BOQUETE, Panama – Fruity flavors, floral aromas, acidity, body... words generally used by connoisseurs to describe fine vintage wines can now also refer to a cup of “specialty coffee” from the Panamanian highlands, where the search for perfection has led to experiments with techniques from the winegrowing industry.
Innovation in the treatment of coffee beans of the exotic Geisha variety, a favorite in Asian markets and the star of Panamanian specialty coffees, has largely been contributed by producers from other sectors who bought land in the highlands of the western province of Chiriqui, Panama’s ideal environment for growing this elite product.
“We have innovative producers who came here to help us” by introducing processes they have seen in other industries like winegrowing,” the president of the Specialty Coffee Association of Panama (SCAP), Wilford Lamastus, told EFE.
Processes known as washed, natural and honey were traditionally used in the highlands of Chiriqui, but that doesn’t mean the producers have ever given up looking for new ways to improve the brew, Rachel Peterson of Hacienda La Esmeralda said.
“All these years we’ve been experimenting with many different processes like anaerobic fermentation, carbonic maceration and the introduction of different yeasts otherwise used to ferment wines like champagne,” Peterson said.
The use of yeast as a means to ferment coffee aims to “add different flavors to the final cup,” she said.
The process of fermenting coffee beans affects the color, aroma, density and acidity of the final cup, and its controlled practice, added to the washing and drying of the beans, comes up with coffees whose aromas and flavors boast the very highest quality.
Specifically the Geisha coffee bean harvest this year is prized for its “excellent body and some exceptional aromatics,” due to the fact that, for climatic reasons, the harvest was delayed for about three weeks, Lamastus and Peterson agreed.
“We expect of this year’s Geisha coffee harvest such floral aromatics as rose and jasmine, a fruity cup, tropical flavors, also touches of peach and citric acidity – a rather high acidity due to the region where the coffee is grown,” Peterson said.
At Hacienda La Esmeralda the Geisha variety is cultivated at an altitude of between 1,650 and 1,850 meters (5,400 and 6,100 feet), which is decisive because “the higher” the beans are cultivated, “the more exotic the cup of coffee,” the experts said.
Plinio Ruiz, another producer of the Chiriqui highlands, told EFE that they hope to harvest between 2,500 and 3,000 sacks of specialty coffee weighing 60 kilos (130 pounds) each.
Ruiz said he expects the market to grow significantly this season, and, without specifying the number of sacks harvested last year, added that he hopes the access to new markets thanks to the “top quality” of the product will “motivate” traditional producers to grow specialty coffee.