Panama Coffee Guide: Plantations and Productions in Panama

The adage that behind every successful person, is a cup of coffee rings very true for Panama! For more than a century, Panamanians have enjoyed the extremely high quality, and critically acclaimed coffee, gown in their own backyard.

In the early 19th century, European settlers introduced coffee to the Panamanian region during colonization. Flash-forward to modern times, Panama now produces roughly 1% of the world’s coffee supply! Panama strives for quality over quantity, however. It is evident in the highly aromatic brew of their coffee. Coffee plantation tours are available in Panama, and highly recommended!

The country is one of the top coffee producers in the world, producing over 13 million pounds of coffee each year! Panamanian coffee is highly renowned for its variety and superb blends. Due to the region’s ideal location, coffee trees grow in Panama’s ideal climate with ample precipitation and shade. Specifically, the Boquete region produces excellent wet-processed full-bodied coffee.

Until now, Panamanian coffee has been understated. We will be diving in, and exploring some of the major plantations and producers of high-quality coffee beans in Panama.

Why Panama Coffee?

Unlike past decades, coffee aficionados of today, have access to unlimited coffee varieties. As such, it is only natural for a newcomer into the industry to bring a new and exotic product. Although Panamanian coffee is a lesser-known variety, it is emerging as a world player in both production and quality.

The dedicated following of Panamanian coffee is mainly due to its unique and distinguished flavor profiles that the coffee beans bring to the table (or coffee cup). The resulting brew is perfectly balanced and light in the mouth, with flavors containing a fine balance and combination of honey, dark cocoa, and citrus notes, complemented by the aroma of jasmine.

The growing conditions of Panamanian coffee are nothing short of stellar. As we will find out, Panamanian estates are reaping the benefits of the highlands of the Volcan Baru region, where the volcanic soil is rich in nutrients and the climate of the region is nothing short of perfection.

As we will find out, the processing methods of the Panamanian coffee estates are time-tested and traditional. Most processes have, by choice, remained a manual effort, such as the cherry-picking, and the carefully cleansing with natural spring water fountains, which preserve the powerful characteristics profile of the coffee bean, which makes it so sought after.

Time to Put Your Learning Caps On: Coffee Bean Varieties and Types

It’s time for some coffee bean knowledge! It is essential to take the time to examine the various coffee types, to get a good understanding and develop an appreciation of the various coffee varieties offered in Panamanian coffee. Firstly, just like wine, coffee beans come with a variety of differences.

Some coffee bean varieties perform better than others under certain altitudes and certain climates. Similarly, some varieties have different disease tolerances than others, and of course, depending on the species, a different flavor profile than others. Coffee aficionados have undoubtedly heard the coffee bean types ‘Robusta’ and ‘Arabica’.

Robusta and Arabica

coffe beans, cup of coffee and moka

These two variety types describe the two various species of beans grown commercially. Of the total amount of coffee varieties presented to the rest of the world, 82% of the coffee grown in Panama is of the Arabica variety, typically synonymous with the highest quality and usually brings in the higher price tags on the international markets. The other 18% is from the Robusta variety, also high in demand for specialty blends, and for its high caffeine content.

Robusta has a neutral to harsh taste range and often compared to having an ‘oatmeal-like’ taste. Arabica, in contrast, has a wide taste range and can range from sweet and soft, to sharp and tangy. When unroasted, Robusta beans have a peanut aroma, while Arabica beans when unroasted, have a perfume and blueberry aroma with notes of fruit and sugar.

Panama Geisha: The Most Expensive Coffee on Earth

Different coffee varieties do better in different climates and elevations, and with that, different flavor variations tend to be a bit pricier than others. Panamanian coffee, specifically the Geisha variety, has established itself as the most expensive coffee in the world.

The Panamanian Geisha coffee bland has become such an oddity, that the variable type is soaring in price! As an example, this 10oz bag of Panama Geisha is at $338 USD! This is an outlier, however, some of the higher-end prices of Geisha are sold at around $80 per pound.

Geisha is a coffee bean variety whose origin is Gesha, Ethiopia. The coffee bean was planted sparingly in Costa Rica, where it gained its reputation for having a great resistance to a coffee disease known as “leaf rust.” Eventually, the coffee bean was planted in Panama, wherein 2004, after a bad year of leaf rust, a single variety of Geisha were picked exclusively for the first time, from which the unusual flavor profile was discovered!

The flavor profile of this blend is delicate and floral, with honeysuckle and bergamot almost always dominant. The coffee profile also lacks bitter and sour notes, increasing the exotic and curiosity for this coffee blend. Coffee enthusiasts also enjoy profile flavorings of this variety that include fruit and dark cocoa ensuring that coffee lovers worldwide consider Panamanian Geisha coffee to be a must-try.

