Farm: Finca La Esperanza (Pacas)
Varietal: 100% Pacamara
Altitude: 1,000 to 1,800 metres above sea level
Owner: Maria Pacas & Family
Town / City: Chalchuapa
Region: Canton el Porvenir, Municipio de Chalchuapa
La Esperanza - El Salvador
Finca La Esperanza, where this lot was grown, belonged originally to Mrs. Sonia Moran. She inherited the farm from her parents when she was very young, but over the years, as she grew older, she realized that she had neither the capacity nor the interest to continue farming coffee. She decided to sell the farm, but she was emotionally attached, as she had grown up there. The farm, which is high in the hills, protected from wind and hard weather, and rich volcanic soil, the farm had long been sought after by many buyers. She needed to make the right decision and find the right buyer for her home.
In July 2010 Mrs. Sonia Moran met Alfredo Pacas Diaz and his son, Juan Alfredo Pacas Martinez. They had a long talk about coffee farming, farm management, varietals, quality, etc. Alfredo expressed his interest in buying the farm, and to his surprise, Sonia agreed, having so enjoyed their conversation. She realized that the Pacas family shared her views on farming and on the future of coffee, and that helped her make up her mind. The business was finalised on November 12, 2010. A new adventure for the Pacas Family had begun.
Today, under the management of the Pacas family, Finca La Esperanza has been divided into 18 different tablones (lots) each of which has different characteristics and microclimates. The very highest one on the farm is called “La Cima” (The Top) and is mostly planted under Bourbon coffee trees.
This 100% Pacamara lot has been processed using a natural method, which the farm has been perfecting since 2012. The coffee is hand-picked only when perfectly ripe and is delivered to the Pacas’ family wet mill, Vidagua, on the same day. On arrival, the cherries are immediately laid on the mill’s raised beds. The cherries are dried for around 8 days and turned regularly (around 9 times a day) to ensure even drying. After reaching optimal humidity, samples of the beans from the dried cherry are taken and cupped at the Pacas family’s in-house cupping lab; to ensure quality, before being moved and stored at the farm’s parchment warehouse; giving the beans an adequate “reposo” (rest). When the coffee is ready to be exported, it is finally passed through the dry mill before being vacuum packed.
The Pacas family, true to their word, has established a strict regime of farm management at Esperanza. Much of the work entails soil conservation efforts, which is absolutely necessary due to the farm’s very steep terrain. The farm’s 87.5 hectares start at 1,000 metres above sea level at the lowest altitude and rise to nearly 1,750 metres at the highest. Those steep hillsides leech vital nutrients during the rainy season if they aren’t treated properly. This means that the Pacas family has to take the following measures:
Suachado: soil removal manually on the entire farm with a tool called Suacho, a kind of large fork that removes soil and mix organic matter. This work is done every four years at the farm.
Planting Izote: This is the main work of soil conservation. ‘Shelterbelts’ (lines of plantings horizontal to the hillside) are planted each year with quick-growing Izote (Yucca elephantipes). Izote also happens to be the national flower of El Salvador!
Make “FOSAS”: Small holes are dug to trap and retain moisture and organic matter in the coffee plantation.
Other work includes digging holes for new plants. Before new seedlings are planted out, a hole is dug and then a bit of calcium carbonate and composted coffee pulp is added first. The new hole is then left open for a few months to trap moisture and organic matter and a month before planting the plants it is closed and a small hole is drilled in the centre of the old hole. Prep work like this takes planning and discipline, but it is worth it to give the new trees their best possible start.
The Pacas family tried to minimise the use of herbicides wherever possible. In newly planted areas they absolutely NEVER use chemicals. Weed control is completely manual, which helps ensure the optimal development of the plants without phytotoxicity. It also (and this is something the family always considers) keeps more workers in permanent employment.
On older coffee plantations, they usually alternate manual control of weeds with some chemical controls. This ensures that during the dry season, vegetation covers the ground and helps to conserve moisture. It also means that potential pests, such as grasshoppers, have other food (weeds) to focus on and leave the coffee cherries alone! Leaving a bit of vegetation also has the added benefit of preventing soil erosion – again, very important in this steep farm.
Sustainability is hugely important to the Pacas family on all their farms. The philosophy is that of ‘Nutrient Closed Cycling’ – meaning that whatever is extracted (in this case, only coffee cherry) is then returned in full. All coffee pulp and all organic matter as by-products of processing or farm management (coffee pulp, leaves and branches) is composted down and then mixed back into the soil, returning vital nutrients to the plants the following year. Erosion is further prevented through soil contour ploughing, planting live barriers, drilling pits in the ground and maintaining permanent vegetative cover on new plantings.
The family also invests in environmental projects, such as Carbon Capture and Identification and conservation of native flora and fauna. The primary forest in El Salvador is the coffee forest, and maintaining the ‘lungs’ of the country through photosynthesis of shade trees and coffee plants is of the utmost importance.
As well as the farm, Maria and the Pacas family also place great importance on the wellbeing of their staff. The Team at Finca La Esperanza can participate in wellness programs, where they learn self-esteem, teamwork and conflict resolution, amongst other things. Staff are also offered regular eye tests through FUDEM; a local organisation providing eye tests and glasses, which the Pacas family offer to finance.
The coffee harvest at Esperanza starts in October and continues through to March. During the harvest, great care is taken to only pick fully ripe cherries, which means sometimes up to four passes are needed to finish picking various sections for the season. This ensures quality by picking off one hundred percent mature cherries, and (again) pickers are ensured of work for six months or more.
The Pacas family are very innovative and have many interesting plans for the future, including diversification of the shade canopy, development of milling infrastructure, housing and facilities for permanent and seasonal workers, etc. Perhaps the most interesting, however (and the most relevant for our story) is the creation of the farm as a sort of varietal garden
As mentioned before, Esperanza is divided into 18 Tablones. On each of these, the family has started cultivating a wealth of varieties of coffee. They have Pacas (itself discovered by, developed by and named for the family!), Pacamara, Ethiopian Heirloom, Kenya, Moka, Yellow Bourbon, Orange Bourbon, Geisha and the very special Bernadina. This lot of 100% Pacamara coffee is not from any one single tablon. Rather, it is a blend of Pacamara beans from various tablones around the farm cultivated at least 1,200 metres above sea level.