl. The coffee plants here are intercropped with macadamia nut trees which are in the process of being replanted in 2020.
Guachipelin is 6 hectares in size, and in 2016 was replanted with H1, Yellow Bourbon, Icatu and a small amount of Kenya/SL-28.
Los Mangos, also 6 hectares, is the location of a volcanic vent with boiling mud areas!
Piletas is 6 hectares large and is also being replanted in 2020. This is the lowest area of the farm at about 1150 to 1200masl.
4 Manzanas (3 hectares in size) were replanted in 2018 with Portillo (a Bourbon hybrid).
H1 - or to give it it’s full name, Centroamericano H1 - is a Catimor. Actually, to be precise, it’s a Sarchimor. The Catimors and Sarchimors is a huge group of coffee varietals created from crossing Arabica varietals with Timor Hybrid - a naturally occurring hybrid of Arabica and Robusta (discovered, you guessed it, in Timor, nearly 100 years ago). The Timor gives this group it’s “imor” suffix, with the start of the name coming from the plant it was crossed with. In the case of Centroamerica H1 it’s Villa Sarchi (hence Sarchimor), but worldwide this group of varietals with a little bit of robusta parentage have become popularly known as Catimors (Timor x Caturra).
Centroamerico H1 is a particularly popular varietal from this group and it’s one we’ve seen often grown as a small part of speciality coffee farms in El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica. The parents of Centroamerico H1 are T5296 (Timor x Villa Sarchi) and Rume Sudan (an Ethiopian varietal). There are some obvious reasons H1 has become popular - the plant is quick growing, resistant to leaf rust (a major problem, particularly in El Salvador) and high yielding. These are characteristics of its robusta heritage, but unfortunately, it sometimes struggles to deliver a delicious flavour. This is why it’s often only a small part of speciality farms, where it’s an experiment and a backup in case the rest of the crop has a problem. However, we’re big believers in “the right coffee for the right place” and here that holds true. The Centroamericano H1 grown at Argentina just seems to work perfectly there and produces coffee whose quality is on a par with the Bourbon from the farm.
This is all bread and butter pudding for me. There's a creamy body with a sweetness like custard, but with that caramelised edge you get on top and a scattering of juicy raisins too. A little slosh of dark rum has been added though, giving just an edge of booze to it all.