Consequently, neighboring countries including Costa Rica, Colombia, and even Ethiopia are now experimenting with the coffee and attempting to replicate the Panamanian success.

Arabica Coffee

Arabica coffee is grown in the Chiriquí highlands of Panama at an elevation range of 2,300 to 3,500 feet and is considered to be the highest quality of Panamanian coffee.

Plantations

plantation of coffee in panama

Fortunately for us, we can get up close and personal with Panamanian coffee plantations! Many world-renowned and well-established plantations offer plantation tours, reasonably priced, and many come with overnight stay accommodations. Tours include a coffee tasting, a tour of the plantation, and transportation to and from the plantation. Tours can be booked through any hostel or from tour shops residing in the center of town. With so many tours available, it is possible to book the same day for a coffee experience!

Café Ruiz

Among the estates producing coffee, Café Ruiz is said to be the oldest and most regarded. The estate is the first to roast gourmet coffee in the region. Established over a century ago, the Café Ruiz facility is situated in Boquete Valley. The estate is fully equipped with a systematic approach in growing their coffee beans, and have adopted an artisan processing system utilizing both dry and wet processing methods.

The estate offers a visit whereby all their processes can be explained, and a detailed explanation of the challenges of keeping coffee bean quality high year after year. A visit to the estate will also offer a glimpse into their labs, where one can learn the nuances of roasting, tasting, and cup profiling.

A tour with Café Ruiz is $20 USD or $15 USD for two to four persons. The tour of the estate comes fully prepared with coffee experts, ready to teach you all about coffee appreciation and tasting some of Boquete’s nationally and internationally award-winning coffee varieties. The length of the tour is typically three hours, and a reservation is required.

La Torcaza Estate 

A notable plantation is the La Torcaza Estate, located in the far western part of Panama, just 25 miles east of the Costa Rican border. For nearly 100 years, the estate has been owned and ran by the Janson family. Only within the last 15 years, has the Janson family ventured into coffee production. The estate is at an ideal elevation of 4,500 feet in altitude on the slopes of Volcan Baru.

The combination of the altitude and volcanic soil is extremely suited for harvesting the best Arabica beans. The extended growing seasons are due to the high altitudes, perfect for allowing the coffee beans to develop complex flavors and distinguishing fine specialty coffee flavors. The level terrain of the coffee farms allows the coffee cherry to ripen evenly, resulting in higher bean quality and density.

The cooler climate lessens the number of pests to disrupt the growth process. The commitment of the Janson family to use the best time-tested and traditional methods and drawing from the latest in coffee-growing innovations, has resulted in a coffee estate that is second to none. This fact coupled with the more than ideal location and climate for the estate results in the perfect recipe.

The coffee flavor results in a hint of butterscotch and cognac, and a tiny bright lemon hint. All in all, La Torcaza Estate serves up one of the world’s greatest coffees. Furthermore, La Torcaza Estate is unique in that the plantation’s coffee is organically-tended, and microorganisms are used.

One of the distinguishing factors of La Torcaza grown coffee is that the processing facilities are only a 15-minute ride from La Torcaza Estate. The Janson family has opted to incorporate a traditional approach in gently and effectively selecting the coffee beans. This process is done by having the coffee beans soaked in spring water, causing the lighter beans to float towards the top, while the more dense beans sink towards the bottom.

From this technique, the coffee beans are separated into 3 categories. To gently remove the mucilage from the beans, again the Jason brothers have chosen a traditional approach of fermenting the beans, for up to 36 hours. The beans are then spread out separately in open-air patios exposed to mountain sunlight. The beans are then aged for 90 days, allowing ample time for them to develop a smooth and balanced flavor.

These older and more traditional techniques to develop the coffee’s refinement are rare. But it is these very steps that separate these Arabica beans from the rest! The final step before sending off for export is the manually select defected beans from the rest. Again, this step is a financially costly one that other coffee estates forgo. This step is performed twice, distinguishing La Torcaza Estate as one of the world’s most rigorous coffee quality controls.

Finca Lerida

Finca Lerida’s exported its first coffee to Germany back in 1929. Since then, their repertoire of international buyers has increased dramatically. After participating and finishing their work with the Panama Canal, an engineer by the name of Toleff Brache Mönniche traveled to the highlands of Chiriquí in 1911 and discovered a place which he would later call home, Finca Lerida.

