A unique hybrid: The Pacamara varietal

Anna Kerwick @ 2023-02-22 12:02:39 +1000

Take a closer look at the Mexican Cup of Excellence, Finca Kassandra…

One of the less common varietals found on the coffee market, Pacamara coffees are renowned for their unique flavours and aromas. A relative newcomer to the family of Arabica coffee plants, Pacamara is a hybrid of two Central and South American varietals – Pacas and Maragogype.

First conceived by the Salvadoran Institute of Coffee Research in 1958 as part of a wide-ranging experiment in creating new kinds of coffee trees, it is now synonymous with El Salvador, though it has spread throughout Central America. As with any type of hybrid, to truly understand the Pacamara, we must first look at its parents.

The Pacas varietal was discovered on the El Salvador farm of San Rafael by Fernando Alberto Pacas Figueroa in 1949. In amongst his rows of coffee trees he found plants which were shorter, denser, and heavy with fruit. Their compact shape made them resistant to environmental challenges like heavy storms and the yield was up to 20% higher than the regular Bourbon on his estate. Naturally he was delighted by this development and propagated and planted this new tree across one section of the farm, giving it the nickname ‘San Rafael’.

Years later, a visiting botanist from the University of Florida took samples of the tree back to be studied and revealed it to be a natural and spontaneous mutation of the Bourbon varietal. When recording his findings, he chose to honour the farmer who had made the discovery, christening it ‘Pacas’. The major characteristics of the Pacas are its small size and high yield, in respect to flavour it very much echoes the Bourbon – sweet and well-rounded.

Maragogipe (or Maragogype) has its origins in Brazil, in the northeastern state of Bahia. Another spontaneous development, this time from the Tipica varietal, Maragogipes really put the “mutant” in mutation! Nicknamed “elephant beans”, almost everything about them is big, with tall trees, large leaves and huge cherries. The beans are enormous – the biggest of all known coffee breeds, but this is offset by the fact that the yield is very low.

For this reason, Maragogipes have become somewhat of a rarity on coffee farms and this relative scarcity combined with the potential for unique and beautiful flavours has made theses monster beans a quirky favourite amongst coffee aficionados. When grown at high altitudes, and with proper care, the Maragogipe can be a very fine coffee with delicate aromas, complexity and balance.

The idea was put forward to blend the characteristics of the finicky but intriguing Maragogipe with the sturdy and reliable Pacas. Like any marriage between two diametrically opposed individuals, the process was not without setbacks. Even now the Pacamara is what is referred to as ‘genetically unstable’ – between 10 and 12 % of Pacamaras will revert to the parent varietal Pacas. It is also susceptible to every coffee problem known to man – leaf rust, berry disease and insects. So why do farmers persevere?

The answer is in the cup. In combining the sweetness of Pacas with the sophistication of Maragogipe, the Pacamara surpasses both of its parents. The profile leans toward a medium body, with a rich creaminess, balanced with an elegant and fine acidity, particularly when grown at high elevations. Flavour-wise, Pacamara are a real surprise package, with a range stretching from chocolate and caramels to tropical fruit and sweet, intoxicating florals, often in unusual and striking combinations.

The Finca Kassandra of Mexico is a very special example of this – the International Jury’s notes list: red and green apple, lemongrass, black cherry, jasmine, dried fruits, cranberry, pineapple, winey, berry, raisin, red wine, passion fruit and chocolate. Sweet, complex and sparkling, the Finca Kassandra is a perfect demonstration of the potential for exceptional quality in this special and unusual varietal.