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El Salvador Los Planes

March 5, 2008

This will be a combined review, both of us having received samples. For a description of Bob and Jim's evaluation procedure, see our reference page.

Pacamara is a recent cross between the Paca varietal (a Bourbon mutation with taste and appearance similar to Caturra) and the Maragogype "elephant bean." The best Pacas are crisply acidic while the best Maragogypes have a fine nutty flavor. Great Pacamaras have both these qualities, while poor ones have neither, and are dull, light bodied and woody instead. High grade Pacamara coffees have spearheaded El Salvador's rapid rise in the specialty coffee world since the mid 1990s. Scores above 90 in auctions for Central American coffees have been rare in the past years, but El Salvador's well conceived campaign to raise quality has paid off handsomely in this regard. Specialty grade coffee accounts for nearly half the crop (10% to 20% is normal), and around 15% are in the super-specialty grade of auction and direct trade coffees.

In 2006, the Los Planes Pacamara came in 2nd at the El Salvador Cup of Excellence with 93.5. Ken Davids reviewed it from three separate roasters, including PT's, and awarded it 96 points each time. PT's bought the entire 2007 crop prior to the COE, so it has not been rated by a jury.

Bob's Review:
I knew this coffee would be a winner at the roaster. Buttered toast, nuts and fruity aromas foretold the cupping experience. And sure enough this coffee stood way out from the others on the cupping table. It's the epitome of a really fine Central. Going beyond the floral/nutty fragrances in the cup, to its flavor profile, it's a complex mix of berries, stone fruit and melon, surrounded by medium-dark chocolate and maple-syrupy flavoring. There is an almost minty touch of spice to round off the profile.

I enjoyed this medium-bodied, sparkly-acidic coffee best when brewed in a French press, although the vac-pot and drip version was almost as enjoyable. Unfortunately a lot of its best features get lost in a straight espresso shot and the milk of cappuccino did not hide the metallic quality of the more heavily roasted shot.

Jim's Review:
Pacamara beans are large, not as large as pure Maragogype, but larger than 18 screen Columbian Supremos. So when a lot is as perfectly prepped as this one, it certainly stands out. The large uniform beans roast evenly, but just like the Maragogype, Pacamaras should be roasted more slowly and gently than usual, and the subtle nutty flavors are best at quite light roasts. I did my cupping roast a little slower and lighter than usual to get the most out of the coffee.

I was rewarded with the classic Pacamara flavor profile of crisp fruit on top and nutty flavors underneath. But this coffee is more than just typical; it is unusually complex and powerfully aromatic. As well as the usual nutty and cedary notes, there is some smokiness, brown sugar, chocolate, and blackcurrent in the roast flavors. As the cup cools, the fruit flavors resolve into orange and cantaloupe, along with a surprising twist of mint. Comparing my cupping notes with those of last year's COE jury, I think people who liked it last year will like it just as much this year. For lovers of light, crisp Centrals who haven't had it, you're in for a treat.

Bobs Score
Dry Fragrance: 4.6
Wet Aroma: 4.7
Flavor: 8.5
Finish: 7.8
Acidity: 8.0
Body: 7.6
TOTAL (subtotal + 50): 91.2

Jim's Score

Dry fragrance: 4.5
Wet Aroma: 4.75
Flavor: 8.75
Finish: 8.0
Acidity: 7.75
Body: 7.5
TOTAL (subtotal + 50): 91.25

  • Lighter Roasts: Typical flavor profile, but also complex, with subtle flavors and powerfully aromatic.
  • Darker Roasts: No, the roast flavors become harsh at the second crack.
  • As Espresso: No, Pacamaras are light bodied and unbuffered, so taste very aggressive.


UPDATED: March 6, 2008