…your trip to the “urban” area of Nueva Concepcion to find Cafe Ataco or similar quality ground coffee goes like this:
Not only do they have coffee, but here’s a hotel and restaurant, and coffee tours. Cafe Ataco gets a free “plug” from me today, just for tasting good.
1. Drive 25 minutes to get there. The next nearest town is “el pueblo” of Agua Caliente, which does not have a grocery or an ATM machine, but it does have a town hall with mail service, a church, and not one but TWO cyber cafes. “La Nueva” as we call it is definitely more urban so of course I’ll find some coffee there.
2. Park car at the Dispensa Familiar. Find ‘coffee’ area within store. See 3 or 4 brands of instant coffee, including Cafe Listo and Coscafe. “Coscafe” does have ground coffee on the shelf. We tried their instant coffee years ago, and didn’t like it. “What about the other super,” my husband says.
3. Visit the other super, called “El Baratillo.” Take money out of wallet and check 8 inch size purse at bag check area. Get to the coffee area.
4. See an expanded selection of instant coffees, now at least 5 or 6 brands. Zero bags of ground coffee. Might they have some bags in “el mercado?”
5. We passed through the market but did not see any, though I confess we did not do a super-thorough search. If they’d be anywhere they’d be with the vendors who sell beans, nuts, cocoa beans, and dog food. But I don’t recall seeing any coffee beans at those stalls, actually, in any of my visits to a market. The gas station in Guazapa between Amayo and San Salvador use to sell coffee in bags that we bought often. But we’re not there now.
We opted for the large size glass bottle of Cafe Listo, made by Nescafe, which is “the” coffee drank by a majority of Salvadorans. We’re OK, though, we’d been drinking it all along anyway. But our happy diversion with the recent Cafe Ataco purchase will repeat itself on our next trip to San Salvador. We’ll be sure to pick up a few extra bags while we’re there.
During your first year in El Salvador, after living through an ever-sunny and always dry 6 months, followed by a rainy, and by the end of it, soppy wet season in rain-forest world, you assume there are only two “seasons” here. But look beyond the sky and the changing-to-green-and-black colors of your cloth items, out the window and into the trees, onto the ground and what sprouts from it, and you’ll discover there are many seasons here.
Every fruit, tree, and plant has its season, insects all have their ‘time’, even birds and animals behave differently certain periods of the year.
We begin with the Zapote tree in our yard. Recently it was looking sickly – poor thing’s leaves were all spotted and browning. Then it began sprouting new leaves alongside them, dropped the old spotties almost overnight, and grew the new ones out within days. An ever-green, unlike the pine needle kind we are akin to.
Foto by jmisael123ct. Click for his flickr page.
AN EXTENSIVE BLOOM
In northern North America, one typically sees trees blooming between March and May, in a short and predictable spring. Here in El Salvador, “blooming” is extensive and various. The veranera (buganvilla) – whose name in Spanish is derived from summer (“verano”), flowers throughout the summer/dry season for many months. In places like western Chalatenango, which are desert-like in dry season, one sees toasted pastures, browning plants, dry ground and dust layering itself in your nose. Just when you think everything is dead, suddenly a veranera appears, serving up a flowering oasis. In Los Planes, we are fortunate during dry season, and have green vistas year-round.
Foto from LaMujerSinAtributos.blogspot.com. Click this foto to link to her page.
El Salvador has numerous and beautiful flowering trees, and they each have a moment of glory. The grand Ceiba sheds its leaves in December, fools you into thinking it has died, and suddenly sprouts leaves and blooms through January; the Maquilishuat, the Salvadoran national tree, flowers from February to April, and an all time favorite here (though originally from Madagascar), the Tree of Fire (“Arbol del Fuego”) drops its leaves the end of dry season in April, blooms, and is still flowering as rainy season begins. Here is a nice page showing different trees of El Salvador I ran into. The only one I’d want to add is the Conacaste, a giant and gorgeous shade-giver.
Just before rainy season, one bird starts to act quirky – the chonte (cenzontle), or Mockingbird, sings a longer and stronger song – my husband says it’s because it is asking God to bring the rain.
After the flurry of flowering activity happens and the seasons transition from dry to wet, the entire world turns green – even in tumbleweed west Chalate where the suegros (in-laws) live. Plants sprout from every crack and crevice, insects hang off of leaves and petals, and the world awakens.
CANE, COFFEE, and GRAIN
You don’t have to work in agriculture to notice Sugar Cane “season,” or rather, its harvest, which lasts about four months, usually starting around December. Giant tractor-trailer size vehicles haul the cane from the field to the mill and are seen everywhere. Coffee, another important product here, is also harvested in the middle of dry season, but its transport is much less obvious. More likely, you’ll see a truck packed full of people on their way to or from picking the beans early am or late pm. These ‘seasons’ are very important to agricultural workers here; many of them get steady work only during “siembra” and “cosecha” (planting and harvesting). The two biggest grains El Salvador produces are maize (maiz) and red beans (frijoles rojos). Both are sown at the start of the rains, but have different harvests. My husband told me beans can be planted twice a year, but in today’s research I learned from this agro book (Perfil del cultivo de frijol en El Salvador / Cristina Choto de Cerna ), a third sowing can happen the tail end of rainy season, using residual humidity or watering to grow. Last year, after storm 12E flood in October, people talked about doing this. Maiz only has one season, as far as I know, and is harvested at the end of rainy season, farmers “doubling” the corn stalks to halt their growth.
