The history of coffee in Panama is nothing short of a modern-day love story. While debate exists over when coffee entered Panama, some claiming the late 18th century and most saying the early 19th century, there is little debate over who transported those precious first beans. The first coffee seeds were brought to Panama by a retired English sea captain and his Panamanian wife, who together, wished to start a coffee farm. Their’s and other Panamanian coffee farms were originally situated at low elevations but, recognizing the benefits of growing high, coffee farms soon migrated to Panama’s stunning Boquete Valley in the Western Highlands before spreading to the Volcan region, which surrounds the Baru volcano. Both regions are in Chiriquí Provence, are perfectly placed in the center of the coffee belt, and are graced with rich volcanic soil, old-growth forests, growing elevations up to 1,800 meters (6,000 feet) above sea level, stable microclimates (Panama has over 100 microclimates), and moist ocean air.
Throughout the 19th and most of the 20th centuries, Panama exported coffee on a small scale to Western Europe but only gained international acclaim after the 1997 formation of the Specialty Coffee Association of Panama (SCAP). Founded by seven producers in the Boquete and Volcan–Candela regions1, the SCAP recommitted Panama’s growers to producing high-quality over high-yield coffee and worked hard to showcase their beans on the global market. Without question, their efforts have been a resounding success. Today, Panama’s coffee production is 82% arabica and, despite only producing 0.1%2 of the world’s coffee, is globally recognized as one of the finest producers with Panamanian beans regularly winning top prizes at competition and setting new highs for the per pound price of green beans every year since 2014. In 2020, one-pound of Geisha sold for a record-breaking $1,330.50 at auction3.
In addition to ideal topography and a community of committed, eco-friendly, like-minded growers, the indigenous Ngäbe and Buglé Indians play an indispensable role in the success and continuance of Panama’s coffee production. Native to the Comarca, an autonomous reserve within Panama, the Ngäbe and Buglé are the primary carers, harvesters, and quality controllers of Panama’s arabica coffee. Their innate understanding of the highlands, of coffee plants, and of the coffee harvesting process makes the Ngäbe’s and Buglé’s role vital to Panama’s coffee success.
Panamanian coffee is dominated by pure Bourbon, Typica, and Geisha trees, all of which produce moderately to moderately-high acidity, wonderfully smooth, complex beans with lovely, delicate chocolate, caramel, deep berry, and elegant floral tones. To learn about our current Panama coffee offerings, please click here.