From Panama’s Forests to your Coffee Cup
By Cherrye Moore
Somewhere buried in the mountains of Panama’s Chiriqui region, sheltered by the Baru Volcano and massaged by the seducing sound of the nearby Caldera River, your next cup of joe is being born. With annual worldwide production of coffee exceeding 100 million bags and offering up enough java for every person on earth to slurp 100 cups a year, Panama is emerging as a world leader in the coffee market.
For years Panama was overshadowed by neighboring Columbia and Costa Rica as coffee plantation hot spots, but recent international success has demanded that coffee connoisseurs take notice. Hacienda La Esmeralda, one of Panama’s premier coffee plantations, broke records when its Geisha coffee received the title of World’s Best Specialty Coffee by the Specialty Coffee Association of America for the third consecutive year, and then sold its award-winning Geisha for $130 per pound. This plantation’s accomplishments have spurred interest in Panama’s coffee empire and directed attention to the Boquete region.
Not to diminish the work of “Mr. Starbucks”, a major investor in Panama’s coffee industry, but that oversized cup of joe goes through more than the recently retrained barista’s fingers before it reaches those caffeine-deprived lips. Here is a quick rundown of how world famous brew is produced and an inside look into gourmet coffee farming.
The perfect cup of coffee derives from the perfect bean that is produced in, you guessed it, the perfect soil. Boquete’s award-winning plantations are spread over volcanic black land and offer the perfect combination of shade, sun and humidity. The serene rainforests and tropical flora enrich the land and produce the sweet floral and citrus flavors that make Boquete coffees distinct.
Harvesting coffee beans is an industry of its own and many of the 30,000 Guaymi Indian families in Panama depend on harvest season for their livelihood. Coffee trees produce berries called coffee cherries, that turn red when ripe and ready for picking. The cherry pickers rotate throughout the farm selecting the ripest berries for production and gathering them in a five gallon container called a lata. Earning $1.50 per lata, the entire family - mothers, fathers, and children - pitch in to help. The Guaymi Indians are vital to the success of a coffee plantation and many farms value their contributions.
The world-renowned coffee farm Hacienda La Esmeralda implemented a full-time nursery where children are offered nutritional meals and educational programs while their parents harvest cherry beans. Additionally, they provide weekly medical and dental visits for the staff and their children and present cash bonuses and a Christmas toy to each child. Progressive farms such as this enjoy loyalty from their pickers and ensure they are able to secure the finest workers every season. (Continued on page 2)