As I became more experienced in the art of selecting coffees, I realized that some very popular farms had complete control over their marketing. If we wanted their coffee, we had to contact them directly, or buy their coffee on auction platforms. They know the quality of their coffee, and especially the value of it.
We can then realize that we are in the presence of great grand cru coffee growers, just like the best wine growers in France, for example.
As I took interest in this very closed market, and the results of the Best of Panama auction, I was struck by the astronomical prices paid by buyers.
In 2019, my psychological limit of $1000 USD/lbs for a lot was exceeded. And if I trust what I see so far, 2020 prices will be even higher as buyers want these coffees more and more. It seems that the planet is finally discovering the true grands crus of coffee and recognizing the value of the producers work.
It is therefore a must-see phenomenon for anyone interested in coffee, because the economic repercussions for producers are major.
A few years ago, I managed to get my hands on a bag from Hacienda La Esmeralda that would finally allow me to taste the mysterious geisha variety.
It was literally a massive blow.
The taste of this coffee had nothing to do with my references and I felt like my brain was making new connections between my rusty synapses. It tasted like a coffee from another planet! A scent of jasmine, vanilla, passion fruit, I had just tasted the superstar of the world of coffee. Even though this coffee has been part of my life for several years, each time I drink it I feel privileged. I want to share it with you, hence our annual imports directly from the farm, and our participation in their auction for the best lots of the current year.
Panama has several microclimates. The region that concerns us, Boquete, is the oldest and is considered the best in the country. The mountainous topography, dominated by the Barú volcano with its 3474 meters above sea level, has a volcanic soil rich in nutrients which is favorable to coffee. However, wedged between the Atlantic and the Pacific, coffee plantations are constantly undergoing temperature changes. Too high humidity during the rainy season can turn into a fungal epidemic on the plants at any time. And during the dry season, the cold Atlantic winds blowing over the northern mountains create a fine mist that cools the temperature and slows the ripening of the coffee cherries. With altitude, this additional delay helps accentuate the sweetness and complexity of the coffees. Despite these difficult conditions, the combination of the elements gives remarkable coffees.
Before 2004, few people talked about the geisha variety. However, it was brought to the country at the beginning of the 19th century from Ethiopia, in the city of Gesha. The name was changed with a variation in the writing according to the documents of the first explorers who added an "i" to it, like the name given to the distinguished Japanese ladies of the company. Geisha coffee has been grown on farms in Panama since its arrival, but it had been variably harvested and maintained, with a wide range of varieties and cuttings planted on the farms here and there. In the 90's, as coffee production became increasingly important, the owners of Hacienda La Esmeralda
, the Peterson family acquired a new high-altitude farm which they named Jaramillo
. Coffee rust had recently devastated the farm, but they had noticed that the geisha trees had not been injured as badly as the plants that had been planted before.
It was this high altitude Geisha coffee plantation that helped set the events of 2004 in motion, when the incredible potential of the geisha became clear. It was in the run-up to the Best Of Panama competition, an annual coffee tasting competition and auction that was already generating considerable interest. For this year's competition, the owners of La Esmeralda did something they had never done before: during processing, they separated the production from different areas of the farm into individual lots. One of the lots was from a very high section of Jaramillo, and when it landed on the tasting table everyone was amazed!
Now the ancient Ethiopian variety from the city of gesha, influenced by the terroir of Panama and this very specific high altitude region, changed the world coffee scene forever.
The land that compose Hacienda La Esmeralda was acquired in 1967 by Rudolf A. Peterson as a retirement project. At the time, the land was mainly pasture for cattle, with very few coffee plants.
In the mid 80's, the Peterson family was looking to diversify further and coffee, which had a rich history of production in the Boquete area, was an ideal option.
Coffee had grown on these lands since at least 1890, and they used local knowledge to redevelop much of their land for growing it. In 1988, they made their first expansion of their farm in Palmira.
At that time, the majority of Panama's coffee was destined for the mass market and was not valued at all. The Boquete area produced good coffees, but nothing to interest buyers in the new specialty coffee market that started around 1990.
In 1997, the Petersons purchased the land that became the Jaramillo farm. T
his plot located on the sides of Volcan Baru was selected especially for its high altitude, in the hope of developing better coffees. That said, it was only by chance that the famous Geisha coffee was planted on this farm, with the very practical aim of having plants that are resistant to disease. And nature created magic.
In 2004, following the shattering release of the geisha strain at the Best of Panama auction, their efforts were focused on developing an infrastructure that allowed for superior lot separation, meticulous processing and auctioning of their annual production. Hacienda La Esmeralda has turned the coffee world upside down by combining altitude and batch separation, revealing the incredible flavors of geisha to everyone. This combination was later repeated by several other growers around the world, but all agree to give credit to the Peterson family who propelled the geisha strain to the rank of coffee superstar.
This coffee holds a special place for me, because it contributes to the recognition of coffee as a real tasting product, like champagne, cognac or scotch. Its fame is not based on emotion and a good story, but on an objective and measurable conquest of the industry based on criteria that are consensus among experts around the world. Geisha variety coffee now dominates grand cru auctions around the world, and barista champions use it to wow judges during coffee competitions. In addition, producers are real entrepreneurs who change the perception of coffee culture. We are far from the convenience product. With the geisha, we are in exuberance, in floral scents, in fruit and in sweetness. And instead of asking, champagne ’Champagne please!’, You could say ’A cup of geisha please!’ And instantly feel like you're in a glamorous happy hour with hand-picked people. Except this time the important person is yourself. This coffee is a tribute to the land, to the skills of passionate craftsmen, in a festive, colorful and flamboyant spirit. Nature has done its job, the producer too, for our part, we have roasted it according to the rules of the art. All that remains is to prepare it with deference, with the idea of a royal coffee for the king or queen of your court.
La Esmeralda produces various coffees, the best of which are auctioned. Currently, we have two lots that are in transit and will arrive shortly. The Private Collection is the one that we have been buying for a few years now and they reserve a quantity for us every year. This quantity is sufficient to have a few months in stock. We fought fiercely at auction against buyers from all over the world to be able to buy the other lot which is part of their best harvest. The quantities of the latter are minimal so if you want it, hurry.
So I invite you to get your hands on one or two coffees of this exceptional farm.
They are currently on presale as I am working on the import. We plan to send the first bags around mid August.
Panama La Esmeralda Mario San José Naturel
Panama La Esmeralda Private collection Lavé
And do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.