Women in Coffee: Maria Pacas, Café Pacas El Salvador
Maria Pacas and 49th Parallel have a special relationship, dating back to 2008, when we first cupped coffee with Maria and began buying coffee from her family business Café Pacas. This was the first coffees Maria sold, having just joined the family business after working in other fields as a young adult.
Now, nearly fifteen years later, and our partnership with Maria and Café Pacas is producing some of our most outstanding and unique coffees. We are excited to launch a Café Pacas exclusive varietal Bernardina, as part of our Small Lot Series. This is the first of many, as we just recently contracted several outstanding coffees from the 2022 harvest, which is now underway.
We caught up with Maria recently to discuss the family business and her experiences as a woman in the coffee industry.
Maria is a 5th generation coffee producer and exporter, her family has started working in the coffee business over 150 years ago in the Apaneca-Ilamatepec mountain range of El Salvador. Her family is the namesake of the beloved Pacas varietal, discovered on a farm owned by her family in 1949 and subsequently propagated throughout El Salvador and Honduras. To this day Pacas, a natural mutation of Bourbon, remains a highly prized varietal in both El Salvador and Honduras and is prominently featured on the 49th menu, especially from our partners at Beneficio San Vicente, Honduras. Today Café Pacas owns 9 farms and works with another ten through close personal connections, growing and exporting a range of high-quality coffees.
Although born into a coffee-producing family, Maria studied economics and went to work in the banking industry. She married and started a family, realizing along the way that a high-pressure day job made raising a family difficult. Around this time, in the early 2000s, El Salvador began to receive a new generation of coffee buyers, and for the first time, coffee from El Salvador was sought out, taking center stage in the emerging specialty coffee boom. Maria says her father hired her as a translator for the visiting buyers from around the globe – and through this process was drawn into the coffee business.
Maria loved the cultural interactions that coffee offered, meeting people from every corner of the world, and saw in a new light the importance of coffee and the work of her family in El Salvador and throughout the world. With newfound energy, Maria helped Café Pacas invest in and adapt to the changing expectations that the direct trade specialty coffee world brought with it. Maria says she “learned the language of coffee” at this point, by becoming a cupper and helping her family build out a cupping and quality lab, bringing QC under its roof for the first time. They also began the process of implementing a traceability program – a concept that is fairly common today but was rare back then - so that buyers could determine exactly where their coffees were produced.
Asked about her experiences as a woman in the male-dominated coffee industry Maria credits her parents with giving her the support to do whatever she wanted in life, placing no restrictions on her professional aspirations. As an adult, she acknowledges the support from her husband, who fully encourages her work, travel, and professional development. She points out however that many women in the coffee industry (and in general) do not have this experience and she has sought to build Café Pacas into a business promoting positive change and creating opportunities for women. Maria also gives back through the work of the local chapter of the International Women’s Coffee Association (IWCA). The Alianza de Mujeres en Café El Salvador (AMCES) provides micro-credits and organic fertilizers, among other things, to women coffee producers in El Salvador.
Maria is excited for the future - for women in coffee, the El Salvador coffee sector, and coffee in general. She senses a continued interest from the next generation of coffee buyers and consumers in understanding on a deeper level the places, such as El Salvador, where their food comes from, as well as the processing methods and terroir that make it taste the way it does. We at 49th are proud of our relationship with Maria Pacas and the Café Pacas family and encourage you to try their offerings as they become available on our menu throughout the year.