Written by Chuck Pfahler
My favorite coffee right now is our Panama Baru India High. The coffee grows in the Boquete region on the Anselmito Estate, which offers beautiful views of the Baru Volcano as well as the main square in the small town of Boquete. The coffee itself has a beautifully balanced body with tart acidity that melts into sweet caramel tones. But this isn’t why I love this coffee…
This year has been a big year for Panama. This past July, the Specialty Coffee Association of Panama held its Best of Panama Coffee Auction and records were shattered. The winner was a 100-pound lot from Hacienda La Esmeralda for the low, low price of $601.00 USD per pound (literally the highest price ever paid for coffee!). That is not a typo; $601.00 USD per pound! The final results of the entire auction are found here.
Hacienda La Esmeralda put geisha coffee on the map in 2004 when they won the Best of Panama and they have won many, many times since. Now, with their Geisha Cañas Verdes Natural, they have done it again in a big way.
My Visit to Panama
Panama coffees have always intrigued me and in the 15+ years of working with coffee, they have consistently been some of my favorite. But I think what makes Panama coffee so special to me now is the experience and connection I have with Panama. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit Panama, and more specifically, Boquete. Boquete is an important growing region in Panama and many of the coffees I’ve loved over the years have come from this area.
Weeks before my trip I reached out to Hacienda La Esmeralda in hopes of getting the opportunity to tour one of their estates. All crickets. Because of their popularity and fame, I’m sure they get a lot of requests for farm tours so it’s not all surprising they didn’t have the time for me, but one day I do hope to get the opportunity to tour their estate and see first hand all the great things they’re doing. However, while touring Boquete I did get to at least see the walls of their famed estate and see their beautiful trees in blossom!
The Beauty of Boquete
Boquete is just beautiful. It truly is a paradise and the area offers a lot of outdoor activities. I kept myself pretty busy with farm tours on this last trip so I’m making it a point on my next visit to do more hikes, including a five hour hike up the Baru Volcano to see the sunrise.
On this trip to Boquete, the trees were in full bloom. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to origin over the years, but this has been my first trip when the trees were in full bloom. The blossoms are stunning. They almost look like honeysuckle. Each varietal of tree had a blossom with its own distinct aroma. The producers I encountered loved their work, – their art, really. They could identify the variety of tree by the the aroma of the blossom.
One producer I met was constantly chewing on the raw coffee bean. He was always tasting and evaluating what was going on during the growing process and would make necessary adjustments to obtain the results he was looking for. Another producer I met had little means and used whatever was available to him to construct his coffee equipment. Much of his equipment was made from old car parts! The coffee from this small estate was incredible and they have won many awards for their coffee over the years.
Another farm I visited had their own restaurant and the food was incredible. They of course had an espresso machine and I had the opportunity to train their staff on pouring latte art. Later that night in the brewery in Boquete, one of the people I trained was there and we shared a drink together.
On that same farm, we cupped coffee that came from various coffee varietals, grown at different elevations, all processed from everything from washed, natural to honey. Cupping at the farm at that level, tasting the differences with their head roaster and head producer was something very special and one of the best experiences I’ve had in coffee. The coffee was truly incredible and extremely well cared for.
Based on all these great experiences, on all the passion I saw from the producers, and on all the great coffee I had opportunity to try, Panama coffees will forever be some of my most favorite. Whenever we have it in stock, that’s the coffee I’ll always reach for.
Experience shapes our opinion and affinity for the things we consume. The best dishes we’ve tried many times aren’t always the award-winning ones. In fact, it’s quite the opposite most times! But the experiences and people we share them with are what give definition to what we would say is “the best.” My hope is to one day take groups of people to origin so that collectively we can share in experiences like this and give new definition to our favorite coffees and what we say is the best.