With the media buzzing like summer bees over price gyrations on New York’s Coffee, Sugar and Cocoa Exchange, it is useful to remember that your intrepid independent roaster does not trade in commodity coffees. Indeed, for the many reasons we have expounded before, so many non-quantifiable factors ride the long train of supply from tropical farm to your morning cup that green bean price gymnastics, however spellbinding, will never drive that train for us.
While the media focuses on price, the real news for coffee lovers today is that we are in the midst of a Golden Age of coffee cultivation. Millions of coffee producers are competing to earn recognition from the world’s coffee connoisseurs with ever-more-painstakingly-prepared premium offerings. One hallmark of these efforts is the proliferation of Estate-grown coffees, where instead of commercially-dictated blending of coffees produced by region or country, a single producer takes responsibility by name for all of the steps in the production process. Every time a grower succeeds in earning distinction (and a price premium) for themselves in this way, the bar is raised a little higher for everyone else, and the rewards increase for everyone.
Which brings us to our Coffee of the Month from Northern Panama’s Boquete Valley. Situated on the tip of South America, connecting two great coffee-producing countries, Colombia and Costa Rica, Panama is a natural for coffee growing. However Panama has historically produced little coffee for export. In his classic All About Coffee, William Ukers observes that Panama found a small market in Scandinavia. Interestingly, he credited the fine quality to “the care given to its cultivation by American and English planters in the Boquete district.”
Similar to Costa Rica’s, Panama’s coffees are heavy bodied and strong flavored. In recent years you are most likely to have encountered Panamanian coffee as a component of a specialty or dark roast blend. Washed high-grown Arabicas, with a fine Euro-prep, they are an asset to any roaster’s blends.
I first tried La Berlina this spring as part of a New Crop Cupping sponsored by our Bay area brokers. In the company of several other standout Centrals, it more than held it’s own. Worth every premium penny, I booked a supply for our COM program. The coffee arrived true to sample, almost unnaturally uniform, polished, fragrant, and steel blue-green. I was won over again in the cupping, where it re-proved flavorful and aromatic: clean tasting, bright, rich body with an earthy intensity. For our purposes, to enjoy the delicate aromas and natural flavors of this single origin varietal, we roast it with a light hand. With such a delicate bouquet, for fullest appreciation I recommend enjoying it straight, without cream.
The arrival of La Berlina is a strong bid for recognition by Panama’s premier coffee producers. They have earned our appreciation as one of the world’s great coffees, and quite well suited we think for enjoyment on a Sacramento summer.