Tag Archives: coffee farm


Jack (CEO) and Dismas (Head Roaster) are on a coffee buying trip to Central America. These are notes from their journey.

Sorting Coffee Cherries.

Sorting Coffee Cherries.

Feb 12, 2015

The alarm rings all too early but about 5 cups of AeroPress coffee get us to our flight on time. We arrive in El Salvador very early and Juan Luis, the Ortiz family driver for the last 42 years, meets us. He doesn’t speak much, but his welcoming eyes and smile are the perfect greeting. We hop in the car and drive to Talnamica, two hours away. El Salvador is beautiful with many volcanos that scatter the horizon.

Farmer with his coffee cherries.

Farmer with his coffee cherries.

About 10:45am, we arrive at Finca Talnamica, where the Ortiz family home is located. Nena and Hermann, husband and wife who represent the family in all decisions, greet us with big hugs! We have been working with them for over 4 years and have become very close. After catching up, we go inside for lunch. Sadly, our usual caretaker, Tita, is home recovering from surgery. Nena informs us Tita was incredibly upset she couldn’t be there for us and apologized. She is simply the sweetest! So, without Tita, we have lunch and head out to the farm. Miguel Angel is the manager of the farm and is essentially the Michelangelo of Talnamica. His attention to detail is completely amazing and has become the standard for all the Ortiz family farms. We see the harvest in full swing, with the patio full of people delivering cherry, sorting, and weighing their day’s pick. It is a wonderful time and kids are playing and eating ice cream. It’s getting late so we decide to visit Tita. We gently and happily give her a little hug and share some photos. Now our stay at Talnamica is complete. After dinner, we sit on the porch and drink some Flor de Cana rum, discussing the incredible day. It’s breezy and cool. We all sleep like babies.

Boy with ice cream at the harvest.

Boy with ice cream at the harvest.

Feb 13, 2015

Jack and Dismas cupping.

Jack and Dismas cupping.

We wake up and have a typical breakfast of huevos, beans, and tortillas. We talk of getting to Natamaya, but it isn’t likely we’ll have time. I brought another nice check to present to the remote village Canton Ojo de Agua above Natamaya. We raised almost $2,000 dollars this year! Nena promises to give them the check and to get pictures of the soccer field they built with last year’s donation. We pack up and wave goodbye to Talnamica.

Our next destination is CuatroM, the best mill in El Salvador, where the Ortiz family has its coffee prepared. Dana Foster, an old friend, is now the head of quality control and does all the cupping and scoring of coffees. During the harvest, she works 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 3 1/2 months! We arrive about 10:30am and Emilio Lopez Diaz, the owner of the mill, greets us. He’s also under a tremendous work load during this time. Not only does he run a very busy mill, but he has Finca El Manzano and is on the executive council of Roasters Guild.

We’re cupping the Ortiz coffees so we have ten to consider. We’re looking for a blender coffee for our Queen Anne and Espresso blends and we hope to find some micro lots for our Daring single origin line. The table is very strong, with coffee scoring a full point higher than last year. The micro lots are cupping 86.5 and our blender is a solid 85. The Ortiz family is doing an impressive job! We were their first specialty buyers and now they have many direct trade customers. They used to sell coffee cherry to mills that put all the coffee together and paid a price based on the C market. This year, they would have received approximately $1.25/lb. By selling specialty coffee, they will earn between $2.70 and $4.00/lb. That remarkable increase is allowing them to put more money back into the farms.

CuatroM drying patios.

CuatroM drying patios.

We enjoy a nice lunch next to the drying patios. It’s an amazing view and if you look at any Caffe Ladro store menu you’ll see it in the background. Next, we tour the Beneficio and walk Finca El Manzano. It’s rewarding and humbling to be this close to the coffee and involved in this amazing process. It’s 6:30pm when we get back to the house for an awesome night with plenty of grilled meats, ron (rum), Cervezas, and—most importantly—lots of coffee stories. Dismas was holding court for sure but I managed a few lies too. Bed came very late!

Feb 14, 2015: Dia de los Enamorados.

We wake with a start. Bang, bang, bang on the door: “Get up, you’re late! Malacara B is here to pick you up.” It’s 7:20am and we’re supposed to be ready to go in ten minutes! Roberto Dumont picks us up and we head for Beneficio Bourbollon. Roberto is very easy to like: he’s tall, gracious, and doesn’t show his 60-plus years. We drive about 1 1/2 hours to the mill. When we arrive, we greet Roberto’s son, Rodrigo. We’re friends from last year’s trip and he came to the SCAA conference in Seattle last April.