Finca Lerida was nestled along with the skirts of Volcan Baru, 10 km uphill from Boquete. Mönniche eventually continued to build the first coffee plantation by gravity in Panama and invented and patented the ‘sifon’ a device that separates good beans from the bad. To this day, the sifon is used worldwide by coffee plantations. Since its first export to Germany in 1929, Panama’s reputation as one of the best exotic coffee producers has increased in Europe.

La Finca Lerida estate also offers hospitality services for guests, including 21 rooms with beautiful and quaint suits loaded with modern amenities and tropical charm. La Finca Lerida is well prepared to offer guests romantic getaway packages including breakfast, drinks, dinner, wine, and of course, a coffee plantation tour. The Geisha Package, for $299 USD includes a 250-gram package of La Finca Lerida’s exquisite Geisha Coffee. 

A few overnight stay options are available at La Finca Lerida. With each option, of course, you will be served with the exotic blends of one of Panama’s finest coffee. La Finca Lerida offers one of a kind and unique stay in one of Panama’s finest coffee plantations. With choosing the Geisha package, you live and love right next to the stars!

Finca Dos Jefes

Finca Dos Jefes is also situated in the small mountain village of Boquete. The estate sits on the slopes of the Volcan Baru 1400 meters above sea level. In 2003, the farm was purchased by Dee Harris and Rich Lipner, who began the process of restoring the land and thus improving the quality of the land. The duo introduced various new coffee plants to the land, and now seven Arabica coffee types are produced here: Pacamara, Heirloom Bourbon, Gesha, along with the original Caturra, Catuai, Criollo and Catimor.

The signature coffee brand that is produced at Finca Dos Jefes is Cafés de la Luna. Cafés de la Luna, or coffee of the moon, is organically grown, naturally processed, and roasted carefully, all on the Finca Dos Jefes premises! The name of the coffee comes from the timing the coffee is tended to. Finca Dos Jefes has adopted ancient farming and harvesting methods pertaining to moon cycles and their effect and stimulation of growth.

During the waning moon, or when the earth inhales, the soil at the Finca Dos Jefes is furnished by organic nutrients. During the waxing moon, when the moon pulls upward, the trees at the farm are nurtured to stimulate growth. To preserve the fruity flavors of the coffee, the coffee cherries are tended to naturally and by hand. The cherries are hand-picked and laid out naturally on bamboo beds for drying. The cherries are dried partially and placed aside uninterrupted for a period of three months minimum before they are peeled prior to roasting.

Fina Dos Jefes offers coffee enthusiasts the chance to partake in the process of bringing coffee from the fields to the cup. Those who visit the farm will not only learn the process of growing, harvesting, and processing the cherries, but will have the opportunity to have one lucky participant roasting coffee! The participants will have the opportunity to see everything up-close and personal and have a chance to sample various roast profiles.

One can visit the Finca Dos Jefes for $30 USD a person and is free for children under 11 years of age. The tour price includes transportation to and from most Boquete locations.

Finca Casanga

coffe beans of finca casanga in palmira

Finca Casanga is situated in Palmira, a small area on the mountain slopes of Boquete. It is a small single-estate family owned and operated business. Finca Casanga specializes in Arabica coffee beans, and not only cater to world vendors but directly to the individual customer as well.

Finca Casanga offers coffee enthusiasts the ability to lease a coffee tree for an entire season! The 2020 season will commence in January of 2020, however, the final coffee processing and shipping will be in March of 2021. Those who take advantage of this option will receive a coffee tree certificate and have the ability to watch and receive live updates of the growth, bloom, and harvest processes via a live feed.

This option will also allow the lease owner to have their own dedicated drying rack and allow one to choose their roasting option. This is truly an amazing experience, as you can be anywhere in the world, and watch coffee experts properly tend to, nurture, and pick your coffee cherries. Prices for this option are $99 USD for North America and Panama and $119 for Australia, NZ, UK, and Western Europe, and a small fee of $10 USD for a custom sign. The signs displayed on their website are very playful and inviting!

Finca Casanga offers tours for those wanting to learn a little more about the coffee cultivating process. Fina Casanga’s approach allows visitors the option to not only learn about the growth, bloom, and harvest process but also provides a very hands-on approach! Guests can pick their own cherries from the coffee trees, de-pulp, dry, de-husk, sort, roast, grind, and of course drink the coffee! The tour draws to a close with a coffee tasting of La Finca’s various coffee blends and roasts.

Finca Casanga coffee flavors are incredibly savory and rich and contain a mild acidity. The body of the coffee contains hints of nuts, cream, and chocolate. The various roasts are light roast, city roast, full city, and French. With La Finca Casanga, you will enjoy the true gourmet flavor of estate whole bean coffee.

