Visit to Finca La Cabra, Our Farm in Panama (Part 1)

View of Finca La Cabra from Finca La Mula
Emergence of precious first serial buds
Emergence of precious first serial buds

Last month we flew down to visit our geisha coffee farm Finca La Cabra near Bouquete, Panama with our partners, Willem Boot, Catherine Cadloni, and Kelly Hartmann.  The purpose of the trip was to inspect the progress of the trees and to review the plans and placement of the various farm buildings. We shared a Christmas morning feeling of expectation and excitement, which was rewarded at the sight of the tiniest, tiniest buds beginning to form on the young trees.

View of Finca La Cabra from Finca La Mula
View of Finca La Cabra from Finca La Mula

There should be some flowering in April that could lead to small fly crop next winter and a few cupping tables of coffee. The trees appear to be almost a year ahead of schedule. Kelly predicted this when we planted the 20,000 geisha and 5,000 experimental hybrid trees in October 2016. Finca La Cabra’s location on the southeastern slope of Volcan Baru and its relatively flat growing areas mean good exposure to the sun throughout the day and the year and consequent accelerated development of young trees.

Ultimately the additional photosynthesis resulting from the longer daily and yearly sun exposure could translate into robust sugar development in the cherries and a pronounced sweetness in the cup. We were fortunate that Finca La Cabra’s somewhat protected position spared it from the untimely rains and excessive winds of La Niña that disrupted and muted output of some other nearby farms this past year.

Kelly, Willem, and foreman Don Francisco discussing placement of the storage shed and processing building.
Kelly, Willem, and foreman Don Francisco discussing placement of the storage shed and processing building.

Below is a photo of the new drying beds in various stages of construction. The new housing for the permanent farm staff will be built on the rise above the drying beds.

We will primarily produce coffees at Finca La Cabra by using variations of the natural or dry processing method. The natural process means we dry the coffee cherries before removing the seeds (beans). As they dry, the sugars in the mucilage (mesocarp or fruit pulp) saturate the seeds, producing a pronounced sweetness and amplified set of distinctive fruit notes in the cup.

Raised African drying beds with parabolic supports for rain protection
Raised African drying beds with parabolic supports for rain protection

These African style, raised drying beds are built on sturdy, metal frames.There are a couple advantages to raised beds over the traditional patio drying method. They produce a cleaner coffee by allowing for much better airflow over the cherries so that they dry more uniformly and consistently. And the cherries are protected from the dirt and debris that might collect on the patios and from interloping animals that might walk across cherries leaving unwanted organic “gifts.” The wood strips hold the thick, black netting taut to hold the cherries evenly. This black mesh is used in the shrimping industry and is especially useful here for its durability. The parabolic structures support plastic sheets we pull over the beds to protect the drying cherries from the bajareque (cloud mist that rolls in in the afternoons). Openings at the ends of structures allow air to continue to flow through even when it is raining.

In part 2, we’ll talk about some of the environmental challenges that our young trees are facing.

You can also follow the progress of Finca La Cabra on Instagram @fincalacabra or on Twitter @fincalacabra.