Tasting Notes From Panama

By Rob Stewart

Coffee CherriesWhen a coffee broker asked me what I thought about Panama coffee I began singing Van Halen’s “Panama”, which sadly has nothing to do with the country and everything to do with a stripper from Arizona.

I did however know that some of the best specialty coffee came from Central America, Costa Rica and Guatemala.

So I took a sample, cupped it, and with out hesitation ordered a ton; it was so good I just had to have it on my books.


Located in the west of Panama and close to the border of Costa Rica in the Chiriqui province is the town of Boquete, rated one of the top 5 places in the world to retire by Fortune Magazine in 2005. Besides being heavily populated with retired North Americans, Boquete is home to a number of specialty coffee farms that have been producing coffee since the late 1800’s. Known to locals as the “Valley of the Flowers and Eternal Spring,” Boquete’s extraordinary micro-climate, pared with the farmer’s hybrid of traditional methods and modern technology, enables the growth of what is considered to be the world’s finest coffee; Hacienda La Esmeralda is one such farm. Renowned for growing the rare and exquisite Gesha variety of coffee plant, it set a record when their Esmeralda Especial coffee sold for a stunning US$130 a pound during an online auction on May 29th this year. The producer was recognized for producing the world’s best coffee during the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s (SCAA) 2007 Roasters Guild Cupping Pavilion Competition, an event Hacienda La Esmeralda also captured in 2005 and 2006. So Panama may not be a large volume producing nation, or as well known as Brazil or Colombia, but its stature in the coffee world is huge.


Espresso is where you will be rewarded. It is a delicate clean/crisp coffee and the flavor notes are soft and easy on the palate, these are the characteristics of high quality Central American. The beauty about it is that the acidity is quite low and you will find it gets sweeter as the cup cools. The fragrance is of berry and currant with hints of nut and chocolate, and the flavors will reveal more of the sweet choc/raisin which offsets the winy nose. Milk based drinks will emphasize the toffee/choc hazelnut notes, but will be on the milder side in strength.


 My recommended origins to compliment Panama Boquete would be a dry processed African such as an Ethiopian Harar, this will add depth without dulling the Panama’s sweet notes, and compliment the Harar’s spicy fruited notes. You could also use a Sumatran for richness and strength but only if you like the pungent, earthiness a Sumatran brings to the cup. Essentially, Panama Boquete is great for blending as it will add a subtle sweetness to the cup; I’d use it similarly as if I were adding sugar to the blend. 


The Coffee


Origin: Boquete SHB

Plant Type: Caturra Typica, Bourbon

Process: Wet processed

(SHB stands for strictly hard bean: this tells us that the bean has been grown at altitudes of 4,500 feet or higher. High altitude ensures that the beans are dense and comparatively free from disease.)


Cup Profile


Fragrance/Aroma: winy, fruit, currants

Flavor: mild chocolate and hazelnut, toffee

Aftertaste: long and sweet as the cup cools

Acidity: low acidity, soft/sweet

Body: rich/smooth

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