This country has only become well known for its coffee in the last 12 years or so, though it has been growing it since the early 19th century. Panama has a number of distinct micro climates which means there is fantastic potential for great quality coffee, though you will always pay more for coffee from this country due to the higher minimum wage and demand for land by American ex-pats which has reduced the potential for coffee production. The neighbouring country of Costa Rica was producing ten times the amount of coffee when compared with Panama and it has only been since the outstanding success of one farm, Hacienda Esmeralda, that the country has really started to be taken seriously as a quality coffee producer.
Hacienda La Esmeralda is owned and run by the Peterson family (of Swedish origin) and is located in Boquete, Western Panama. The family has owned this farm since 1967 and previously used it to farm dairy cattle, it wasn’t until 1987 that significant parts of the farm were given over to coffee. In the late 1990s and the turn of the millennium, commodity coffee prices were extremely low due to the world coffee crisis. The Specialty Coffee Association of Panama therefore introduced a competition called ‘Best of Panama’ as part of an effort to boost the quality and therefore value of Panamanian coffee. The competition saw producers enter their coffee to be judged and ranked before being put onto an online auction where their coffee was made available to an audience of international buyers. Hacienda La Esmeralda had been growing Geisha on their farm for some years and had noted a set of particular cupping characteristics when tasting coffee produced from those trees. The family therefore entered a Geisha lot into the competition in 2004 which went on to attract a record-breaking price of $21/lb. By 2010, their coffee was selling for $170/lb and even managed to sell for $350/lb in 2013 when they submitted an experimental naturally processed Geisha lot.
There can be no doubting the influence of this success story which has seen hundreds of farms in Central America plant Geisha in the hope their coffee will attract similar prices. Panama’s best growing region is arguably Boquete which is mountainous and has a cooler climate which helps to slow the development of the coffee cherries, bringing about greater complexity in the cup.