Coffee production began in Panama in the 19th century, when a retired English sea captain met and married a Panamanian woman, and brought coffee seeds to start a farm. The original plantations were in the low-elevation coastal areas, but in the effort to escape the pests and diseases of the lowlands, coffee growing moved into the mountains, and the Boquete Valley.
Boquete is in the Western Highlands, and the other primary growing region, Volcan, is on the other side of the volcano called Volcan Baru. The micro-climates of these two regions are well suited to coffee production. Coffee is grown from 1,200 – 1800 meters above sea level, in rich volcanic soil, with micro-climates created by breezes from both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. While Panama does not produce large volumes of coffee, the country has become well known for discovering – and maximizing – the potential of the Gesha varietal.
Gesha was originally from Ethiopia, but it was in Panama that its full potential was realized. In the mid-nineties, the Peterson family, owners of Hacienda Esmerelda, began experimenting with the limited number of Gesha trees they found on their estate. They quickly realized that the cup profile was one of the finest they had ever experienced. After diligent work on the agronomy, harvesting, and processing of the coffee, they created what has become known as one of the world’s finest coffees. While Panama produces mostly Caturra and Typica varietals, it is the Gesha coffee that has won them international renown. Since the Peterson family first popularized the Gesha varietal, production has spread throughout Panama and into other Latin American countries.
Overall, Panama is focused on the highest-quality/lower-volume end of the spectrum – producing roughly .1% of the world’s coffee. Prices tend toward the high side, but the cup rewards those willing to pay the price.