In our new Origins series, we follow the team from Caravan Coffee Roasters as they travel the world sourcing the best coffee beans they can find. This stop, Panama.
What's the history of Panamanian coffee and specifically the region you’re in?
Coffee production in Panama can be traced back to the early parts of the 20th century, when farmers began moving inland from the Pacific and Caribbean coasts to populate the fertile highlands. Many producers chose to settle in Boquete — in the North West of the country, close to the Costa Rican border — due to the region's unique range of microclimates, high elevation and fertile volcanic soils.
In recent years, Boquete has become something of a powerhouse of specialty coffee. During the early 2000’s, Panama's internal coffee competition, The Best of Panama, was dominated by the Geisha varietal produced by Hacienda la Esmeralda. The high prices commanded by the coffee and the profile of the estate spurred on a period of intense and widespread planting of Geisha in the region, which has shaped the region and arguably specialty coffee as a whole.
How is the coffee processed and why?
Clean, fresh water is a natural resource that is in abundance in Boquete, providing an ideal situation for producers who want to prepare fully washed coffees. The region of Boquete around Vulcan Baru is peppered with small streams and tributaries that shoot off from the Rio Caldera — one of the principal rivers of Panama — and are used to supply the region's wet mills.
Unlike neighbouring regions in South and Central America (where even the smallest of farms will often have their own micro-mills and patios) coffee cherries are delivered to a local wet mill where they're processed and laid out on concrete patios.
Morgan Estate and Finca Deborah are two small fincas operated by Panama Varietals, whom we work with in Boquete; both specialise in Geisha production. Immediately after picking, each farm delivers their cherries to a private micro-mill that's roughly an hour’s drive away. There, the cherries are promptly processed.
Due to high demand from international markets, Jamison Savage — the Director of Panama Varietals — has been successfully experimenting with Natural and Honey processes. Naturally processed coffee is a difficult undertaking in Panama's hot, wet climate; innovative solutions such as heated patios and digital weather stations are being implemented to work around these natural challenges to produce clean, consistent results.
Tell us about the farmers you work with.
We’re about to enter our second season of working with Jamison Savage and Panama Varietals. Jamison is a wildly entertaining American ex pat. The last ten years have been dedicated to building Finca Deborah, literally from the ground up, with the sole aim of producing the best Geisha in Panama.
The 37 hectare property started out as a collection of high altitude ridges and valleys, deemed unfarmable due to the steep inclines and challenging micro climate.
A decade on and Jamison has built a lab to CQI spec and planted close to 20 hectares with Geisha...Not to mention the permanent housing for his workers and an impressive road to link the isolated finca to the main highway.
In November last year we spent some time with him walking around the property, taking in the amazing views and discussing his vision for the future. We’re happy to say that we’ve penciled in a return trip later this year, when we'll cup through this season's produce.
When you're not sourcing coffee, what's your favourite thing to do in Panama?
Boquete is a lively, bustling town and there is no end of distractions for the day off at origin. A short taxi ride from the centre can take you to the base of the Vulcan Baru where a trail leads up to the summit and a breathtaking view can be had of the region's picturesque valleys and rivers.
When you’re feeling a little less adventurous, the popular Restaurant Baru (situated on the town's main square) is an excellent vantage point from which to do some people watching and enjoy the cerveza de nacionale!
Stay tuned for the fourth installment of Origins, out next month.