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El Salvador Santa Sofia, Semi-wet Process, COE lot

October 22, 2006
Jim Schulman

Santa Sofia has been a coffee plantation owned by the De Pacas family since the 1890s. They have been finalists in each of the three Cup of Excellence competitions, moving from 14th to 8th to 4th place. The Pacas varietal, a coffee similar to the Caturra, and widely grown in El Salvador, was discovered on this farm in the 1930s and named after the owning family. However, the COE lot reviewed here is a 100% Bourbon.

Semi-wet processing, also called "pulp-dry," means the skin of the coffee cherry is removed, but the mucilage is left on the bean. This is then dried and the mucilage is peeled off similar to traditional dry process. The removal of the skin accelerates the drying and greatly reduces the chance of fermentation. Proponents of the method, including Illy, claim that it adds the sweetness and body of traditional dry processing, while producing coffees as cleas as wet process. However, this is an emerging technology, and not all the bugs are out. Many semi-wet process coffees I've tried have lacked sweetness and body, and have been dull and dirty, not the best, but the worst of both worlds. Obviously, this is not the case with the Santa Sofia.

There are two classic styles of Central American coffee. The first is the crisp citrus and florals of high grown Caturras, especially from Panama, Tarrazu, and Huehuetenango. The second is sweet almond, baked fruit, and distillates of a Bourbon, especially those from Nicaragua and El Salvador. Semi-wet processing usually dulls the Caturra coffees to a shadow of themselves; but for Bourbons, it sometimes hits the jackpot.

The Santa Sofia retains plenty of acidity, and gains in sweetness and body. The aroma is the classic marzipan, baked fruit and distillates of a great Bourbon. At a very light roast, one gets a relatively non-descript citrus and nut taste, and I recommend going medium or darker to bring out the buttery almonds, distillates, and baked pear flavors. I especially like this coffee as a Single Origin espresso. It is difficult to translate the Bourbon flavor profile to espresso, and the Santa Sofia does it perfectly.


Dry Fragrance: 4.0
Wet Aroma: 4.25
Flavor: 8.0
Finish: 8.5
Acidity: 7.5
Body: 7.5
TOTAL (subtotal + 50): 89.75

  • Lighter Roasts: Very sweet citrus, peaches with some almonds
  • Darker Roasts: Toasted almond, brown sugar and distillate roast tastes develop
  • As Espresso: Very sweet and balanced almonds and baked fruit


UPDATED: October 22, 2006