Panama

Coffee from Panama was historically under-rated and overlooked, but not any longer. That perception has been corrected in recent years with the Best of Panama competition held each year, attracting global competition for the best lots and garnering spectacular prices. The Gesha cultivar produced in some small coffee estates has also garnered heaps of attention for its unique floral cup character.

Panama coffees from higher altitudes are brightly toned, with clean fruited notes and sometimes floral aromatics. Cheaper Panama coffees are quite different, and are a staple of higher-end commercial roasters and lower-end specialty roasters. There are many lower-grown Panamas that are ubiquitous in the U.S. market and of little interest to us here. It's just the Boquete and Volcan coffees from the Chirqui district, ones from small family-owned farms that produce the truly distinct, unique coffees. They employ N'gobe Indians for the picking season, who will come to the coffee farms to work under some of the best wage standards and labor laws in Central America.

Panama has changed greatly in recent years, particularly the coffee producing areas. As investment money came in and the expat population boomed, it affected the coffee sector in several ways. Farms were sold to expats and investors from Colombia, Venezuela and North America. Land values skyrocketed as retirees from the US sought the lower cost of living, warmer climate and the beauty of the Chirqui area. Conveniences abounded: big box stores nearby in the town of David, the prospect of having a fancy home with a maid and a gardener, and fixed incomes covering medical care to a greater extent, with top doctors in Panama City.

It is no longer the place I visited over a decade ago, and the pressure on labor and land values have made coffee farming even more difficult. And somehow producing good, clean, wet-processed coffee was not enough. Farmers chasing the "Gesha rainbow" have tried all kinds of varietals and processes to attract more attention to their coffee, and they look for prices of 5-20 times that of a solid wet-processed coffee. In this spasm of competition and diverging ideas of what a "good" coffee is, I think there has been some tarnishing of the Panama star. But great coffee continues to be produced there by some of the most knowledgeable farmers in Central America. Many have the advantage of strong US contacts, family in the States, US university education and flawless English. One wishes they could share their knowledge with other coffee farmers in Central America who lack these advantages.

For some background on my trips to Panama, and more information on Panama coffees, go way back to the 2002 Panama Cupping Competition; also see my slide show of the 2003 cupping. We have a page about the #1 2004 coffee, Jaramillo Especial, and a page about the 2004 Cupping. And the January 2006 crop visit to check our small lot coffee and visit the Gesha trees at Hacienda La Esmeralda. Also see my April 2006 Best of Panama competition trip. In fact - just check out the travelogue section of the Coffee Library for all the trips!

No coffees are currently available from this origin. The review is our most recent offering, provided for reference.
Panama Esmeralda Gesha
Gesha coffee cherry, Panama
Appearance.02 d/300gr, 17-19+ Screen
GradeSHB
ProcessingWet Process (Washed)
RegionJaramillo, Boquete, Chirqui
Varietal(s)Gesha
RoastGeneral Esmeralda Gesha Roast: Pungent roast flavors of 2nd crack do harm to what this coffee is really about. This is a "2nd Crack is Taboo" coffee. Try to get it to a City or City+. Full City still has great aromatic complexity and perhaps more balance and body, but much less floral character
We have offered Esmeralda Especial Gesha for a decade now. Gesha (often spelled, wishfully, as Geisha) is a cultivar with strong Ethiopian roots. It's rare that a coffee variety announces itself so clearly in the cup flavors as the Gesha cultivar does in Panamanian coffee. Extremely floral in the aromatics, with loads of tropical fruit, light bodied and delicate on one hand, yet extremely flavorful and long-lasting on the palate. There is no other coffee quite like it. And other farms that have cultivated Gesha don't often attain the cup quality of the best Esmeralda Gesha. The Esmeralda Gesha makes blind cupping almost senseless, since I can identify its amazing fragrance, aroma and cup flavors immediately when I come upon it in a "blind" cupping! It is that dry fragrance that lets you know right away what is coming when the water hits the cup: incredible sweet floral, citrus blossom, sweet honey perfume atomized into the air. In terms of intensity, fruited and floral aspects, wet-processed Ethiopians and Kenyas are more in league with Gesha than any other Central American coffee. But it is difficult to price this sort of cup character. And when it is as exotic ...no, extraterrestrial ... as the Esmeralda Gesha, it is even more hard to quantify. In tasting the Gesha coffees, the cup flavors might seem less intense than the extreme aromatics. As the cup cools, perceived intensity and brightness will increase exponentially. This particular Gesha from Esmeralda is always a treat, with such a complex profile of florals, fruits, and sweetness. It goes without saying that we eagerly await the arrival every year! The dry fragrance smells of sweet red berries, ripe cherry, and a delicate floral accent, almost like fresh hopped beer. The wet aroma has tons of jasmine, browns sugars, honey, cinnamon stick, and soft milk chocolate at slightly darker roast levels. There's also a candy sweet smell of watermelon that reminds me of gummy candies. The cup has light, but juicy body, and interestingly, after these knock-out aromatics, the first sip of the hot brew can be a little bit underwhelming. Wait for the temperature to drop a few degrees and the profile blows wide open. It's no surprise that the cup is floral - SO floral. There's an undeniable jasmine flavor that weaves it's way throughout the well-knit flavors of fruit and spices. Ripe melons are a big presence, as well as a nectarine, plum, and passion fruit. Spice notes flourish with cinnamon stick and a note of coriander, and the acidity verges on effervescent. This is definitely a coffee that fares best outside of Full City, in the City - City+ roast range.