Jaramillo coffee from Hacienda La Esmeralda

Sweet Maria’s was one of 7 companies that shared the winning lot of coffee in the 2004 Panama Coffee Competition. The coffee sold at a record price for any auction, and there was good reason why based on the unique cup character. The coffee is grown on a farm called Jaramillo operated by the well-known Finca Esmeralda and the Peterson family. The coffee has an extraordinary character, quite out of place for a Panama, that comes from a combination of a unique environment, high altitude, and a little-known Coffea Arabica cultivar called Geisha. By appearance and cup character, I suspect Geisha (correct spelling is actually Gesha) has an Ethiopian lineage – there are extraordinary floral and herbal qualities in the cup that are reminiscent of Yirgacheffe.

Cafetal Numer 4 at Jaramillo – notice the lush shade cover for the coffee…

There is a very limited supply of this coffee! I am not sure if it will be gone by the time I write a traditional review for it. And it is very spendy too, similar to the price of the Isle of Saint Helena coffee, then most expensive we have offered up until now. This coffee is deserving of a very high price; it is a limited supply, extremely unique, a rare coffee cultivar “Geisha”, and an outstanding cup. The cup character of this coffee is not only unique among Panamas, it is unique among all Central American coffees, with floral aromatics, a fresh citrus flower brightness, light-body, herbal and honeyed cup. It’s a very buoyant coffee, lively and not overbearing. You will notice a very unusual long seed shape, much like “longberry Harar” but this is a fully wet-processed coffee. You don’t want to roast this too light – it is quite bright and easily turns too sourish with a City roast. I prefer City+ and darker. The best cup I had was a melange – a blend of two roasts. I did a Full City+ with a few snaps of 2nd crack, and a City+ roast. Rested a couple of days, this cup was awesome and had better body and more depth. This is a good technique with air roasts especially; drum roasts develop body and depth a little more and might not need this – I am waiting for a Hottop roast at City+ to “mature” a couple of days, and see how it cups.

We have had problems in the past with setting aside special coffees like this for customers, which then go unclaimed. So unfortunately you need to get this soon to get it at all. We have already packaged 131 1 lb. bags and I would guess it will last 7 to 10 days, that’s all! We are being really strict about the 1 lb. limit. The idea is to get this coffee spread around to as many people as possible! We also have the #2 coffee, Leru, coming. It is in the reasonable 5.50-6.00 range and it is really good! It will last longer because we have 8 bags of it, and won’t put any crazy restrictions on it like the Jaramillo. -Tom

Like Nicaragua, Panama prefers baseball to soccer. Here is the Jaramillo 9. Maybe Baseball is the secret to the coffee’s unique cup profile!
ripe coffee cherry, hacienda la esmeralda, jaramillo plot, gesha cultivar – pic by tom jan 2006

Below is an interview from Coffee Network dot com done by my respectable coffee broker Scott Reed with the farm’s owner, Price Peterson:

Scott Reed The 1st place coffee in the Panama cupping competition sold this week at an SCAA auction record of $21.00 per pound. I asked Price Peterson, the owner of the Esmeralda and Jaramillo Estates about this amazing coffee. First off, how do you feel about the results? (Tom’s note: the coffee was auctioned reached $21 per lb, and will need to offer it at about $25 or $26 per Lb. to cover costs and our modest margin.)

Price: Basically, we are all sort of numb still. We had hoped for $4-5, thinking that $7 would be a miracle. When it hit $15 I called Malcolm Stone. He too was in shock and convinced he had a hacker who had penetrated his system and was frantically trying to do a fix, including shutting down the bidding for several minutes. When I called back later, he was back to cool, having talked with the bidder. I concur with your comment below it is a great coffee, probably one of a kind for CA and not typical of Boquete. Yields in the small very high valley where this grows are only about half that of a normal caturra or catuai thus, as a commercial volume coffee it is limited. As a special coffee within the Specialty realm, it seems ideal. I believe that is what the buyers saw. To quote Ted Lingle things that taste good are hard to grow and this is an excellent case in point. But back to how we feel. WE feel great. This sale made the front page of our most distinguished national newspaper and I think Daniel had to buy drinks for half the Province. It has been wonderful for Boquete the town that adopted us and I think will get better.

Scott: How do you feel about the auction system? What do you see its role going forward? Do you think that over the years that the Boquete competition and auction have had a positive impact on not only the roaster’s opinion of Panama coffee but on prices being paid for all Panama coffee in general?

