…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.
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.