When you line up at Starbucks or your favorite coffee shop for your morning cup of “Joe”, “Java”, espresso, Moca or just plain good old coffee (preferably black), you have no idea what went into the production of that cup of coffee!
Coffee isn’t just “coffee” but, just like wine, has zillions of variations created by type, soil, climate, microclimate, fertilizer, harvesting, processing, storage, blending . . . and the list goes on. If you think Arabica is Arabica is Arabica . . . “My 5 pound can of discount coffee is 100% coffee [Chicken nuggets are 100% chicken: parts is parts.] and is Arabica” . . . well, then you probably also think that red wine is red wine and one Burgundy is the same as every other.
Our harvest is almost finished . . . well today is one last picking when everything is stripped off the trees including ripe red coffee, green coffee, dried cherries, the works. This will be dried and processed. We may use some of it around the house, or give it to our workers, or big farms will process and sell it and it is the “100% Arabica coffee” (which it is!) that goes into some of the cheaper blends.
The coffee harvest ran late this year, and already the trees are starting to bloom. But we have a lot of work to do: trimming shade trees [Shade is good, but not too much since we also get shade from cloud cover in the mountains.], trimming coffee trees, and pulling out old trees so we can plant new trees later in the year when we get into the rainy season. Everything we do now, as indeed everything that is done until the coffee is in your cup, will affect the quality and the taste of your coffee. The fertilizers we use, how well we manage the trees, what the weather is like, how the cherries are picked, and how precise and careful the processing . . . everything affects the quality of the cup.
When picked the red coffee fruit is called a coffee cherry, because it looks like a small red cherry. If you squeeze a ripe coffee cherry out will pop the two coffee beans. But it is a long and complicated process to remove the outside coffee skin, wash and clean off the sticky covering of the bean, dry the bean to the exact moisture content, then let the bean “rest” two to three months (Believe it or not, an essential part of the process!), and then remove the hard shell or parchment and the thin silverskin. After all this, the end result is a straw-green color “green bean” that is ready for export and eventually to be toasted or roasted.
The other day we visited with Javier Pitti to taste and evaluate our coffee along with about a dozen others in what is called a coffee cupping. It is a very precise process and is what is used by coffee producers to evaluate their coffee and then present the coffee to coffee buyers. Coffee is evaluated, tasted, purchased, and even blended very much like wine. We tasted about 14 coffees including ours, and various varieties of Arabica that are widely grown in Boquete as well as five varieties of the “champagne” of coffee, Geisha.
These guys have 5 farms in Boquete. Amazingly when we tasted three different samples of the same Catura Arabica coffee, grown on three different farms in Boquete, each with a different microclimate, the coffees tasted different! One of the three was decidedly better than the other two! That’s this year: next year it may be different.
Geisha is the “champagne” of coffee. My best description is that Geisha, well precisely Price Peterson’s best-of-the-best Geisha [Which a few years ago set a record of $130 a pound – wholesale! Try $25 (Vancouver) to 40 Euros (Italy) a cup!] is like drinking velvet. But, before you plunk down a king’s ransom for a cup of Geisha, know that Geishas, like other coffee varieties, aren’t all the same. Not knowing I was tasting a Geisha, Javier asked, “So Richard, what do you think of that coffee?” Now we were here to learn, and I don’t know all the flowery, enthusiastic taste terms of tasters with sophisticated pallets, so I answered . . .
“Tastes like tea . . . ” Understand I’m not big on tea. Not sure why anyone would drink it except when they have the flu. But it was weak and wimpy and not very flavorful. It happened to be a Geisha, and not a very good one it turns out. Down the line, one which I absolutely loved, happened also to be a Geisha.
Every step along the way determines the quality of your morning cup of coffee! Specialty coffee, the best of Boquete, is coffee that has no defects. If you have beans of various sizes, or beans that came from diseased trees, or are not perfect it diminishes the quality of the roasted coffee. The coffee doesn’t roast evenly.
And how much of that $3.75 you pay for a Mocha actually gets to the farmer? Almost nothing!