Last Wednesday I held a cupping that included some pacamaras that I was raving about. My two favorites in the session, which was half-blind (I knew which coffees were pacamaras and which bourbons, but did not know the farms until I later looked at my cheat sheet), were both from Finca El Carmen in the San Vicente region of El Salvador.
El Carmen is on a volcano called Volcán Chinchontepec (which, roughly translated from the Nahuatl tongue means "Mountain Shaped Like Breasts" and no, I am not making that up.). This is an absolutely beautiful place which I visited on my last trip to El Salvador in February.
The producers at El Carmen are taking really remarkable care of their coffee. Pacamara in micro-lots like this is a relatively new endeavor for them. From the high profile that pacamaras are starting to get, you might get the impression that they represent a big proportion of the Salvadoran coffee export each year. But in reality, it's somewhere around 1%. Just one percent! But demand is sky-high, both in the States, and around the world. There's really nothing quite like a pacamara from El Salvador; and El Carmen is producing some of the very best.
What is a pacamara? Well, it's a hybrid coffee plant. Just like a merlot grape yields different flavors than a cabarent franc grape, different coffee varietals give you different coffee flavors. Pacamara is a unique blend of two varietals. One half of pacamara is the pacas varietal, itself a mutation of the more widespread bourbon varietal. Pacas is un café muy El Salvador, named for a member of the well-known Pacas family of coffee people and sharing many of the characteristics of the sweet, luscious bourbon. The other half comes from the maragogype line, best known as the "elephant bean" coffee for it's huge leaves, fruit, and beans. Blend these two together and you get Pacas-Maragogype, or paca-mara.
Pacamaras are true artisan coffees. They have strange, exotic, yet pleasing aromatics and tastes. They can also vary noticeably in size and shape. This makes them a challenge to roast, though well worth the effort.
In the two El Carmen samples that wowed me last Wednesday, I noticed a perfect foundation of chocolatey sweetness and medium acidity. What made these two stand out for me, though, was an incredible buttery richness coupled with a strongly prevalent herbal characteristics. These coffees were like a really luscious, creamy, sinful dessert you might get at a French restaurant. If you have never tried it, there's really nothing like a great pacamara.
These coffees are not commercially available... yet! Some savvy roaster is going to snap them up and offer them soon. When I find out who buys these coffees, I'll be sure to post it here so the rest of you can try them. (As a side note, I'll actually be cupping more El Sal pacamaras in about a week or so... if you are in the Seattle area, stay tuned because I will make an announcement about that, and you can come cup them for yourself.)
So there you have it. Pacamara samples from Finca El Carmen. This week's Coffee of the Week!