The Coffee Business is a Family Legacy for Lily Pacas

Lily Pacas is an entrepreneur in the coffee business and a fifth-generation coffee producer in El Salvador. Read about her experience growing up in a coffee-growing family, how those experiences led to a career in civil service, and her hopes for women in coffee.

Lily Pacas owns a coffee business in El Salvador

A Family Legacy of Coffee Production

I’m a fifth-generation coffee producer. I consider it a blessing to have been born into a coffee-growing family in El Salvador. My father always worked in businesses dedicated to the coffee industry, so since I was a child, coffee has been a significant part of my life.

I have many beautiful memories of visiting a coffee mill with my siblings and friends. We would play on the coffee drying patios and in the warehouses, climbing the mountains of coffee sacks. One of our favorite activities was to drive the little tractors (“pacas”) used to move and pick the coffee. There, I had the opportunity to cup for the first time. Coffee cupping (also known as coffee tasting) is a way to evaluate the quality of a coffee. Today, cupping is my favorite coffee-related activity. 

But what I loved the most was going to our Santa Petrona farm, especially during the harvest season when it was a real party. People would come from all over to help pick the coffee cherries. Unfortunately, we had to stop going for a while due to the civil war. Nevertheless, we never stopped working or producing coffee.

My Return to Coffee

Although my family always continued with coffee, I had other dreams. I majored in pedagogy. I love children, and I’m a teacher by profession. Although a coffee spirit has always been in my heart, I never thought I would work in the coffee industry.

That is, until 2007 when we founded Viva Espresso, a coffee shop dedicated to serving high-quality coffee. Starting this business made me fall in love with coffee again. That love and passion instantly reappeared in my life. Looking back, I realize all the beautiful but also painful and challenging moments that coffee has given me.

One of the most exciting moments of my life was in 2011 when we won the Barista World Championship in Bogota, Colombia, with Alejandro Mendez, who was a barista at Viva Espresso at the time. It still gives me chills to remember that moment and how important it was for Alejandro, the business, our family, and El Salvador. To have contributed in this way to the development of the specialty coffee industry in El Salvador fills me with great pride, and I consider it a legacy to our industry and our country. 

Beyond the Farm: Policy and the Future of Coffee in El Salvador

El Salvador has an excellent climate for growing high-quality coffee. However, farmers here have faced many challenges over the years, including plant diseases and pests that have reduced yields and low crop prices. I knew I wanted to contribute my knowledge to the rescue of my country’s coffee industry, so I accepted a role as the executive director of the then Salvadoran Coffee Council, the governing entity of the national coffee policy. While working there, I had the opportunity to work on the coffee rescue plan, which the government promoted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I also worked for the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, serving as deputy minister. This role was immensely challenging and rewarding. It was personally and professionally one of the most enriching experiences I will have. After that period in the public sector, I returned to work with my family, where I now lead the commercial area of the business Café Tuxpal. 

Lily Pacas on a coffee farm in El Salvador.
Lily Pacas on a coffee farm in El Salvador.

A Collaboration with TechnoServe

I’ve been part of the coffee industry for most of my life, which has allowed me to become familiar with many organizations. That’s how I initially heard of TechnoServe. Most recently, I’ve been involved with TechnoServe through the Maximizing Opportunities in Coffee and Cacao in the Americas (MOCCA) program.

I genuinely believe in the importance of partnerships, linkages, and listening to the different actors and allies in the coffee industry. By doing so, we can establish a path to reactivate El Salvador’s coffee industry. MOCCA has been influential in making that happen. I feel very grateful for the accompaniment and support from MOCCA and other initiatives during my time in government. These local and international organizations allowed us to establish a shared vision for the rescue of coffee growing in our country.

Supporting Women in Coffee

Agriculture, in general, and the coffee value chain, in particular, have been historically dominated by men. This is true in El Salvador and around the world. Women often face many difficulties being incorporated into these value chains. But today, we are slowly seeing more and more women getting involved. There are a few main reasons for this change. One reason is that there are more women farmers whose husbands have had to migrate to cities or other countries for economic reasons, leaving the women to tend to the farms. Another way women often get involved in the coffee industry is if they inherit a plot of land from their families.

Supporting women coffee farmers has become an important part of my life. I had the honor of being one of the founders of the Alliance of Women in Coffee of El Salvador (AMCES). AMCES has been an opportunity for us as women to support each other, educate ourselves, acquire and share knowledge, work together, and learn about our needs and challenges. The obstacles are enormous, but regardless of the situations we have to face, there are more women who are a source of inspiration every day. When a group of women share dreams and unite, we can achieve great things. 

Lily Pacas is an entrepreneur and a fifth-generation coffee producer in El Salvador. Her family is known for discovering the Pacas coffee variety. She served as the director of the Salvadoran Coffee Council from 2019 to 2021 and was the Vice Minister of Agriculture and Livestock until 2022. She is the commercial director of Café Tuxpal, her family’s business dedicated to producing, processing, and marketing high-quality Salvadoran coffee.