Pacamaras

Here at Has Bean we love Pacamaras! And we love to share that love! So I wanted to write a bit about the varietal that I care so much about.

In the viideo below Erwin Mierisch of Fincas Mierisch talk and myself about the Pacamara varietal. This was the Focus On section on In My Mug episode 256.

It's inspired by the Yellow Pacamara we have brought in from Limoncillo, but has been many months in the writing.

This Yellow Pacamara comes from the special auction that was held this year, called Los Favoritos Fincas Mierisch, where some very special lots were sold to the highest bidder. This was a super special chance to try something amazing.

yellow

I first came across this yellow pacamara two years ago, when visiting the farm. I begged Erwin to sell us some back then, but he told me they were using all the crop to create more seedlings to plant more coffee, but soon it would be available.

It's a varietal that's confused and bemused me for quite a while, and one I've spent a bit of time researching and tasting - I thought this might be a good place to share my experiences with you.

I do add the caveat that lots of this is my own findings, or from sources II believe to be true. The information is also from rum fueled conversations at origin with producers who's first language is not English (and some would say neither is mine with my accent) so any errors are just that.

It amazes me how little is written about coffee varietals. I bought a book a few years ago for nearly £200 for 8 pages of intelligent words, and to this date found nothing better.

I stared a piece of my own work on varietals, and may yet pick it up again, but worry without anything to corroborate it, it could prove to be a work of fiction.

So pacamara is a hybrid of two quite different varietals, this is a good place to start to get an understanding of what makes this such a fascinating varietal

Mommy Bean Pacas

Pacas is a natural and spontaneous mutation of Bourbon, El Salvador's answer to Villa Sarchi in Costa Rica or Caturra in Brazil, it thrives in the El Salvador Climate where it was first found.

This variety was discovered in 1949 in the San Rafael farm we buy from on the Santa Ana Volcano. Funnily Pacas was never sold from this farm on its own until three years ago when I visited and asked them if they would. Its quickly become a firm favourite here at Has Bean.

The story goes that a visiting botanist, Dr Cogwill,was asked to check out this plant they had seen doing very well on the farm. First spotted on the farm in 1930, Don Francisco Pacas re-planted a 3/4 of a manzana of the farm with seed stock from some special trees he had seen on San Rafael. These trees seemed to yield much more than the other Bourbon trees, and seemed healthier and thrived far more. This re-planted part of the farm yielded 20% more than the rest of the farm, and this got nicknamed San Ramon Bourbon. Because of the nickname, some people thought that it was a hybrid between Typica and San Ramón, but later it was confirmed that it was a natural mutation after genealogy tests on the plant.

Dr Gogwill meant to label the trees with the name San Rafael San Ramon Bourbon, but forgot. When he returned to Florida University he did remember the name of the family who owned the farm - the Pacas family - so he marked them 'Pacas', and the name of the varietal 'Pacas' was born.

Varietal: Pacas
Related to: Bourbon
Origin: El Salvador
Grows best at: 1000 metres or above
Prevalent in: El Salvador and some of Central America
Predominant Colour: Red
Fruit size: Normal rounded
Leaf Characteristics: Wide and short
Tree Size: Dwarf
Branches:long
Internodes:short
Botany: Mutation

Cup Characteristics.

Pacas is simular to bourbon (surprise surprise), but tends to be a little less sweeter. It's yield is around 20% higher than bourbon, and I think this has a small effects on the final cup. We have found some amazing pacas cups, but we have also found some more disappointing. It is rare that the pacas out performs a bourbon on the cupping table from the same farms (although we have seen examples of this for instance on San Rafael)

Daddy Bean Maragogype

Another mutation this time of the Typica varietal. This time though it really does fit its mutant tag. ITS HUGE !!

Pronounce mar-rah-go-jeepeh this varietal was originally found in Brazil. This variety appeared in 1870 in the Maragogipe province in Bahia.

The plant is very distinctive its very tall huge leaves and massive fruit. The coffee seed / bean is also very distinctive due to its large oversize. This has created some interest in the bean as its very distinctive to the eye, some times to the detriment of the cup it can fetch a premium even if it doesn't taste very good.

I’ve seen a lot of them from Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico. I’ve head it said that the larger bean produce’s a more flavoursome coffee but my experiences don’t really show this. It’s a tiny bit of a gimmick but there are one or two fantastic examples out there. But there are many that are just plain awful, old or poorly processed. I think it's very little to do with the bean size and more to do with the quality of husbandry and environment, a problem of when you get that huge price regardless of how it tastes.

The plant is very low yielding despite how tall it can grow, it is known as the Arabica coffees giant, it shows a very tall size, large leaves, cherries, etc. In general, its architecture is open and messy.

