More About Panama Coffee
When did Panama start growing coffee? When 200 pounds of Panama Geisha coffee sold at auction in 2019 for over $1,000 per pound, growing coffee for export was not even 100 years old in Panama. There are some indications that green coffee first arrived in Panama as early as 1742, but the first attempts at commercial cultivation didn’t occur until the 1780’s. Planting at low altitudes around the port city of Portobelo, these efforts failed. It would be another 100 years, when coffee was planted in the highlands around the Volcano “Baru,” before commercial cultivation of Panama coffee was successful. In the 1894 edition of Coffee: From Plantation to Cup, Francis Thurber writes “Recently some 70,000 trees have been planted in the Chiriquí district, in the state of Panama, and this marks the beginning of the enterprise in that state.” For decades, however, nearly all coffee grown in Panama was used for internal consumption and the country was better known for exporting tea. Panamanians drank more coffee than they grew and had to import coffee to meet demand. In 1913, for example, Panama imported 2,500 bags of Mexican coffee; in 1918 over 1,800 bags of coffee from Costa Rica. Well into the 20th century, exports were low, measured in the hundreds of bags.
Exports grew slowly over the years, peaking in 1996 at 181,000 bags. Although there have been a few spikes since then, exports have settled down around 50,000 bags for the last 10 years as producers shifted their focus from volume to quality. More than 50% of coffee production is still consumed domestically.
Although Panama was an emerging presence in the specialty coffee industry in the 1990’s, the country sprang to prominence in 2004 when a Geisha variety coffee was first introduced at the Best of Panama competition and auction, selling for what was at the time an astonishing $21 a pound. Panama Geisha has continued to set records at auction since then, surpassing $1,000 a pound in 2019 and 2020.
How does Panama coffee taste? Panama coffee exhibits a wide variety of flavor characters. Sweetness can tend toward dark chocolate and toffee, while fruit notes can tend toward stone fruits, like plum and peach, and berries.
Where does Panama coffee grow? Panama coffee grows in the west, near the border with Costa Rica in the highlands of Chiriqui, which means “Valley of the Moon.” Most coffee grows in two areas near the volcano Buru: Boquete and Volcan-Candela.
At what elevations does Panama coffee grow? Most Panama specialty coffee grows above 1,500 masl.
Who grows Panama coffee? Many coffee estates in Panama are 30-50 hectares and many coffee families are descendant of American and European immigrants, but there are indigenous farmers and farms as small as a few hectares.
How is Panama coffee processed? Most Panama coffee is washed and sun or machine dried.
What types of coffee plants are found in Panama? Panama grows Typica, Caturra, Catuai, Bourbon, San Ramon, Pache, Mundo Novo and, of course Geisha.
An Officer and a Gentleman: The Story of Central American Coffee Part 2
Women and Agriculture