The history of coffee in Panama

The arrival of coffee in Panama

Thehistory of Panamanian coffee began when European immigrants settled in the region in the late 19th century and brought coffee with them. The province of Chiriqui (Valley of the Moon in the language of the indigenous people who once inhabited the area), located at the western end of the country, was the area that was first introduced to coffee. Today, there are two indigenous tribes that play an important role in coffee production, coming from Chiriqui - Ngobe and Bugle - and in this province are located the two main coffee regions Boquete and Volcán.

Coffee growing and processing areas

Today, there are mainly three coffee producing areas at altitudes ranging from 1 000 to 1 600 metres, with Boquete being the oldest and best known. In addition to Boquete, there is the Volcán area on the steep south-western slopes of Volcán Barú and the last is Renacimiento, the least known area due to its remote location. Some important factors in the blasta contribute to the quality, especially for Boquete and Volcán, there is a good transport and processing infrastructure, including exceptional wet processing stations and dry mills.

Geographical description

The territory of Panama is quite unique with mountainous areas and nutrient-rich volcanic soil, which together create numerous microclimates throughout the country. Winds blowing over the mountains from the north create a fine mist called bajareque, which acts as a tremendous air conditioner, slowing the ripening of the coffee cherries and contributing to the sweet and wholesome flavours.


According to the USDA, production in Panama has been steadily declining since the mid-1990s from a peak of around 200,000 bags a year. By 2014-2015, that number had steadily declined to 95,000 bags (nearly half of which are exported). However, many of the country's most important farms are thriving. Panama's volcanic soil, altitude and climatic conditions offer an ideal environment for the production of fine coffee. Of course, it is this ideal environment and reputation for quality that has led farmers to plant great-tasting varieties such as Caturra, Typica, Bourbon, Catuai, San Ramon and, of course, Geisha, which have helped put Panama on the map when it comes to fine coffee.

Attention to detail

One of the leading reasons for the buzz around Panamanian coffee is the attention to detail throughout the process from harvesting, farm maintenance to processing. Panamanian coffees are also well known for producing small batches, a result of the small scale of individual farms and the finite cost of coffee that farms receive.

The Geisha story in Panama

A variety that is synonymous with excellence, Geisha is of Ethiopian origin and was first brought to Panama from the CATIE agricultural research station in Costa Rica in 1963 in the hope that it would be resistant to two types of coffee leaf rust that were affecting crops in Central America at the time. The first attempts to grow this vigorous variety, which thrives at high altitudes, were not successful. Planting trees at low altitudes, where rust is most likely to occur, was unsuccessful, resulting in poor-tasting coffee. The variety fell by the ways ide for decades - although some strains survived on a handful of farms in Costa Rica and Panama, their cherries were mixed with the rest of the harvest, and their distinctive flavour was lost.

Geisha in the limelight

It wasn't until 2004 that Geisha was 'rediscovered'when a pioneering Panamanian farm (Finca Esmeralda) isolated production from its Geisha trees and entered the beans into the Taste of Panama coffee competition. Not only did Geisha win, but its extraordinary cupping profile - more reminiscent of a fine Yirgacheffe - blew the producers away. Since then, Panama has been known for its high-quality Geisha/Gesha thanks to the inspiration and support that the Finca Esmerelda team has given to other farmers.

Investing in farms

Historically and even today, Panama is known for people coming from all over the world to invest in coffee farms. It is an attractive investment not only because of the delicious coffee the country promises, but also because of the breathtaking natural scenery. However, this investment is also threatening the niche coffee industry, as land prices rise and new developments expand into the countryside, the pressure on farms increases.