Varietal: Maragogype
Related to: Typica
Origin: Brazil
Grows best at: 800 metres or above
Prevalent in: Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico
Predominant Colour: Red
Fruit size: Large
Leaf Characteristics: Large
Tree Size:Tall
Branches:long
Internodes:short
Botany: Mutation

Cup Characteristics 

High acidity bright citrus fruits like lemon grapefruit and floral properties.

A brief introduction to the Pacamara's Grandparents

 

the mothers side (pacas)

Bourbon, originating maybe on the island of Bourbon (now known as Reunion) from a planting from Ethiopia or perhaps straight from Ethiopia, this varietal has many sub-varietals. At risk of pest and disease, and decidedly average in terms of yield, but the cup profile tends to be anything but average.There is some evidence that Yellow Bourbon gives a higher yield compared to its red and orange derivatives, although red is the most prevalent. With very close links to SL28, Typica and Cattura, in the right environment because of its low yield Bourbon tends to produce a very high quality cup (there is evidence that the lower the yield the higher the quality as the plant can use its energy more efficiently). I don’t think it is a coincidence that my top three coffees of all time have been from the Bourbon varietal.

Varietal: bourbon
Related to: heirloom
Origin: Ethiopia / Reunion
Grows best at: 800 metres or above
Prevalent in: Everywhere
Predominant Colour: Red with some orange and yellow
Fruit size: medium rounded
Leaf Characteristics: medium
Tree Size:medium
Branches:long
Internodes:short
Botany: Heirloom

 

the farther's side (maragogype)

Typica is grown throughout Central America, islands and some Indonesian islands. The plant has large elongated cherries, with the tree producing thin leaves that are long in appearance.

It grows best in sandy soils and mixed reports of its hardiness to pest and disease. Its yield is quite low. The famous Jamaican blue mountain is from the typica varietal.

Typica is also known as Criollo in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. This variety was introduced 100 years ago in the Piura Andes of Peru, because of its liking of high altitudes.

Varietal: Typica
Related to: heirloom
Origin: Ethiopia / Reunion
Grows best at: 800 metres or above
Prevalent in: Everywhere
Predominant Colour: Red with some orange and yellow
Fruit size: medium rounded
Leaf Characteristics: medium
Tree Size:medium
Branches:long
Internodes:short
Botany: Heirloom

pacamara1

How did they meet

It was a smoky bar, their eyes met. Well that would be nice, but it was in a laboratory,Inside the Genetic Department of the Salvadoran Institute for Coffee Research (ISIC) back in 1958. There was a coffee breeding program using lots of varietals, these two of many. One of these experiments was crossing the above Pacas and maragogype varietals. Of course like every good partnership they took part of each others name.

This lab work involved individual isolating the parents until scientists obtained pure plants which gave seedlings to many lines. Many lines to find the best child (I know thats impossible but think the strongest, healthiest). Coffees that would be disease resistant, strong, high yielding, biggest fruit size and many other measures of healthiness. These were then combined to obtain a new varietal, the pacamara cultivar.

This took over 30 years to distribute the F5 (or 5th Generation) that is currently known as pacamara. Much lab work was done to find the pacamara that we enjoy today, finding a strain that was both strong, healthy, pest resistant and high yielding.

Theres a small problem with using pacas and maragogype in that they both have dominant genes, so around 10 -20% fail to become pacamara and remain one or the other, so its important for these to be spotted in the nursery / planting stage. This is easily done with the Pacas, but a little more attention is needed with the maragoype.

True love is always bigger than the sum of it's parts

This is where it really gets interesting for me. My experiences of Pacas and Maragoype has been mixed at best. As a varietal its rare to find amazing lots from either of them (maragogype in particular). Pacas has taken lots of work to find the amazing lots we buy,and Maragogype I have found one lot in 5 years that I liked. They tend to be flat plain and boring and lacking in any character or depth.

But stick these two together and you get one of the most unpredictable, interested and challenging delicious varietals. Now of course there are bad examples, and in fact when they are bad, they are very bad. Vegetal, mushroomy, dirty, cardboard pacamara's are very very very common (far more common than they should be, and bought by some roasters so they just have a pacamara). We have done more work and asked more questions of the producers we buy from about these coffees than any other. You only have to look at Limoncillo and the work we have done with the natural lots. Now let me be clear here, and I would like to add lots of weight to the statement here.

