BOQUETE, Panama – Panama’s Geisha coffee has become a luxury international brand that is especially popular in Asia.
The variety was sold for $1,029 a pound to a Japanese buyer at an annual auction in 2019.
Geisha coffee started 10 years ago on the slopes of the Volcan Baru, in the Talamanca Range of western in Panama.
It became a phenomenon – coffee represents only 0.4 percent of Panama’s gross domestic product but the Geisha brand has allowed the country, which is far behind the top world producers such as Brazil, Colombia and Honduras, to sneak into the luxury market.
The bean has become particularly popular in Asia because of its soft taste that combines floral tones including jasmine, peach and orange.
Although the vast majority of sales are in Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan, the market is expanding and the United States, along with some European countries, have begun to develop a taste for the precious variety.
Locals in the small town of Boquete also developed a new way of doing sustainable tourism thanks to the coffee circuit.
Panamanian coffee expert Oscar Perez, of the Elida Estate in Boquete, told EFE that Geisha originated from Ethiopia and arrived in Panama in 1960, after unsuccessful attempts to grow it in Costa Rica.
Farm owner Wilford Lamastus has successfully harvested the bean and it was his product that was sold at $1,029 per pound in 2019, beating his own record the year before.
The estate sits between two large forests, the Volcan Baru National Park and Amistad National Park.
It also benefits from a mixture of hot and cold air currents from the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea which produces a unique fine, thin rain which is responsible for the healthy development of the plants.
But it is still not easy to grow the coffee, it is harvested at an altitude between 1,500 and 2,000 meters and there is a wait of between five and six years for the first results.
Lamastus said there are a number of factors that make the crop special, including the altitude, fertile volcanic soil, biodiversity and microorganisms.
“But above all it is passion and a well-trained team,” he added.
Indigenous people from the Ngäbe Bugle region have also become protagonists in the production of Panamanian coffee.
They have an ancestral tradition in cultivating the crop and are responsible for performing a variety of roles on different farms.
Lamastus said during a visit to his estate: “They have specialized in all the tasks around coffee. Not only agricultural work, but they are also professional tasters.”
A group of workers washed the beans with a hose at the gates of Lamastus’ estate while women in colorful long dresses collected coffee pods.
Thousands of grains were dried in beds under a suspended ceiling, which helps create a moistureless environment, and green grains were packed in sacks to be exported.
As well as laboring in the fields, indigenous workers also taste the coffee to choose which will compete in a national contest and could be sold in an international auction.
Lamastus said there are almost 200 employees on his three farms, almost all of them indigenous people.
“They have a passion for this: they are the best roasters and it is a community that has been with us since 1940,” he added.
The coffee market has also brought holidaymakers to the area which has helped Panama’s declining tourism industry, which represents 10 percent of the country’s GDP.