Jack cup-fainting.

Jack cup-fainting.

We tour the Beneficio and observe evidence of great sorting and quality control, then we sit down to cup Malacara B’s coffees. We’re there to explore their micro lots. From the big table, I choose two standouts that both show astonishing sweetness and balanced acidity. I’m happy to learn the coffees are the orange Bourbon we bought last year and its sister coffee, a yellow Bourbon. These coffees are still being harvested, so quantities aren’t available yet. Hopefully we can get some! We thank Jorge, the manager of Bourbollon, then we jump in the trucks and head for Finca Malacara B. Malacara has a rich history in El Salvador. Rodrigo is a fifth generation coffee farmer. His great grandfather famously led El Salvador into the world coffee market, making the Malacara brand synonymous with El Salvadoran coffee. When Roberto’s father passed away, his mother split the farm into three separate farms, Malacara A, B, and C, giving one to each son.

Yellow Bourbon.

Yellow Bourbon.

When we arrive, we see a lot of the pickers delivering their cherry to be weighed. While touring the farm, we discuss their pruning and fertilization strategies. New trees take three years to produce cherry. They explain how replanting 15-20% of the land each year is very important since new plants fight the Roya (Rust). Though replanting isn’t cheap, old plants are more susceptible to this fungus.

We go for a drive and look at the housing and soccer field they provide for all their pickers. They also provide three meals a day and have a clinic and school for the families. Their workers return year after year. We stop at the original house where Roberto was born and enjoy some delicious soup and pupusas on the porch for lunch.

Dismas helping out.

Dismas helping out.

The next part of our journey is a wonderful surprise. Roberto takes us to his house on Lake Coatepeque, in the middle of a volcanic caldera. Eruptions 72,000 years ago left a huge basin in the mountain that’s now a stunning lake encircled with mountains. He treats us to an amazing meal of seafood paella and banana cream pie. While so thankful for the nice break, we must say goodbye and drive back to the hotel. Morning—and our trip to Costa Rica—will come quickly.

– Jack

Happy Holidays from Caffe Ladro!

Ladro Roaster's Reserve

Ladro Roaster’s Reserve

The finest collection of quality coffees.

Roasted only once a week to ensure freshness, this incredible collection of coffees is only available through the end of December. Order online today and choose your preferred roast date. Need a gift for the coffee drinker who has everything? They don’t have these coffees. Boom!

Pie Time!Pecan Pie

The holiday season is in full swing and our bakery’s ovens seldom cool down. Pumpkin Pie and Apple Pie are available now in stores as well as for wholesale orders. Pecan Pies are available for wholesale orders only. Our Pecan Pie is the perfect, delectably gooey addition to any celebration’s table! Available as a deep dish pie, it’s studded with whole pecans and stuffed with flavor.

Ingredients: whole pecans, brown sugar, egg, corn syrup, corn starch, salt, butter; (crust) butter, flour, salt, sugar.

Call our bakery (206.938.2271) today and let us know what we can get started for you! We request at least 48 hour advance notice for orders. Please note: cutoff times for orders before Christmas are 12pm noon Monday to pick up pies in stores that Wednesday and 12pm noon Tuesday to pick up pies in stores on Christmas Day. Please see our website for holiday hours.

El Salvador Natamaya

Fireside Tin

A blend of Fair Trade Organic Central and South American coffees, darkly roasted to warm you during the cold winter months. Packaged in a reusable tin, this is a great gift for any coffee drinker!


September News from Caffe Ladro

The women who run the Ortiz farm together

Granitas de Altura del Ortiz

Country: Costa Rica
Region: Dota Valley – Tarrazu
Elevation: 1900m
Taste Notes: Honey Dew, Golden Raisin, and Melted Butter

Curently 70% of our menu is Direct Trade coffee, sourced from our multiple trips to Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil.

One of the sisters who runs Ortiz

It’s incredibly rewarding to experience the whole coffee journey: from picking all the way to arrival in our warehouse in burlap bags with a big Ladro logo! We take this relationship seriously and are like proud parents when new coffees arrive.

