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Panama Coffee Competition 2006 Volcan, Bambito

Why this compulsion to do travelogues anyway, to record everything new or newly remembered, before it is forgotten again? I dunno, but this is like my 5000th Panama travelogue. Either I forget everything from previous trips so thoroughly that it all seems fresh again, or maybe I do actually learn new things each time I come here. One thing for sure ... it would be a helluva lot easier if I just put down the camera(s) and picked up a Cerveza Panama. But, as Homer said, "I guess I am a workaholic ... I just can't get enough workahol."

Okay, all joking aside ... This years competition is extremely well organized, especially considering Panama is a true independent; they have run their own competition from the get-go. They do it through SCAP, the Specialty Coffee Association of Panama, on a budget that is a fraction of other origin countries. Until recently, it was a more casual affair, but SCAP member farmers have really stepped up to the plate with new cupping tables, defined procedures, elaborate evaluation of scoring, and some pretty fancy little cupping bowls too. While we don't evaluate the volume of samples as a Cup of Excellence competition, we had ample time to focus on the 33 coffees that the National Jury had approved. We reduced that to 16 for the morning of the second day, and then evaluated the top 8 again. And I must tell you, that table of the top 8 coffees was a hair-bending flavor fest of racing acidity, citric aromas, tantalizing sweetness, brooding bittersweet chocolates, intensely silky body, and a range of intense coffee flavors rarely seen from a single origin, and on a single table.

So I suppose making a travelogue and cupping commentary is as much a way to pay tribute to the coffees, and the producers of coffees, as it is to share what I learn (and remember what I learn).

I will remember 2 extraordinary and personal experiences on this trip. After the final table, I took time to rest in my room and recover from all the intensive cupping. I dozed up and awake, somewhat, with thoughts and sensations of floral smells, and fresh citrus wafting though my room. A bit hazy in the head, I was wondering if there were flowers blooming outside my open window. Then I realized that I had been dreaming of the flavors I found in the La Esmeralda Gesha coffee, the lot that would be revealed the next day as the #1 coffee in the auction. I realized how much I enjoy this, how much smelling a excellent coffee when the hot water has just wet the grinds, when the brown crust floats in the cup and steams your face when you suspend it there to find its aroma, I realized how pleasurable this really is, like a trip through a rose garden, like the anticipation before a really good-smellin' meal! I like this job!

The second thing I discovered was that you can pull muscles in your back cupping coffee. Seriously, my whole left side along my shoulder blade to my spine is totally wonky. I was sucking coffee off the spoon in the very first round when it happened., and I could feel it every time I slurped for the next few days. How is it possible? I guess I sorta position my neck in a weird way when i cup, and the pull amde me aware how much of my upper body is involved in the simple act of spraying coffee across the palate.In retrospect, there was some tenderness there from throwing coffee bags a few days before I left. I went down to the Annex warehouse in our flatbed f-450 to pick up an assorted 25 bags, and it felt like a string broke on the guitar. But just one of the skinny strings. Nonetheless, cuppers take note. Stretch your back before you inhale your favorite beverage. By the way, here is the Panama Competition Scoring, and Winning Farm List

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Recycling in Cerro Punta, Volcan, Chiriqui, Panama
Don't mess with a man in a hardhat and a suit.
Strawberry ice cream, popular with people, and especially with flies.
Gardens abound in Cerro Punta.
Advertising on rocks
A great looking cup of coffee and only $.25.
Crazy siamese cat and his dog friend, sitting out the midday heat. The guy under the chair is the dad ...
... of this little guy and his 2 sisters.
Cerro Punta is actually too high for coffee so they grow onions.
Our destination in Cerro Punta: Finca Dracula, a well-known orchid farm with a rockin' sign. Gonzalo Aizpurua was our guide and he was great.
You know, I don't really like orchids at all but this place is too amazing not to visit. Here, a thumbnail sized specimen with the flower attached to the "leaf".
A bit more typical orchid. Finca Dracula propagates standard types, and breeds new varieties.
Incredible colors, and some with incredible smells. The farm is named after the dracula variety of orchid, which is one of their specialties.
There are a lot of orchid pictures - bow out if you grow tired...
To give you a sense of the scale, orchids ranging from massive carnivorous types a foot long to these incredibly precious little ones...
A favorite of mine (but then again, i don't like orchids). It is not called monkeyface but it should be.
This is the epynomous dracula orchid. They don't exactly recall the Translyvanian legend, but I guess there is some resemblance to teeth - or fangs.
Dracula orchid with a flash. Probably the first "hairy" flower I've seen.
More orchids i can't name
Ditto. This one looks like a sea creature.
This is the well-known type of orchid that "consumes" everything from insects to mice and rats.
If I remember correctly, these had a scent like caramel popcorn.
I think I like them best before they bloom.
Amazing, yawn.
Spectacular, ho-hum
The trimming table. They "plant" them in cork branches for the most part since many orchids do not need soil.
I guess the business name is Maduro's Tropical Flowers. maduro means mature.
Suspicious graphitti at the orchid nursery.
My new best friend in Volcan, Jose de la Cruz Gonzalez of Arte Cruz. He is an amazingly fast woodcarver and created this sign for us with his chisels cutting the wood like butter ... and in about 15 minutes. Here's a plug for Jose - his web site is www.arte-cruz.com
Jose's a fan of eckankar, the religion of light and sound ... I actually have some old vinyl lps of Eck music which I like for other reasons...
Tools of the trade - each with a unique name. The only one I recognized was "gauches".
Down the mountain, into the heat, to David for a quick flight to Panama City, then a slightly longer flight to San Jose Costa Rica, next a jumper flight to San Salvador El Salvador, and finaly a flight to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, for the Cup of Excellence competition there ... The minivan wheel bearing taking us to the airport started to freeze up. We got stuck, but got another ride and it all worked out. The joy of travelling.

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Panama Competition Scoring,Winning Farm List

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