La Guachoca – El Salvador
Finca La Guachoca lies at the foothills of El Salvador’s extinct Cerro Verde volcano, in the fertile Apaneca Ilamatepec mountain range. It is owned and managed by the Pacas family, who have been producing coffee in El Salvador since 1905 and own several small estates in the area. They purchased La Guachoca in 2009 – at the time the farm was known as ‘San Roberto’ but the family re-named it La Guachoca after the quail-like Guachoca bird that is native to this region of El Salvador and often sighted on the farm.
When the Pacas family acquired the farm, it was in poor shape and production was low – but they saw the land’s potential given its location, altitude, and fertile soil. They have since worked hard to improve both the quality and volume of La Guachoca´s production, replanting many areas that were thinly populated and preparing the soil with organic matter to ensure the young trees have all the nutrients necessary for healthy growth. Normally, they fertilise the soil four times over the course of the year and the foliage three times.
Currently, the farm is undergoing extensive renovation with a heavy focus on replanting the whole area with high-quality varieties such as Red and Orange Bourbon, Pacamara and Bernadina. By 2019, nearly a third of the farm had been replanted. The environment and biodiversity are preserved and valued within Finca La Guachoca – a number of bird and mammal species call the farm home.
La Guachoca extends over 28.1 hectares, which is situated on fertile sandy loam soil – containing a high proportion of a nutrient-rich red volcanic rock known locally as ‘cascajo’. Maria Pacas recalls a time a few years back during a winter storm, when there was a soil slide on the farm – “Some coffee plants were buried underneath the slide, but after a few days, they came out through the red rock looking as happy as if they had been showered with roses,” revealing the health of the farm’s soil.
The farm’s gentle slopes are intercropped with native shade trees – including Ingas, Jocote de Corona, Avocados, Cirin, Lengua de Vaca, Pimienta de montaña. These are pruned to ensure the coffee receives 70% sunlight during the fruit’s growth period and 30% during the ripening period – allowing the coffee beans to slowly develop. Additionally, these crops are another source of income for the farm and provide different nutrients to the soil. This particular coffee was picked from tablónes El Gallinazo, El Ischo, and El Timbo – representing different lots within the farm.
The trees are pruned using the “agobio” method. This involves bending one of the tree’s main vertical stems over and tying its end to the ground – this widens the tree without harming it, triggering the growth of new productive branches along the bent stem. This method can help to increase the life span of the plant up to 90 years, as well as increasing its yield.
The Pacas family have various soil conservation practices in place on the farm – such as planting native izote plants to prevent erosion and digging “fosas” – large ditches that trap excess rainwater, helping to retain moisture in the soil and trapping organic matter. The family continues to plant new coffee and shade trees each year and have introduced endangered native tree species to help protect El Salvador’s biodiversity.
The coffee cherries are selectively handpicked when fully ripe and shuttled to the mill, Vivagua, within the same day. They are then ‘semi-washed’ – after the coffee is pulped with clean fresh water, it is left to ferment for 12 hours, rinsed and put out to dry on the farm’s brick patios with part of the mucilage still on the bean. When 12% humidity is reached, the coffee is then stored at the farm’s parchment warehouse for 30 days, giving the beans an adequate “reposo” (rest) before final milling and export. The Pacas family has also invested in an in-house cupping lab, which allows them to monitor the quality of each lot they produce.
La Guachoca provides 90 jobs per month during the harvest period and 35 permanent jobs during the non-harvest period. Café Pacas cares deeply for its employees and ensures that decent working conditions and wages are provided to the staff. Within the company, there is a competition called “Premios Alfredo a la Calidad” to motivate the farm managers to improve the quality of the coffee under their jurisdiction. Farm managers can submit a coffee to a panel of judges which is followed by an award ceremony declaring the winner.
The farm manager for La Guachoca, Juan Constante, has won this competition two years in a row in both the specialty and exotic coffee categories. Additionally, in 2018, Finca La Guachoca earned 30th place in the Cup of Excellence with a score of 86.47.