Dismas and I traveled to Costa Rica last March and tasted some amazing coffees. One special coffee we chose was from the daughters of Omar Calderon. They started and currently operate Beneficio Granitas de Altura del Ortiz. Their family has won the Cup of Excellence competition in the past and we were excited to have the opportunity to try their coffee. The daughters manage all One of the sisters who runs Ortizaspects of Beneficio and their attention to detail stands out in the cup. Dismas and I tasted over one hundred coffees on our trip and this was one of the best. We hope you enjoy this remarkable coffee.
– Jack

 Need coffee? Purchase our Granitas de Altura del Ortiz!

New Signature Drinks on our menu!


Shakerato: lungo espresso shot combined with lots of ice and a teaspoon of raw Turbinado sugar shaken together violently and strained into a small glass. This traditional Italian beverage is lightly sweet and frothy.


Gibraltar: a perfectly extracted 19g shot of espresso combined with 2oz of lightly steamed whole milk. Named after the glass it’s served in, this little beverage is basically a bridge between the macchiato and cappuccino.


Cold Brew Cooler: cold brew cut with sparkling water and poured over ice. Surprisingly different and refreshing, it’s perfect for a hot day!

Robin Williams: A Story Never ToldGMVwilliams - sm
by Dismas Smith, Head Roaster of Caffe Ladro

It was the day after the First Canadian Barista Championships, which I had judged. During the weekend I was introduced to Sammy Piccolo, who won the competition. The next morning many of us had gathered for coffee at Cafe Artigiano, the cafe owned by Sammy and his brother Vince. I was sitting with my back to the bar area and Sammy was sitting four or five people down from me. At some point Sammy says in a loud whisper “Dismas! Don’t look now…”

Read the story here.

Seattle Coffee Companies Give Back

Direct Trade Roasters Partner to Improve El Salvador Community

Seattle, WA — March 11, 2014 — On their recent coffee buying trip, the owners of Caffe Ladro and Zoka Coffee Company delivered a check for $3,000 to the school in Canton Ojo de Agua, El Salvador to build a much-needed soccer field.  The idea originated when Jack Kelly and Jeff Babcock visited the region a year ago to taste coffees and trade directly with local farmers.  The donation solidified what will be a long association between these Seattle roasters and this community in one of El Salvador’s best coffee growing regions.

Kelly and Babcock donating $3,000 to school in El Salvador with the students, teacher and Mayita Mendez of Finca Talnamica.

Kelly and Babcock donating $3,000 to school in El Salvador with the students, teacher and Mayita Mendez of Finca Talnamica.

Jack Kelly of Caffe Ladro and Jeff Babcock of Zoka Coffee feel responsible to support the communities that farm the coffees they buy.  “When we visit farms, and stay with the owners and workers, we develop lasting friendships with the people who grow our coffee.  The experience is powerful,” explained Kelly.  Last spring, when they first sold the Natamaya coffee to Seattle customers, the owners agreed to donate a portion of the sales to aide a school associated with that farm.

NatamayaMeeting the children, visiting their one-room schoolhouse and talking with their teacher deeply moved the owners.  “Our hearts are full,” wrote Kelly.  “This is why Zoka and Caffe Ladro practice Family Direct Trade coffee buying—to help farmers improve their communities,” said Babcock.  During the donation celebration, Kelly and Babcock discussed providing school security fencing or solar lanterns for the electricity-free village.  The community will make the final decision, and the people are grateful for ongoing support.

Jack Kelly and Nena Mendez, the Matriarch of the farm talking with villagers.

Jack Kelly and Nena Mendez, the Matriarch of the farm talking with villagers.

Coffee farmers in El Salvador face another hardship.  Coffee production fell 50% this year due to late rains and a damaging outbreak of Roya (a fungus that causes coffee rust, destroying the season’s harvest on affected trees).  Caffe Ladro and Zoka bought coffee from Finca Talnamica that will help offset the effects the fungus had on El Salvador’s harvest.  Because of the relationships Kelly and Babcock formed with the people of Finca Talnamica, life in one remote village is improving and Caffe Ladro’s and Zoka Coffee’s customers will enjoy the amazing Natamaya coffee again this spring.

For more information about the donation trip and Direct Trade coffee buying, see the story.

Caffe Ladro is a coffee roaster with 14 neighborhood cafes in the Seattle area also serving wholesale and online customers.  Founded in 1994 and dedicated to profound service, Caffe Ladro provides scratch-baked goods and thoughtfully sourced coffee.



Zoka Coffee’s three cafes are mainstays of their Seattle and Kirkland neighborhoods.  Pioneering Family Direct Trade Coffee for nearly two decades, Zoka is proud to offer its coffee to its local cafés, wholesale and online customers.