Mosquitos (“zancudos”) have a gloriously long season here, buzzing around during summer, dwindling down as the rainy season approaches, and then finally, disappearing as the multiple daily rains wash away their egg-laying work (at least where we live – in other places they may be year-round pets). The Cicada, known here as a Chicharra or a Cigarra in Spanish, sings for the entire month of march, taking over the sound spectrum with his booming rattle to lure female groupies into his backstage den. A purple flowering plant most Salvadorans would call “monte” (weed) has been growing for a couple months now in our yard, and once the rains come, I’m hoping the glass butterfly will come land on them. The rains tend to bring bugs out of hiding. Spiders spin webs furiously during rainy season; new webs appear after every shower. This fella, pictured on the right, landed on my shoulder last year while I was in the garden, at the beginning of April – rains had barely begun here – he’s a leaf-backed praying mantis.
Fruits galore here, and each one has its “day”. A couple months ago Jicama was everywhere, then gone. March marks the season of the Mango – with dozens of varieties here – some are already ripe, but many, including the infamous “Mango Indio” are still green or becoming “sasson” (not green, but not ripe – the sour taste has ebbed). Jocotes are fully-ripe at the moment, and not far from now we’ll be seeing the famous Anona. Unlike back home, where you can buy nearly every fruit or vegetable almost year-round, here fruits and vegetables become scarce or disappear when their season wanes, and often too pricey for small vendors to afford. When pipianes (zucchini) run out, forget it. Tomatoes that were once 10 or 12 for a dollar are suddenly 3 for 50cents. One learns to eat in-season vegetables and fruit, and that’s what makes them so enjoyable. During the short season of the Anona, everyone loves to eat them, and kids climb like monkeys to get the last of the red jocotes.
So when someone says, “Yeah, but I like the FOUR seasons,” comparing a temperate climate to ours, I can be sure to tell them, while we don’t have snow, ice, or frigid cold, we got plenty more than four seasons here.
Here is a treat I got to see recently – someone grinding Salvadoran-style “coffee” made of toasted maize, also called “cafe de palo,” or as my mother in law terms it, “cafe pusungo”. Our neighbors in Chalatenango, Lupita and her brother Cristian, came by my mother-in-law’s house to borrow her “molino” or grinder, to finish making a batch. Lupita says her mother likes to drink it because “no le hace dano” (it isn’t bad for her health).
She had a bucket full of toasted maize kernels, blackened on the comal/griddle, and was grinding away. Her arm was getting tired, so Cristian jumped in and started winding the grinder like it was a kid’s toy – he did it like a pro. Take a look at the results: doesn’t it look like coffee? I had to sample it, of course – didn’t taste much like coffee, or anything I’d want to drink, but then, coffee is an acquired taste.
Café de maize tostado is a traditional drink in El Salvador, and other parts of Latin America. It was consumed much more in the ‘old days’, but as we see by this example, still consumed by some to this day. Looking into the history of this beverage, I cannot yet determine if it was a traditional indigenous drink before the America’s were colonized or not, but it has been an economic surrogate for coffee. According to this 2001 article in the Diario de Hoy (translation, with original text, following),
“At one time, don Lito, the price of coffee was so high, that the poor, not having the resources to drink good coffee, would instead drink coffee of toasted maize, which they sometimes mixed with avocado seed and coffee casings [the shells containing the grains] to give it some flavor. Nowadays, 100 pounds of maize is worth more than 100 pounds of coffee, even though it only takes four months to produce that 100 pounds of maize, and four years for the same amount of coffee!”
“-En un tiempo, don Lito, el precio del café era tan alto, que los pobres, para variar, no tenían capacidad de tomar buen café y tomaban café de maíz tostado, que a veces lo revolvían con semilla de aguacate y algunas cascaritas de café cereza, para darle sabor. Ahora, un quintal de maíz en plaza vale más que un quintal de café, aunque para producir un quintal de maíz sólo se tarda cuatro meses, igualito que el café, sólo que ¡cuatro años! ” – link to article by Lito Moltalvo, in Diario de Hoy
coffee tree, Los Planes de Renderos, El Salvador
So I’m talking with my neighbor Sabas over the fence the other day. He’s the same guy with the cool birds and plants I’ve mentioned before. He had a couple soup bowls from meals I’ve passed over, and we were chatting about water bills or taxes, or something affecting the general populace here, when a small tree behind him caught my eye.
It’s fruit has small reddish brown berries. “Hey, that looks like coffee over there.” “Oh that, yeah, that IS coffee,” he tells me. What!!?? “Sabas, I say, why don’t you pick the beans to make coffee?” “Oh no,” he tells me, “that would be a lot of trouble, for the small amount of beans, then you gotta dry ’em – and I’ve only got shade over here – then shuck em, then take ’em to the molino (person with a grinder), wouldn’t be worth it..” I offered my sunny yard for drying them if he’d like. Might be fun to pick and make a small batch just for experience sake, then sit and have a cup with Sabas when we’re all through. I think Sabas and I are gonna do some coffee pickin’ this coming weekend.