Did That Fabulous Cup Of Coffee Come From Panama?

Did you know some of the best coffee in the world is grown in Panama?

Panama tops many great lists. It’s one of best places to retire, it has the fastest growing economy in Latin America and has one of the world’s coolest neighborhoods.But, even I was surprised when I was told Panama is where the world’s best coffee is grown! Wasn’t Juan Valdez Colombian?

$118/Pound For Coffee

It was my mother who tipped me off to this fact when she called and asked if I could bring a few pounds of “true” Geisha coffee, which is only grown in Boquete, Panama, by a single farm, Hacienda La Esmeralda. She told me in Australia the coffee was selling for $118 a pound and that it was currently unavailable. “Seriously?,” I said in disbelief. “Coffee from Panama is over one hundred dollars a pound?”

The coffee “cherries” grow on trees not native to Panama, but rather Ethiopia which were planted here some 80 years ago. It was the unique combination of the soil, rain, breeze, typography and sunlight in Boquete which produced the distinct flavor found no where else.

“Most expensive in the world” she responded, “if you don’t count roasted beans that have passed through some small animal in Indonesia or elephants in Thailand” she said. My mother went on to say that while the pooped-out coffee beans, also known as Kopi Luwak, cost around $160 a pound because of the protracted production process, the Panamanian coffee was the most awarded coffee in the world. “Pretty much always number one.” she added

The Best Coffee In The World?

“How do you get to be the best coffee in the world?” I had decided I was going to challenge her just a bit. “Isn’t coffee something like wine and people have different opinions about what really tastes the best?”

“Sure,” she responded. “As a matter of fact, coffee is ranked just like wine—on a 100 point system and, like wine, anything in the 90s is considered exceptional. This Geisha coffee is said to have a light, lemony flavor—almost like a good tea. They have received scores as high as 96,” she ended. “It depends a lot on the roasting which is done by different companies, but I read that a Geisha coffee roasted in Connecticut is selling for $18 a cup in New York. The beans, the roasting, it must be pretty good!”

A much larger amount of coffee is produced in various countries in Africa and South America, but currently the best does come from Panama and it’s not just the Geisha. There are also the Elida, Harpy and Carman Estates, who produce some of the finest coffees in the world.

Plenty Of Great Coffee Shops

Feeling sure I could arrange to send my mother some Panamanian coffee, I went to Amazon and found a London coffee maker who would happily send her a 6.7 oz box for $60. Of course, it was not eligible for Prime shipping! I decided to drive to Boquete and stash a few bags in my luggage!

Not that I ever really questioned it, but my mother was right about the coffee and as a result we have a plethora of great coffee shops in Panama City. I’m not talking about lots of Starbucks, (although we have that too) but small, independent shops that are serious about their coffee and who are definitely hip and trendy. Sometimes, while I’m using their free internet, I catch myself staring at all the cool people with lots of body ink. Recently I noticed Geisha coffee was not listed on the menu chalkboard, even if the printed menu said it was carried. “Subject to availability,” said my waiter. “We have a waiting list and it always sells out almost immediately.”

These small coffee shops roast locally and pair the coffee with some great bakery goods and handmade treats, but it’s the coffee that is normally the star. Unido’s is one of my favorites because they feature six different coffees made from beans grown in Panama. They also have great breakfast sandwiches and salads. Since I spend a lot of my time in Costa del Este, I was thrilled when they opened a shop there.

Judging The Quality Of Coffee

There are lots of cool independent coffee shops in Panama, including one of my favorites, Unido’s.

“So,” I started again with my mother, “how can you judge how good a cup of coffee tastes if you add six creams and six sugars into the mix?” I heard her laugh all the way in Australia.

“Serious coffee drinkers don’t add anything. Mostly it’s people who pull up to the McDonald’s drive through. People add cream and sugar because the coffee tastes bad. This coffee doesn’t taste bad,” she continued. “Can you imagine a barista’s face if you ordered an eighteen-dollar cup of coffee and added cream? Maybe later, you might consider ordering a Pappy Van Winkle, 23-year bourbon and mixing it with Coke!” I started to think I had sent her over the edge, but I knew she was smiling.

No Cream And Bourbon Straight Up

There are definitely “cupping protocols” in coffee rating!

“OK, nothing added and bourbon straight up,” I said realizing I wasn’t a real coffee drinker even though taking a gulp of the dark liquid was one of the first things I did each morning. “Guess that would be like putting salt on food before you even tasted it,” I added, knowing that was one of my mother’s main pet peeves.

“No additives are in play with true ‘cupping protocols”, she said into the phone and I stared, not responding verbally at first. “Cupping protocols,” I finally said. “There are cupping protocols?”

Becoming A Q Rater

“Of course. Not just anyone can be trusted to rate coffee,” she responded. “There are courses, diplomas, certificates. Not quite as difficult as becoming a sommelier because there are five levels to wine and currently only two with coffee. Both have an introductory certificate and I’m thinking of becoming a Q Rater. That is someone with a basic knowledge of coffee,” she said.,“which is why I wanted you to send me the world’s best so I would have a knowledge of how high the bar is set. To be honest it never occurred to me the best coffee would come from Panama,” she added with a little laugh. “I don’t think a lot of people immediately think Panama when they think coffee.”

I knew she was right and I smiled. “Lots of surprising things about Panama,” I added. “I’ll just add great coffee to the list,” knowing I better get to Boquete quickly.

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