Coffee in El Salvador and the Innovation of the Pacamara Bean

July 1, 2020Tim Becker
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Salvador flag with coffee on table. top view. Adobe Stock photo.

A tale as old as time — peasantry worked to the bone for nary a coin while the upper-class toils away in their mansions, castles, and fortresses. When the peasants rise up, their actions are met with force, if not blood. The history of coffee in El Salvador is as full of innovation as it is corruption, but one of the most impressive results is the Pacamara bean. 

Nestled on the Pacific between Honduras and Guatemala, El Salvador is a small country made up of three general regions: a small Pacific belt, a central plateau almost entirely surrounded by volcanoes like the Santa Ana and the Izalco, and northern lowlands created by the Lempa River Valley. Nearly 70 percent of all El Salvador citizens live in or near metropolitan areas dotted throughout the landscape with San Salvador, the capital, being the most densely populated at 525,990 residents.

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Black Rifle Coffee Company’s lates Exclusive Coffee Subscription coffee is Tactisquatch, a Pacamara roast from El Salvador with tasting notes of pineapple, almond, and milk chocolate. Photo courtesy of Black Rifle Coffee Company.

In the more rural regions of the country, consistent volcanic eruptions throughout its history have left rich soil and many farms are bunched in the shadow of these volcanoes. Coffee has been a crop of contention throughout El Salvador’s history. Bursting onto the scene in the mid-1800s, coffee quickly became a cash crop throughout the country, and by the 1880s, it was the leading export crop of the country. Coffee became known colloquially as “el Grano de Oro” — or the “grain of gold” — and was seen as a key to success and prosperity. But the crop was also riddled with uncertainty and corruption.

In 1881 and 1882, laws were passed that limited land ownership and cultivation to landowners. One of the decrees stated “access to common lands was no longer a right and that private title to such lands could be received upon cultivation of specified crops,” and because many of the indigenous people of El Salvador shared communal land for crops, this new decree drastically limited growth potential and all but forced them to work for egregiously low wages. Coffee continued to grow in popularity in El Salvador until reaching a peak of 90 percent of all exports — but that came at the cost of farmers. 

Between corrupt leadership, coffee barons in power, and shrinking wages and labor, the people and farmers of El Salvador revolted in 1932. Tens of thousands of people gathered and organized in western El Salvador, and they were met with blood. Thirty thousand citizens were killed in La Matanza.

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Pacamara coffee is known for having larger-than-average cherries. This photo of Reprise Coffee Roasters is courtesy of Tripadvisor.

Even with political turmoil between the peasantry and elite, the coffee culture in the country thrived and flourished, touting incredibly advanced farming techniques and state-of-the-art machinery. Innovation came from this attention to detail, and in the 1950s, the Pacamara bean was born. It wasn’t released until the 1980s, after nearly 30 years of research.

Pacamara was first invented in El Salvador by the Salvadoran Institute for Coffee Research by cross-breeding the Pacas bean and Maragogipe varietal, which resulted in a bean with the best qualities of its parents. The name comes from the root of each previous bean, taking the first four letters of each. One of its notable characteristics is the large cherry size, which was inherited from the Maragogipe. Pacamara beans are also known for their incredible cupping quality, frequently dominating Cup of Excellence competitions. 

Pacamara beans produce a high-quality, medium-bodied coffee with tasting notes of chocolate and butterscotch intermingled with citrus undertones. The coffee comes out creamy with mild acidity. 

While only about the size of New Jersey, El Salvador holds a large stake in the world coffee market. The country is currently sitting as the 19th largest coffee producer in the world, and as the word gets out about the quality and history of their coffee, that number promises to trend up. Even with a history of uncertainty, coffee innovation has flourished in this Latin American country.

Tim Becker
Tim Becker

Tim Becker is a freelance journalist and journalism student at Florida Atlantic University. Tim has a diverse set of interests including gaming, technology, philosophy, politics, mental health, and much more. If he can find an angle to write about something, he will. Aside from his interests journalism is his passion. He wants to change the world with his words and photography. Tim writes for a variety of publications including the GoRiverwalk Magazine, the FAU University Press, and his personal blog on Medium.

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