Alfredo Pacas has been the driving force behind the genetic purification of the Bernadina variety. Here he is looking out over his coffee farm, on the hill in the distance.
The coffee-growers of Central and South America are facing a big problem. In El Salvador alone, disease has slashed the productivity of their farms from three million bags for export in 2011, to fewer than a million bags in 2017.
Many are taking drastic action; replacing traditional varieties with coffee trees that are more resistant to disease but produce coffee of a lower quality.
But that’s not the way siblings Maria, Alf and Marcella Pacas see the future of coffee-growing. Instead they work tirelessly to keep their farms healthy and diverse using natural methods. It is this relentless devotion to quality coffee and the maintenance of coffee’s natural habitat that has lead to an amazing discovery by Cafe Pacas. They’ve unearthed a completely new variety of coffee: “Bernadina”. Here’s how they did it…
Step 1: Come from a serious coffee family.
Two generations ago and around 100 years ago, Maria, Alf and Marcella’s grandfather discovered a new coffee variety amongst the trees growing on his farm. Their father knew the discovery was important, so he set about planting coffee trees out and, as they grew, removing those that reverted to earlier genetic types. In doing so he weeded out the plants that diluted the variety, making it stronger and more distinct. This bold new coffee took their family name, Pacas, and around a century later it is planted on farms across Brazil, Colombia and much of Central America.
This dedication to pure, high quality coffee has been passed down to the next generation. Now Alf is a world-renowned coffee agronomist, teaching at the University of San Salvador, as well as on masters programs in Europe, which are attended by coffee farmers from across the world.
Step 2: Pay attention to detail.
With a heritage like theirs, it’s no surprise that the Pacas family are incredibly dedicated to the quality of the coffee they grow and get involved in every aspect of running their plantations. So in 2006, when they acquired some new land a farm name Finca Los Bellotos, the farm manager there was keen to show them a group of trees bearing cherries that stood out as different.
It was clear to the siblings that this coffee was something special, so it was picked and processed separately and tended with great care. Then, as the coffee was de-pulped (the process where the cherry is removed from the pulp that grows around it) people across the mill stopped what they were doing to find out what the extraordinary aroma coming from the depulpers was…
Step 3: Get a second opinion. And a third.
On the first couple of tastings the family were convinced they’d discovered a ‘Geisha’. A Geisha is a relatively new and highly sought after variety, which has commanded prices as high as US$100/lb in recent years. They were thrilled but then further inspection by Geisha experts revealed the leaf and tree structures of the Pacas variety did not match up.
After a great deal of head-scratching, Alf sent a sample of the Pacas’ mysterious beans to a genetics lab in Italy. This time the results were beyond doubt; for the second time in their coffee-growing history the Pacas family had discovered a new variety of coffee.
Step 4: Have patience.
Naming a new coffee is no mean feat. Obviously Pacas was taken by their grandfather’s discovery, so Alf, Maria and Marcella decided to honor the name of the farm manager Bernadino who had first brought the coffee to their attention.
“Bernadina” was born.
Armed with a name for their genetically-verified new coffee it was time for Alf to set about purifying the variety, just as his father had before him. Three years passed in which Bernadina was planted out in different farms, at different altitudes, always in plenty of shade. Gradually the non-regular Bernadina trees were removed and the first small production of this brand new coffee was ready for harvest. And – thanks to Will (our Head of Coffee) and his relationship with the Pacas – we’ve managed to get hold of a single sack of Bernadina for you to taste.
Bernadina – THE FACTS
- Bernadina is brand new to the specialty coffee scene.
- Pact is the only place you’ll be able to buy Bernadina in the UK this year.
- The variety was first discovered 10 years ago, and then verified three years ago by a genetics lab in Italy.
- At the moment there are only 500kg of this coffee on the planet.
- Thanks to our relationships with Maria, Alf and Marcella, we’ve managed to get hold of 69kg for you to try.
- It has been grown by the Pacas family, legends in the coffee-growing industry.
- It is named after the farm manager who first noticed there was something special about Bernadina’s trees.