"I would never ever tell a coffee farmer what to do. All the experiments we have run with producers are experiments they have wanted to run, mostly their idea by asking what would you like to do. Telling a farmer what to do is like the farmer telling you how to roast. I know very very little about coffee growing (unfortunately) and would be coming at it from a knowledge base much much lower than that of the producer"

Glad I have that off my chest. So the experiments we have run with the limoncillo Natural pacamara's were the brain child of Eleane Mierisch who noticed on the cupping table some huge differences on how they dried the coffee. The story goes that they decided to turn the coffee every hour instead of the every two hours they had done before. Eleane thought this would make the cup cleaner whilst still retaining huge body. So everyone began to turn every hour apart from one guy who did not 'get the memo" and continued every two hours.

When visiting the farm I was cupping the samples for that year in the cupping lab, and I got to the natural pacamara, and it was indeed much cleaner, in fact the words I used was more "Elegant". But I missed that box of frogs craziness that the previous years had. Eleane remebering the mistake, went off and roasted a sample of the turned every two hours lot. The first words out my mouth when cupping this was "funky". So the names were born. The funkier I can not lay claim to, this was Eleane development of what we had begun the year before. This was done with differing thickness of beans drying which slows or speeds up the drying process.

But in conclusion, the two of these varietals coming together create something far bigger and more interesting than the sum of its parts, that makes this one of the most interesting varietals.

Roasting Pacamara

Whilst Pacamara beans are not fundamentally different to roast than other beans, their larger size means that there are a couple of roasting problems that they are particularly susceptible to. Firstly, there is the issue of drying the beans. The first 80% or so of the roasting process reduces water content in the bean from about 10 or 12 percent, down to a nearly zero. Due to the large size of the Pacamara beans, if the roast is too quick, the water content in the centre of the bean will not have been reduced to the same degree as in the outer parts of the bean. This can lead to an under-roasted centre and over roasted outside to beans.

Secondly, Pacamaras tend to roast at slightly lower temperatures than other bean types. This is a trend they share with the other large bean varietal, Maragogype. They go through the same processes as other beans, but typically the beans will be a few degrees Celsius cooler when they reach the key roasting points of 1st Crack and 2nd Crack. Additionally, 1st and 2nd Crack are exothermic - meaning that the chemical reactions that are occurring inside the beans, give out more heat than they absorb. For Pacamaras, there is an increased risk that this extra heat will cause the roast to accelerate beyond the roasters planned profile, and the beans can quickly become over-roasted.

As a general rule, sight tends to be the least useful of our senses when judging the roasting process. The third issue with Pacamaras, is that this is doubly true when roasting them. Often, Pacamaras will appear very uneven, and to be at a lighter stage of roast than they actually are.

Finally, the larger size of Pacamaras mean they take up more space in a roaster than smaller beans. As a rule of thumb, if you weigh out the same mass of unroasted Pacamara beans and of a smaller varietal of bean, the Pacamara will take up about 10% more space than the smaller beans. This is something a roaster has to be aware of, to avoid inconsistencies in the roast from an under or over-filled roasting drum.

So who's this yellow fella?

Before signing off I can not miss out the brand new varietal we have just added to the site and is the motivator for writing this blog post (I have wanted to do write this for a while but great I have had the push) that I mentioned at the beginning.

So why is this so rare ? Well this is a freak natural mutation from red fruit to yellow. This was spotted first of all on the farm of Limoncillo, amongst the red fruiting trees. This was spotted by a security guard, and brought to the attention of the Mierisch family. Now its not unusual for a coffee plant to have a freaky one time change of colour (although not common its been seen). So they forgot about it until the same security guard became the farm manager (working hard and his way up in the farm). So they isolated it (collecting the beans from it separately and then using the seeds to grow seedlings in the nursery, and they repeating until they had enough plant stock). Coffee takes 4 years grow into a tree that will give you a full harvest, so you can see how long this takes to build up. This year there is 240kg of this coffee for sale that went through the auction I mentioned at the start. I was trying to buy both of these lots, but when the price went up I had to step back, the other lot going to Japan to one of our friends there (and I am very happy they also got to enjoy some of this coffee).

And it proves yet again the complexity of this varietal. The coffee from the yellow tastes so different to the red fruit. Cupped blind I get lots of yellow fruits (I know I know) peach and apricot and yellow fruit. A creamy mouthfeel with pineapple and tropical fruit. Compare that to the red of lemon pith on the front end, and think those bright vibrant hops you get in craft ales all the way through the rest of the taste. It has a creamy edge and all the sweetness. Super different coffees.

So thats Pacamara. I know not all of you watch the In My Mug videos, but in episode 256 I talk a lot about pacamaras with something I filmed with Erwin. I thought it might be good to share that here with you, so have made it a stand alone video so you don't have to partake in any of the other silliness. I think its super interesting and covers many of the points here.

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