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Origin Trip: Panama

Categories: Origin Trips
Tags: Panama
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Origin Trip: Panama

Arriving in Panama

We traveled to Panama from Costa Rica, where we visited other coffee farms – more about this part of the trip will follow here in a few weeks. Our mission in Panama was to find the first coffee from this country that we would be purchasing. Before the trip, we had already cupped lots of samples from various farms and were therefore able to plan a very specific itinerary.

After arriving at the border in Paso Canoas, we suddenly noticed that we somehow managed to involuntarily having crossed the border already, before being able to return our rental car. After a few minutes of driving around, we managed to inofficially return to Costa Rica and return our car. A few stamps and documents later, we were able to cross the border on foot.

The trip to David was less of a challenge. Lots of small buses were already waiting for us just after the border. David, where we would pick up another car, would be our home base for the next couple of days, during which we would visit three farms in Chiriquí.

Finca Don Benjie

Finca Don Benjie

When we visited the impressive Finca Don Benjie, we were greeted by Emilio, who has been working in the role of farm manager for the last four years. Emilio lives on the farm and so do around 15 other employees, who work there year-round. During the harvest season, an additional 45 people join the team to mostly work in the fields, picking the ripe coffee cherries. Emilio's favorite variety is Orange Bourbon, which he likes because it is grown less often in the area than many of the other varieties despite the great results they get from it. The farm is really beautiful with tropical plants everywhere and its hills make for picturesque views.
Finca Don Benjie 2

There's even a small football pitch on the farm for the people who work there and during our visit, some of them were actually making us of it.

Stefan Arwed Müller had bought the farm after its previous owner, a doctor, had died. Before that, it had belonged to an American woman, who had been a pioneer in the production of specialty coffee in Panama. In 2020, the farm won 3rd place in Best of Panama, a competition similar to the Cup of Excellence. Don Benjie also sells roasted coffee, which they roast locally.

Corpachi & Ponderosa

We met Edgar on his own farm, to which he had given us the exact directions before. He is part of a new generation of young coffee producers in Chiriquí. His wife and daughter are very much invested in the coffee production as well and help him a lot. His daughter is not yet ten, but already very interested and when she is granted a few sips of coffee here and there, she's very picky about which coffee it is. While his family mostly spoke Spanish during our visit, Edgar is fluent in English, which made it easier for us to talk about processing, flavor and other topics in more detail.

Corpachi & Ponderosa 2

Edgar showed us around Ponderosa Coffee Estates, where he has been working as a Processing Manager since 2018, as well as his own farm Corpachi Coffee Co, which spans about 3.5 hectares of coffee. He started planting coffee trees five years ago and has started to plant another 3 hectares this year. Both farms have traditionally been used for cattle farming and they are both moving more and more towards coffee. Originally, they started to grow coffee to rehabilitate the soil that was exhausted from cattle farming and they planned on selling the coffee cherries instead of handling processing themselves. However, they were convinced and hooked by coffee soon enough.

Corpachi & Ponderosa 3

Up until recently, they only processed their coffees as naturals, often in combination with anaerobic fermentation resp. carbonic maceration. However, they have now begun processing some coffees with the washed process as well.

The coffee is being dried in greenhouse-like constructions on the farms and some coffees need additional drying inside. For this purpose, they fitted a room with a dehumidifier.

Both Corpachi and Ponderosa grow various different Arabica varieties such as Caturra, Pacamara, Sidra, Gesha or Venecia. Edgar's favorite variety is Venecia, he says, since it's often being overlooked, as most people just look at the world-renowned Panamanian Gesha. He also drinks Gesha almost every day, though, as well as a lot of Pacamara at home.

Corpachi & Ponderosa 4

This year, they have been adding more and more native trees, which will improve biodiversity and ensure the coffee trees have enough shade. One of their favorite native tree species is the Poro tree, which is known to improve soil mineralization in coffee plantations. «It takes the nitrogen from the air and adds it to the soil», Edgar says, and thanks to this effect, he needs to use less fertilizer. They mostly use organic fertilizer and fungicides and when using chemical ones, they choose the ones that aren't harmful to the ground, but add nutrients to the soil. Edgar travels and visits other coffee producers, e.g. in Colombia and Costa Rica, whenever he gets the chance. Sharing information with others and learning from others is very important to him.

He has recently started to roast coffee on a small, electric roasting machine. He mostly roasts samples to evaluate the quality and how the coffee develops over time, but he also sells roasted coffee to a handful of people in the area.

During our visit, the first coffees were already being processed. A lot more was to follow after. A few weeks later, we evaluated lots of samples from Finca Don Benjie, Corpachi Coffee Co and Ponderosa Coffee Estates once again.

Ponderosa Sidra

As always, the decision we faced was really hard: We were to buy just one out of a number of exquisite coffees. Finally, a coffee of the Sidra variety by Ponderosa won our hearts with its fruity and floral notes and its great sweetness. There were only 15 kg of this lot, which is why this coffee will only be in our offer for a very short time. The limited quantity, the Sidra variety, the careful processing and the high quality make up for a high price. Due to the very limited availability and the price, we decided to offer this coffee in bags of 100 grams instead of our usual 250 g bags.

We hope you will enjoy this coffee as much as we enjoyed both the coffee and our trip to Panama!