Price: I think the auction system has served the purpose that George Howell envisioned a marketing tool utilizing exemplary coffees. It has not served the purpose I envisioned educating the farmer to improve his product. Rather it has made it clear that unless he has the altitude, he will not be served by the system. We still need to see if it will move volumes as envisioned by CQI and the Q auction. Going forward I think we are facing judge fatigue which will be an increasing problem. We might all be better served by regional rather than national auctions i.e. a single So. American auction and a single Central American auction. I would also propose that we leave the internet format and make these live auctions. For Boquete (and Panama) the auction was a vehicle to get folks to come here. This was not a problem for Costa Rica or Guatemala that had well-established links in the coffee world. Panama had to get on the map and the competition/auctions served this purpose, bring us from specialty coffee obscurity to a place at the table in less than ten years. By bringing us to the specialty table, it also enhanced prices.

Scott: This was a very remarkable coffee, why do you think this is?

Price: Daniel and I are trying to figure this out. Most great coffees are a result of taking good coffee off the tree, processing well, and then a very vigorous bean selection involving not only density sorting, but also size sorting, hand sorting, color sorting, and using only coffee from the peak of the season. This might result in only 50% to 60% of the coffee harvested qualifying. Curiously, with our Jaramillo Special, we density sort and size sort above screen 16 that s all. About 85% to 90% of what comes off the tree qualifies. As I mentioned this coffee comes from a small cold valley at the uppermost (1600 meters) end of a 50 ha. farm and only represents about 3% of the farm production. One variety of low yield, long internode coffee dominates the area. Is the remarkable cup the result of the micro-climate, or the coffee variety? We just don t know and this is my assignment for the coming harvest. In terms of climate, would you say this farm is outside the zone that would normally be considered ‘Boquete’?

Scott: More sun and warmer is it not?

Price: No, it’s pretty typical Boquete 3800 mm of rain, a lot of cloud during the rainy season, and a moderate dry season.

Scott: What is the ‘geisha’ variety? Is it a type of typica? Where did it come from?

Price: We are still puzzling that out. It is probably a Bourbon derivative full-sized tree. Probably came from Ethiopia, although the Ethiopians I’ve asked have never heard of it!

Scott: Specialty coffee is an interesting business; this variety of coffee may not have been thought of as viable from a commercial coffee standpoint (too much character. outside of the expectations of a commercial buyer). However, taken on its own and shown to a specialty roaster, it is seen as something extremely desirable. Do you think this will impact what things farmers consider when planting/re-planting besides more practical considerations such as disease resistance and production volume?

Price: Scott, this is exactly the question we’ve been wrestling with for the past six months. Let me explain why. We bought the Jaramillo farm (about 50 ha. now in coffee) in 1997, mostly for the quality of coffee and its altitude. It was always known for a very slight citrus flavor, but not much more until the 2003/4 harvest. In January 2004 Daniel began cupping coffees from various parts of the farm testing the notion that rather than a general good cup, there might be an area with an intensely fine cup which was flavoring all the output of the farm when it was all mixed together. It turned out he was right. At the upper extreme of the farm, there was a very small valley that had the cup you know as Jaramillo Special and this was providing much of the flavor for the rest. When he separated out this upper coffee (about 3% of the total), that part was special the remainder, very good, but not with the intense cup you know. The bit of serendipity described above is an exercise I would recommend to many coffee farmers to see just what they have. Once we had done it, then arises the question do we plant the whole farm in a great coffee (hoping that the climate will support it) and hope for double the going price to compensate for half the production? Or, do we stay with a higher-yielding system as well as a cup profile known to buyers? As you can imagine, we are still wrestling with this problem. In coffee, with the long growth times at high altitudes, a decision such as this takes about 5 years to implement and several more in the market to find out if your decision was right or wrong. If wrong, you are out of business. Most farmers know this well, so I suspect they will be very willing to establish seed beds and then, wait and see for quite a while. In our case, we will most likely hedge our bet by producing mostly traditional profile good Boquete coffee as well as a somewhat expanded Jaramillo Special. In summary, coffee growing is pleasant, interesting, and sort of dull. Along comes an event like $21/lb coffee, and the dull disappears in a hurry. You don’t get rich from selling seven bags, but it sure is fun!