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Panama Travelogue, January 2006

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Plinio the younger, and his daughter, hiding.
Joe Paff breaks the crust. This is the part of cupping where you push the floating grounds down to release a concentrated aromatic burst (hopefully). So you need to get your nose right down there, near the cup. There are different techniques for this, and some involve smelling the foam on the back of the spoon, which has never worked for me. Cupping has standards, but every person finds a unique style.
Karen Paff, crust-breaker. Karen and Joe started around '78 in roasting but were actually the original home coffee roasting people! They bought green coffee from Alfred Peet, Harold King and other Bay Area green coffee oldtimers, and he sold a stovetop drum roaster that someone or other was manufacturing. They have used Sivetz roasters from day one.
Bob shows how dangerously close the nose gets to the coffee. I have dipped it in a few times, which is always fun. Bob also shows the special cupping skill of holding a spoon and a pencil in the same hand (a scoresheet in the other) - very important!
Plinio, clearly enjoying his Ruiz aromatics!
And now for the Gesha - another purpose of my visit to Panama! Merril (right) and Daniel (left) with their beautiful Gesha trees at Hacienda La Esmeralda, Jaramillo area. This is up at 1550 meters, where the Gesha cultivar produces the special cup character that has won the Best of Panama competition for the past 2 years.
The best damn picture of coffee cherry I have taken in a long time. Can you ever tire of coffee pcitures like this? Gesha is a tall, beautiful tree with fairly low yields. Geisha was how I spelled it last year, which is wrong. Gesha is a town in Ethiopia where this large bean, long-form coffee cultivar was known to exist. I spoke with a coffee farmer from Bebeka who knew of the cultivar.
I showed this picture to coffee farmers in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Nobody could believe it was a coffee leaf. It looks like Citrus. It has a avocado-green color, and lacks the typical arabica leaf-ridges. Something makes me ponder if Gesha doesn't have a bit of Liberica in it.
This branch photo shows the yeild, which is far les than what you would see in other large bean coffees like Pacamara. Also, Gesha does not have good cup character at 800 or 1200 meters, only at the highest altitudes in Panama is it so unique in the cup.
Here is a photo of the clumping habit along the branch, once again showing low yeild. Actually, the tree form grows fast, with good production in 3-5 years. It is also tolerant to high wind and hard rain. It is a sturdy tree, and the cherry must be twisted off the branch (unlike cultivars like yellow Bourbon that fall off the branch by themselves.)
New leafs are bronze on this tree - new leaf is called tips, so this tree is bronze tipped ....
... but the tree right next to it is green-tipped. So it is not clear if the cultivar is entirely stable, or just arbitrary in some aspects.
Profuse reseeding of Gesha under a plant. Gesha, as mentioned is in Ethiopia, located near Kefa where the Kaffa coffee of legend grows. It was collected by the FAO - Food and Agriculture Org. of the UN - as part of a diversity project and distributed to 3 locations: Lisbon, Africa and Costa Rica. 40 years ago the seed was brought to Panama and planted here and there, just a few trees. The Petersons planted it extensively on a plot that was damaged in La Nina storm, because it seemed most resistent to strong weather.
On the same plot at Jaramillo are these massive Cashew Nuts; here Joe holds one up. Now, I did not know edible cashew came from such a pod, so either this is not commercial cashew or I just don't know my nuts.
Impatiens are cultivated flowers here and weeds in Panama. But what handsome weeds they are, and a good ground cover around the coffee.
Picturesque shed at Hacienda La Esmeralda on the Jaramillo Gesha plot. Merril and hsi wife lived here while they were building their house nearby.
Merrills amazing home roaster. Well, it roasts like 20 Lbs. and looks precarious, but he says it works great. Yes, that is a forklift/RV sized propane tank for a drum, with the bottom cut out.
The only problem is that roasting is a 2 person job, at least when the batch is done. One person watches the coffee in the front, the other must lift the entire top end of the machine (with the 20 Lbs coffee) to dump the batch into a cooling tray. As you can see by the grimace, it is a bit heavy. Joe looks on, bemused.
Merrill is a furniture maker. He has accumulated some beautiful old cedar from fallen trees. We saw some of his chairs and tables and they were beautiful. He also makes smaller items from coffee wood, and gave me a great tray of this dense wood.
Piglet a La Esmeralda. Near Merrill's wood stack this little guy was doing a hella lottal damage to the turf. But how cute they are when they are young (see my Nicaragua Jan 06 travelogue for a perfect counter-example.)
Back at the Ruiz roasting plant. This is their 1 bag Sta Impianti roaster.
Here is the Ruiz' beautiful vintage Vicoria roaster from Italy. Interestingly, I have only seen these machines in Latin America so their must have been a dealer there. The company is now owned by Sta Impianti I believe.
Now this is a first; I have never seen a minature Royal roaster clone before, and it is from Japan! Made by a company called Fuji, it is a 2 kilo machine.
So Now We Get a Map? I snapped this photo off the wallmap at the Ruiz cupping room to give an idea of the area we are talking about, and the relation between Boquete and Volcan. Basically, the drive to Volcan is simply skirting around the Volcan Baru to the other side. David is where the nearest airport is, by the way. Other areas I mention are underlined in blue. And so we are off to Finca Carmen in Volcan, and to stay the night in Bambito...
Maybe next time: We saw this sign for Palimira Springs driving into Boquete, a resort or residence of some kind. In english it read "A Place Different and Furmy" so we were joking with eachother that we would ask for a furmy room at the hotel, and a furmy dinner, just to see what we got. So on the way out of town, they were fixing the sign to read "A Place Different and Funny." Hmm ... "Diferente y Acogedor" would be "Different and Cozy" actually. I like Furmy better though.
St. Francis of Telephone Wires: Roadside statue between David and Boquete.
Frosty or Caspar? Who cares, this is my favorite all-time roadside rock sculpture. Will I have one in my house soon - you bet. Maybe just a little smaller. I am so, so, so impressed with this kind of creativity, and hey, I have an MFA ...This beats 97% of what I saw in grad school. Boquetenos are awesome!
Carlos Aguilera runs the Carmen Estate on the Volcan side of mountain. The estate is on steep slopes above the well-known La Florentina farm. In fact, Carlos' farm goes up to 1900 meters making it one of the higher farms in the area. As many of you know, we have been buying the coffee from 1800 meters and up.
Carlos has a complete wet mill down below the farm. The coffee is pulped, then laid on the patio to dry, then finished in a mechanical dryer. This is actually our 1800+ meter coffee for the '06 crop on the patio!
We had a cupping at the mill house, then headed up the hill to look at the coffee. The view from the farm down at the valley is beautiful. This region is called the Paso Ancho.

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