Trip report – Panama

The Panamanian coffee industry is a relatively new one. Fame was brought to the region upon successful planting of the Gesha varietal. Experimentation is so widespread in Panama that it is almost expected of Panamanian farmers. As Panama is well located between the USA and the majority of coffee farming regions in Central/South America, there has been substantial capital input from the North American or ‘gringo’ coffee community. Land prices have increased dramatically in recent years due to high demand. Boquete is the most famous area for coffee growing in Panama, but recently there have been some exceptional coffees coming out of Chiriqui Province, Volcan.

Esmeralda Estate in Panama was one of the first to grow the Gesha varietal of Arabica coffee and they have been enjoying that fame for a few years now. They have plans to find the next ‘super-coffee’ variety. When we were in Panama in January 2015, there was a whole range of new varietals being planted to assess their quality, flavour profile and marketability. As the industry experiments more and more, the farmers are realising that not all varieties will grow well in all conditions. Unfortunately it takes up to 7 years to determine whether a varietal is going to grow happily in a certain environment.

Having a very close relationship between a coffee producing country and a developed coffee drinking culture (USA) has given farmers confidence to conduct experimentation. There seems to be a real competitiveness between coffee farmers to produce the best coffee in their region. This can only be a good thing for the consumer. As there is no traditional farming practice in Panama, there is an open mindedness about the industry. I have even heard of top notch producers attempting a Sumatran wet-hulled process with a Gesha. The process involves removing the parchment layer of the coffee while it is still wet and soft. This can damage the beans by shaping them in the huller. It is incredible to have someone use the world’s most expensive varietal of coffee to experiment with a process that is quite controversial.

Passionate producers like Carlos Franceschi (Carmen Estate) and Ratibor Hartmann (Hartmann Estate) are leading the way in Volcan. Carmen Estate has big plans for new varietal planting and processing. They have built a new warehouse to house their brand new mill. These guys are also processing coffees from local farmers within the Paso Ancho Valley. Hartmann Estate are producing some of the best coffees to come out of Panama. All of their coffees are dried on raised beds, under cover. There is a huge range of varietals and processing styles coming out of Hartmann Estate and they are seen as industry leaders within their region.

Panama’s coffee industry is the cool kid in coffee. Beautiful climate, altitude, soil and a general can-do attitude makes Panama one of the most sort after coffees in the specialty coffee community. They have certainly made a name for themselves as a quality driven coffee producing country.