We’ve proudly enjoyed a direct trade relationship with Carlos since 2014, aligned with his vision to create a fairer industry for people and the planet. As a true pioneer in the global speciality coffee industry, his dedication has paved the way for others.
It was his openness to experimentation with frozen coffee cherries that resulted in a second win for Dan Fellows (our Head of Wholesale at the time) in the 2019 World Coffee in Good Spirits Championship. Following a conversation with Dan, Carlos and his team picked perfectly ripe Pacamara cherries from their San Antonio farm, freezing the fruit immediately for twenty-four hours. From here, the cherries were naturally dried for 17 days. The process resulted in bold sweetness and clarity, with flavours of raspberry and grapefruit - a winning recipe for his frozen natural experiment coffee cocktail.
Carlos’s boundless energy and perseverance - laying the foundations to build upon better practices for workers and furthering sustainable methods - alongside his innovative vision and passion for experimentation, provides an exciting insight into the future–one that we look forward to sharing.
BACK TO FAMILY ROOTS
While Carlos set out on a different route than his family, working first in the textile industry, it was inevitable that he would find himself at the helm; he grew up surrounded by the coffee industry, with his family deeply rooted in the business. Today, Carlos continues to steer a hundred-year family heritage firmly into the future.
From commercial to speciality coffee, the Pola legacy has grown just as much as the land. Their farms, San Antonio and San Roque, have been in the family since the 1900s; Finca Las Brisas was bought in 1997. Yet it wasn’t until 2012 that Carlos was able to fully commit to his family’s trade, stepping away from his career in the textile industry, ready to transfer his knowledge and apply his experience of quality control, efficiency, and data management to sustainable speciality coffee production. His first challenge came that same year, with the farms devastated by coffee rust disease. While many might have backed away there and then, Carlos saw an opportunity to start afresh, from the ground up.
Every time we visit Carlos and his farms, he, his wife, Patricia, and his team of workers remind us of the power of relationships. The foundations of this extended family are built on trust, humility, and an unwavering love of coffee, and we can’t wait to see where the road Carlos so tirelessly extends, takes him next.
THE PERFECT CONDITIONS
Carlos’s three farms – San Antonio, Las Brisas, and San Roque – are all located in El Salvador, a country renowned for its commitment to coffee, once the fourth largest producer of the crop. Situated near the town of Juayúa, which lies in the middle of the Apanaeca Ilamatepeq mountain range, the farms lie in the midst of a rich coffee growing landscape, where it’s said that each mountain boasts its own micro-climate, providing opportunity for producers to explore unique flavour characteristics. Bordering the Ruta de las Flores, which translates as The Route of Flowers, Carlos’s farms sit within a terroir famed for its temperate weather and elevation, with volcanic mountains reaching elevations of close to 2,100 masl. The growing season is typically from October to March; Carlos employs around 30 permanent workers, with up to 120 during harvest.
In 2012, Carlos renovated his farms to create a landscape focused on sustainable and cost-effective practices, reducing the level of pesticides and fertilisers, and seeking out natural alternatives to support and encourage quality growth. Planted in double rows and straight contour lines, the crops are shaded by trees that fix nitrogen in the soil while protecting nearly 100 percent of the rainfall. He’s also successfully implemented permaculture practices, propagating mycorrhizae – a fungi that forms a symbiotic relationship with plants to exchange nutrients – fixing carbon and creating a smart agricultural ecosystem that’s sustainable and self-sufficient.
“Our partnership with Origin has been crucial for the success and prosperity of our farms. Origin was our first direct trade client and, since that first order for a few bags some eight years ago, we have built a partnership based on shared values, trust, friendship, and sustainability. The partnership has positively impacted the lives of many stakeholders throughout the coffee value chain, from farm to cup. This is our definition of sustainable speciality coffee, and these are the benefits of what sustainability can achieve for the good of all and the planet.”
Carlos Pola, 2022
With the landscape renovated, and every stage of the process thoughtfully considered, Carlos found that production increased up to fifty percent, while still maintaining – and building upon – the highest standards of quality across his farms. Carlos is a man of his word, passionate and committed, no matter what he sets his mind to. Paired with his care and support for the community, is a curious and open mindset, always looking for the next challenge and discovery. The farms each have their own lab for experimenting with new processing methods, also providing a dedicated space for educating workers and ensuring stringent quality control checks. We know we’re on the same page when we talk about the importance of transparency with Carlos, who champions traceability through a digital application he developed, providing a way to trace his coffee from farm to cup, manageable from his phone.
Exploration drives each season for Carlos who, alongside growing Pacas, Pacamara, and Parainema varietals, grows two farm hybrids, and 20 experimental varietals. These varietals are grown in micro lots, planting multi-lines of different varieties to enhance genetic diversity, each with different resistance genes. Sustainable practice and quality lie at the heart of these decisions, looking to naturally control pathogens and suppress diseases, particularly coffee rust, which is prevalent in this area.
Once the cherries are picked, Carlos’s chosen processing methods are just as carefully considered, yet his experimentation is anything but limited. Carlos rarely uses a washed process, in an effort to limit wastage; any water used in processing is carefully treated in a bid to reduce environmental impact and the risk of contamination. Drying all his coffee in African beds - raised beds that keep the coffee off the ground and allow good air circulation and an even dry - Carlos consistently produces outstanding coffees that are a result of honey, natural, and Anaerobic processes while continuously experimenting with new methods.
When it comes to Carlos’s coffee journey, he’s come a long way–but he’s just getting started. His hopes and goals for his own farms are equal to those he has for the global coffee industry: increasing the quality of coffee grown, creating jobs, and educating people. Along with looking to promote and organise coffee events at farm level, where he can create and empower the community at every stage, through harvesting, processing, roasting, and cupping, he recognises the importance of education, creating a cooperative spirit of increased quality.
Dedicated to the challenges of becoming a fully sustainable coffee producer, Carlos continues to look for ways to regenerate soil and create micro-diversity and create effective micro-climates that benefit further coffee development in a sustainable manner. He also has plans to renovate about twenty percent of the farms - areas abandoned since the coffee rust pandemic - using the land to further experiment with new varieties.
Carlos' coffee plays a key part in our release schedule throughout the year. View our latest coffees - here