Coffee tour pricing for Finca Casanga is $35 USD per adult, and $10 USD per teenager, with children being free. Experiencing this tour is truly an amazing way to experience and immerse yourself in Panamanian culture.

Producers

Café Kotowa

kotowa coffee beans

Café Kotowa is a producer of Panamanian boutique coffee. The brand was established more than 100 years ago by a Scottish immigrant, Alexander Duncan Macintyre. It is said that Alexander, living in Canada in the early 1900s, read an article regarding the region of Boquete, in a distant Central American country named Panama.

He read regarding the mysterious mountains that surrounded Volcan Baru, a then unexplored region with a sustainable and fresh climate. His curiosity led to visitation to the region, where he fell in love with the area, the people, and the enchantment of the region. For the past four generations, the Macintyre family has cultivated and processed the lands utilizing and implementing traditional methods, which is so boastfully presented to the rest of the world.

After harvesting the cherries via modern techniques, the cherries are then cleansed with pristine waters from natural spring fountains to carefully preserve the flavors. The cherries are then carefully brought out to the sun, at 5,500 feet (1,700 meters) in elevation, and no more than 113°F (45° C) to ensure maximum quality preservation.

Then comes a two-month duration of waiting, after which, the flavors and aroma of the coffee are in full bloom. It is then that the coffee beans are separated and categorized by size, color, and weight for roasting. After packaging, each bag of coffee beans is then stamped with a barcode containing detailed information regarding its processing, harvesting, and roasting.

Café Kotowa estate contains a few farms, each specializing in various kinds of coffee beans. Kotowa Duncan farm produces varieties of Geisha, Typica, and Caturra. Kotowa Don K farm produces varieties of Geisha, Pacamara, and Caturra varieties. The Geisha variety is only found in the Kotowa Rio Cristal farm, while the Kotowa Tracicional farm caters specifically to Caturra. Each farm is harvest at various times of the year, best suited for each coffee bean. Similarly, each farm has unique nuances and processes specific to the coffee bean as well.

With such attention to detail, it is no surprise that Café Kotowa has established itself as a top exotic coffee world producer. Café Kotowa has also won countless awards for their coffee production in the region, and take pride in their traditional approach.

Cafe Duran

Café Duran was established on April 26th of 1907 by Esteban Duran Amat, a Spanish settler who entered Panama in the early years of the republic. Since then, Café Duran has become a triple threat. They have established themselves as a grower, roaster, and exporter, with coffee services and stores in Panama and retail sales to the US. For almost a century now, Café Duran has been Panama’s finest mountain-grown gourmet coffee, and not surprisingly, Café Duran has asserted itself as Panama’s largest coffee roasting house.

Café Duran’s product list is extensive and features offerings aside from traditional coffee such as cappuccino, espresso, and latte.

Cheers!

Panamanian coffee is fast becoming a coffee aficionado’s must try and must have. When purchasing your next batch of coffee, you will be well equipped with the knowledge of Panamanian coffee. From the various elevations on the slopes of the Volcan Baru in Boquete Province to the traditional and manual methods implemented ever so carefully in each coffee estate to bring you the rich and bold taste in your coffee cup. We examined the differences between the two coffee species Robusta and Arabica, the growing conditions of each, and most importantly, the flavor pallet for each.

As in most Panamanian customs, traditions, and food, most influences have come from Europe and Africa. Coffee is no different! First introduced to the region by early European settlers, coffee has become a growing business in Panama. The origins of the La Torcaza Estate, La Finca Lerida, and Finca Dos Jefes as we saw, were first established and cultivated by settlers of European descent who saw incredible potential in the rare and perfect climate of the Volcan Baru highlands.

What could have turned disastrous for Panama in 2004 with a bad year of leaf rust, was turned into an incredible discovery of the Geisha blend, and consequently, becoming one of the most expensive coffees on planet Earth! Needless to say, this is a huge testament to the time-tested and traditional growing, blooming, and harvesting methodologies implemented by the coffee plantations in Panama.

Early in the 1900s, we saw the establishment and rise of a Panamanian world leader in coffee, Café Duran. The company has positioned itself on the world stage as a triple threat: grower, roaster, and exported of the Panamanian coffee brand. The Panamanians have truly established and cemented the saying “behind every successful person there is a cup of coffee.” Cheers!

Matt Romero

I’m Matthew Romero, one of the guys behind PanamaLifeInsider.com I am incredibly passionate about Panama, its beautiful territory, and all the incredible opportunities which offer to people coming here from all over the world both either visiting and settling. In this blog, I decided to share my passion with you!

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