Panama is most distinguished for growing the Geisha coffee plant varietal (Caturra var. Geisha). Grown in Panama’s Chiriqui Province, Geisha has won numerous coffee tasting awards in recent years, creating a high demand for the coffee at auctions.
- Size – 75,420 sq km
- Capital City – Panama City
- Population – 3,705,246 (July 2016)
- Language/s Spoken – Spanish (official), various indigenous languages, Panamanian English Creole (aka Guari Guari)
Coffee production in Panama
- Average Farm Size – < 1–10 hectares
- Bags Exported Annually – 50,000–100,000 bags
Panama coffee Profile
- Growing Regions – Boquete, Renacimiento, Volcán
- Common Varieties – Catuai, Caturra, Geisha, Mundo Novo
- Processing Method – Washed, Natural
- Bag Size – 60 kg
- Harvest Period – November–March
- Typical Arrival – April–July
History of Panama coffee
Panama’s coffee arrived with European immigrants in the 19th century, about 50 years after the country achieved its independence from Spain, but as an agricultural product it didn’t gain a real foothold until arguably the last 20 years. In contemporary Panama, coffee is primarily produced by smallholders from two main indigenous groups—the Bugle and Ngobe people—as well as mid- and large-scale estates owned privately, often by European or North American immigrants or their descendants.
The coffee-growing regions comprise microclimates that are varied by soil quality (there is quite a bit of volcanic soil in Volcán, for instance) and altitude (from 1,000–1650 meters), and there tends to be ample fresh water for processing.
Panama Geisha Coffee
Since the early 2000s, the words Panama and Geisha have been almost synonymous. Panamanian Geisha has exceptionally high quality at high altitudes. The term “Geisha” is often applied to other coffees that do not share the distinct genetics of Panamanian Geisha.
Roots of Geisha Coffee
Originally collected from coffee forests in Ethiopia in the 1930s, sent to the Limungu research station in Tanzania, and from there brought to CATIE in Central America in the 1953, where it was logged as accession T2722. It was distributed throughout Panama via CATIE in the 1960s after it had been recognized for tolerance to coffee leaf rust. However, the plant’s branches were brittle and not favored by farmers so it was not widely planted. The coffee came to prominence in 2005 when the Peterson family of Boquete, Panama, entered it into the “Best of Panama” competition and auction. It received exceptionally high marks and broke the then-record for green coffee auction prices, selling for over $20/pound.
There is significant confusion about Geisha because there are multiple genetically distinct plant types that have been referred to as Geisha, many of which share similar geographic origins in Ethiopia. Recent genetic diversity analyses conducted by World Coffee Research confirm that Panamanian Geisha descendent from T2722 is distinct and uniform. It is associated with extremely high cup quality when the plants are managed well at high altitude, and is known for it’s delicate floral, jasmine, and peach-like aromas.
The success of Geisha
The incredible success of Geisha for Esmeralda has naturally inspired other producers to isolate their varieties, and even to plant new Geisha trees on farms where there were previously only Caturra and Bourbon. Geisha has also spread from Panama to other producing countries, where enterprising farmers are hoping to capitalize on the name and that unmistakable floral, tea-like, delicate profile.