This is an ode to coffee, a personal vice of mine. I have the pleasure of working with coffee producers in my day-day work. Here is a little information about coffee as well as its history in Panama.
Coffee is produced from the seeds of a small red (sometimes yellow) fruit that grows on plants halfway in size between shrub and tree. The process that turns these seeds into beverage is a long and complex process, perhaps the most complex process associated with any major beverage.
It is also a very labor intensive process involving a vast intercontinental collaboration that starts with the coffee grower, moves from there to the picker, then to the mill workers who meticulously remove the fruit and dry the beans, then to those who clean and grade the beans, to those who roast them, to those consumers and baristas who finally grind the beans and prepare the beverage. Every act along the way can be performed either with passion and precision or with careless shoddiness. It is the cumulative quality of all of these creative contributions that together make the difference between a lackluster cup and a fine and distinctive one.
By the time coffee is consumed, it has been subject to at least seven momentous processes carried out by seven potentially unrelated parties resident in anywhere from two to four parts of the world. Unlike fine wines, which are often bottled by the same people who grow the grapes and produce the wine, coffee is not bottled and is not just purchased, opened, and enjoyed by the consumer.
The process of bringing coffee from the crop to the cup is kicked off by someone who grows and picks the coffee fruit. A second party (usually) buys the fruit and removes the soft, fruity parts from the seeds, then dries the seeds (now called beans), two steps together known as processing and both crucial to the ultimate quality and character of the coffee.
The processor usually sells the dried beans to a third party, the exporter. The exporter may blend beans from different processing mills before bagging and shipping them.
A fourth party imports the coffee into the consuming country, though in most cases he spares it any further manipulation, confining himself to passing judgment on it and selling it to a roaster.
At this point the coffee is subjected to perhaps the single most influential act of all: roasting. The roaster also may blend beans from a variety of crops and regions. The retailer performs a simple but very significant service: handling the coffee sensibly and selling it before it gets stale.
Finally, the consumer buys the coffee, grinds it (usually), and finally produces an actual beverage. But we're not even finished here. The consumer, before enjoying this meticulously grown, processed, roasted, blended, and brewed coffee, may add any number of dairy products, sweeteners, or flavorings, all with differing effects on the final beverage.
Coffee in dollar terms is the second most traded product in the world after petroleum.
Coffee in Panama is no joke. Some (if not most) of the best coffee in the world is grown right in my backyard. Here are some exerpts of news articles if you don´t believe me:
¨Panama's coffees from the Boquete area consistently outscore the rest of the world in international coffee cupping competitions because of the excellent origin characteristics. In the 2003 Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) Boston cupping competition, five Panama coffees from the Boquete region scored in the top ten out of 119 coffees from 15 countries. ¨
¨Panama's number one coffee, "Esmeralda Special" from Hacienda La Esmeralda, set an online coffee auction record when it sold for $21 dollars a pound on June 29th. Esmeralda Special placed first in the "Best of Panama" cupping competition in April with a score of 95.6 out of 100... Commercial-grade coffee is currently trading in commodity markets for around 73 cents a pound.¨