I was enjoying a rare day off at origin today – in Panama City this time – when all of the sudden I began to get these nagging feelings of guilt about not updating our PT’s blog more often. I hate it when that happens! A self imposed guilt trip ruining a perfectly good day off with my wife in Panamanian paradise. But, the nagging feelings hit home because so much has happened on this trip that I really wanted to tell you about.

Here I am trying to decide where I should begin updating you on the origin trips this year, which have resulted in reaffirming our already strong relationships with our origin partners…

So, about 2 weeks ago I embarked on a trip through El Salvador, then Panama and last but not least, Guatemala tomorrow night. I’ll try to hit a few highlights and maybe show you a few pictures from the trip to bring you up to speed.

First: El Salvador – Trip 2 – 2011

This was by far my shortest stay in any country this year. But it is all that was needed. I flew into San Salvador two weeks ago, leaving the cool mid-50′s Kansas weather behind for a balmy 90-degrees. But not to worry, this trip was as short as planned- in Sunday night and flying out by 3pm on Monday.

I spent the night with the wonderfully accommodating family Ortiz of Finca Las Mercedes after they met me at the airport. A short night indeed as I arrived around 8pm. Following an hour drive home, quick dinner, hugs from the Ortiz children Adreanna, Andreas and Gabby then some conversation over a Zacappa or two, it was off to bed for me as we had a lot of coffee evaluation to do first thing in the morning.

The Ortiz and our friends, the Ticas of Finca Los Planes, were indeed a little nervous as this was the trip to approve or disapprove lots for purchase in 2011.

Meeting up with our friend Mike we were up early on Monday and heading towards the cupping room to sample the 2011 crops. Mike and I were excited, but Lucia was just nervous I think. hahahaha!! Cupping in El Salvador 2011

Well, not to belabor the point, all of the coffees we wanted to purchase were outstanding. Lucia and Sergio had nothing to worry about. They both manage their farms very well, maintaining strict standards on processing and drying. You should look forward to Finca Los Planes Pacamara 2011, Finca Las Mercedes El Pepinal 1 2011 and the return of Don Roberto Espresso Reserva which is a blend of coffees all from Finca Las Mercedes. We hope to have these coffees by early June. You’ll love them!

NEXT STOP: BEST OF PANAMA CUPPING COMPETITION

Getting to Boquete, Panama involves a series of choices. If you fly through Panama City, you must stay over-night to catch an in-country flight to David, Panama which is just a 45-minute drive from Boquete.

If I chose to travel through San Jose, Costa Rica – which I often do, because I can visit farms in Costa Rica as well – I can catch a direct flight to David, Panama and avoid the Panama City crush of traffic and development that has been taking place here over the past 5-years."Water Girls" preparing the table for cupping.

But on this trip, I chose Panama City. Our new Director of Quality Control was meeting me there and we planned to travel together to Boquete for the Best Of Panama Competition.  Maritza Suarez-Taylor,  has recently left her position as Quality  Assurance Specialty Coffee for the SKN Caribecafé Ltda (A member of Neumman Kaffee Grouppe) to join our team at PT’s Coffee Roasting Co. and was traveling from Bogota, Colombia to meet me in Panama City (Did I mention she is also my wife?  ).

After a short stay in Panama City, we met with 14 other coffee professionals in from around the world (from Sweden to Costa Rica) to judge the Best of Panama Coffee Competition in Boquete. B.O.P. is always an exciting competition as Panama is well know for it’s Geisha variety coffee, from Hacienda La Esmeralda, which can be some of the best coffee in the world.

This years competition I was really looking forward to. It was about 6 years ago the first lot of Geisha was discovered. With an initial crop production time, at high elevation, of around 4-6 years to get a good harvest, this chould be the year more Geisha variety would be entered into the competition from surrounding farms. You see, after Hacienda La Esmeralda discovered Geisha on their farm and earned a world record price for the coffee at auction, it was almost immediately that area farmers began to plant the prized, high-dollar variety on their farms.

Maritza Suarez Taylor evaluates coffees from the national table during the Best of Panama Coffee Competition.

Maritza Suarez Taylor evaluates coffees from the national table during the Best of Panama Coffee Competition.

Since that time, Hacienda La Esmeralda has held the top spot in the Best Of Panama Coffee Competition winning year after year, only losing one time to another Geisha. This year as we began to work our way through the 29 coffees entered into the competition it was immediately clear there would be more than one Geisha in the competition. And several of them were very, very good. As the week progressed the judges began to deliberate following cuppings about the different varieties of Geisha. One seems to produce a sweet stone-fruit like flavor. While the other produces a more floral, high-toned, sweet citrus flavor profile. Which one would win as the final table of 8 coffees were cupped?

Well it was indeed close. Two Geisha variety coffees were vying for the top spot and were only separated by 1/2 point in the final analysis when all the scores were tallied. No one, including the judges knew the answer. That would be revealed at an Awards Ceremony held at The Laderda Hotel on Saturday night.

To top off the intensity of the evening, did I mention this was the 15th Anniversary of the competition? Or did I mention it was the 100th anniversary of Boquete? Both celebrations were taking place on the same night and anticipation was at a fever pitch.

Benjamine Osorio speaks with the media following the announcement that his Geisha Variety coffee had won 1st place in the Best Of Panama

Benjamine Osorio speaks with the media following the announcement that his Geisha Variety coffee had won 1st place in the Best Of Panama

After the Mayor showed up to honor all of the producers, Robert Thoresen, Head Judge from Oslo, Norway, began to read the winners list. “Fifth place….”, “In Fourth Place…” and “in Third Place,” still Hacienda La Esmeralda’s name had not been announced and no one was really surprised as it was almost an automatic win in previous years. Thoresen continued: “In second Place….Hacienda La Esmeralda!” We would have a new winner in the Best of Panama, but who would it be?!

The winner of the Best of Panama 2011 is Finca La Valentina with a Geisha Variety. Benjamin Osorio, representing his family, accepted the award in front of the stunned crowd. Everyone, including the Peterson family of Hacienda Esmeralda, was happy for this humble, quiet and unassuming Civil Engineer who lives with his family in David.

Benjamin lost his father earlier in the year. As he began to speak to the crowd, he wanted to mention the rough year without his father’s presence, but it was too much for him and he stopped short, fighting back the tears of pride for his father. Only thanking the crowd of fellow coffee producers and his family before stepping off to the side to gently hug his wife. “Gently” hug his wife, because only two short days earlier he had also undergone an emergency appendectomy. An incredible evening was the perfect ending to a long week for Benjamin and his family.

Benjamin Osorio of Finca La Valentina won the Best of Panama 2011 by 1/2 of a point over Hacienda La Esmeralda. Hardly a crushing victory, but a win none-the-less.

NEXT STOP – GUATEMALA AND FINCA EL SOCORRO….

Look forward to updates in the next few days!

Warm Regards from Panama

Jeff Cupping in Best Of Panama

Jeff Taylor

PTs Coffee Roasting Co.

Coffee Buyer and Co-Founder