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2008

These are the happs in Panama….

The reoccurring themes during our visits were Geisha, wind damage, and a lack of pickers for the harvest. Everyone and their mother has at least a hectare (2.2 acres) of geisha growing on their farms. The market is going to see a geisha influx in the next 2-3 years assuming these producers can get the delicate varietal to produce fruit. We’re strongly positioned in Panama with our strong relationships and continual visits which will give us an advantage when it comes time to start buying new geishas.

Strong winds have been ripping through Boquete, not Volcan, the past couple months and have done some serious damage to farms. It was amazing to see how the trees that are purposely grown to protect coffee trees from wind were strewn about the farms. The winds will make an impact on total volume this year in Panama which obviously is a problem for the Panamanians. It won’t have any affect on us however as our Boquete geisha and Duncan organic coffees didn’t get hit too hard.

Panamanian producers are also concerned that there are not enough pickers around for the harvest. Increased development all over the country has led to workers whom previously picked coffee to take construction jobs. My honest opinion is that this may actually be a good thing. Panamanian coffee farmers are certainly a bit better off than producers in virtually any other producing region. They can afford to pay better wages to pickers and now it appears as if they will be forced to.

Carmen Estate

We spent and entire day with Carlos Aguilera at his farm in Paso Ancho de Volcan. We walked the thing from top to bottom which was not only a beautiful experience aesthetically but also in the sense that we were given a good look at the condition of the farm. It was quite impressive to say the least. The farm is 65% Caturra and 35% Typica which in my mind is one of the optimal varietal blends. The high acidity of the Caturra pairs nicely with the sweetness and balance of the Typica. Carlos also has geisha planted at several altitudes including a lot that is over 1900masl. It appears to be at least 2 years away from producing but we’ll get first crack it when it finally does. His Caturra growing at 1900+ was in bad shape. It appears as if that lot is not well enough protected from wind and that, coupled with the elevation, is hindering the productivity of the plants. Just below that however, at 1800-1860 masl, we came across a lot that looked absolutely pristine in condition. The trees were filled with dark green leaves and bright red cherry. This particular slope of the farm is well protected from wind which allows it to produce so well. We’ll be cupping that lot along with all of the others in March. We also had the privilege of having lunch with Carlos’ parents, Manuel and Francesca which was a great experience. They’re good folks who seem to put quality ahead of everything else. I believe Carlos is prepared to work even harder to make sure we get the quality we need this year.

Hacienda Esmeralda

We spent a few hours with Daniel Peterson touring the geisha lots on his farm. The grasp he has of his farm is amazing but it’s his honesty that really separates him from the rest of the producing pack. He showed us lots where the geisha had yet to produce in 9 years although they continue to grow. He showed us lots where the geisha failed leading him to give up and move on with other varietals. Of course, he showed us the healthy lots as well which looked gorgeous. They have just begun picking and processing geisha and don’t expect to finish before April. With 3 new hectares in seemingly good shape, Daniel expects to have 500 bags of geisha in 5 years. The Peterson’s are planning to take a new approach to the sale of geisha this year. Instead of one major coffee roaster getting the lion’s share and everyone else getting the leftovers, all of the coffee will be divided into 2-bag lots and auctioned off online. We’ll be getting samples in May, followed by the auction later that month. This is interesting to say the least and I’m kind of digging the openness of the idea.

Duncan Estate (og)

This is going to be a new coffee for us this year. We exclusively own all of the 200-240 bags. I have worked with producer Ricardo Koyner in the past and have been impressed with his commitment to organic production. In my honest opinion he is the best organic producer I have met. Duncan took 4th place in the Best of Panama auction last year. My plan with this coffee is to not only offer it as a single origin but to also use it in the Holler Mtn down the road as we eventually make that a DT organic blend.

We again walked the farm from bottom to top (1650 – 1720masl) with Ricardo and found the farm to be in outstanding condition. He has a similar mix of 60-70% Caturra and 30-40% Typica like Carmen. Ricardo processes his coffee at his Kotowa mill using Penagos systems to remove mucilage. He then puts the coffee into fermentation tanks for another 10 hours to fully remove any remaining solids from the beans. He dries coffee on raised beds back at the Duncan farm before resting the coffee for 90 days. These latter two steps are, to me, what makes his coffee so special.

Don Pachi Estate

We headed out to Don Pachi in the afternoon to take a peak at the geisha. Francisco Serracin Jr. has really put the effort into his farm this year. To say it was encouraging would be an understatement. He put 3 full fertilizations into the geisha as opposed to only 2 last year. This type of fertilization is called ‘formula completa’ in Spanish and consists of a heavy magnesium dose along with potassium, nitrogen and boron components. I believe the vain beans we saw last year were due to a magnesium deficiency so expectations are high for this year. The trees themselves looked beautiful and seemed to be peaking with ripe cherry.

We own the entire production of Pachi geisha for the next 2 years. The Serracin’s are expecting 10-20 bags this year.

Don Pepe Estate

We took a tour of Don Pepe Estate afterwards with producer Tony Vasquez. He has a small portion of Bourbon on the farm. We are going to take a trial run of it at 10 bags if the quality turns out well. His farm is in the Camiseta subregion of Boquete and is very well maintained. Our fingers are crossed for what may be the only true Bourbon in Panama.

My plan is to head back to Panama, and most of Central for that matter, to cup through lots at the end of March. There will be plenty to cup through.

I’m in Costa Rica now and things are going well. We spent yesterday with Maria Elena Castro (Finca Salaca), Ricardo Perez and the Rodriguez brothers (Helsar/Salaca), Gillio, Tono Barrantes (Herbazu), Daysi Rodriguez (Manantiales) and others. It was fantastic. We’ve been cupping all morning so far and have hit a couple monster coffees. Herbazu 100% Villasarchi (same varietal as Las Golondrinas) is a superstar and we found another geisha farm from Victor Mata Monge who owns Quemado. It’s the same profile!

-Aleco