Last month’s Specialty Coffee Association of America conference drew the top coffee talent in the U.S., but didn’t stop there, as the mega-event magnetized the globe. Representatives from every coffee producing nation were on the showroom floor at the Anaheim Convention Center, and many pros were happy to discuss their nation’s caffeinated contributions. By no means will this offer you a full picture of a country’s coffee culture, but it is information from the source.
I interviewed Hacienda La Esmeralda coffee farmer Daniel Peterson, who produces prized geisha varietals that have commanded record setting prices and the respect of the coffee industry.
What are some characteristics of Panamanian coffee?
We produce about 100,000 bags in total, all the producers in Panama. We focus on quality. We can’t be competitive on quantity. We’re lucky enough to have good volcanic soil and altitude to permit good quality coffees to come out. A few varieties have also helped out. The geisha variety is a very different flavor, generally, distinct aromatics – jasmine, bergamot, stone fruit, and almost a tea flavor as well.
So you’ve gotten to be known for your geisha varietal. Do you farm other types of coffee too?
Yes, traditional Catuai and Cattura varietals and some Tipicas. We still do. We plant geisha in areas that will express itself to that varietal, but we still do other coffees.
How far along is the coffee industry in Panama? How much more room do you have to grow?
I wouldn’t expect it to grow, more likely to maintain itself. Panama, similar to our neighbor Costa Rica, is very close to be being fully developed. With that development, costs go up. It’s a small country. We don’t particularly have much area to expand into.
As far as quality goes, is there anything else that you can do to improve?
Just be consistent and develop other coffee styles.
What do you think differentiates Panamanian coffee from other Central American countries?
You can always find similarities between the different countries…We have a lot of flexibility at the production level because, again, of the size. It’s easy to get into coffee, to process and export it. It’s not very typical of the rest of Central America.
As far as characteristics in terms of growing conditions?
The geisha varietal is very different. It does not taste at all like what’s considered to be a traditional Central American coffee, because of the characteristics that I described earlier…We do focus on high altitude coffees, high acidity, good body, good flavors.