Award Winning Specialty Coffee
This past February we took a trip down to Panama to visit our coffee farm Finca La Cabra. It was a wonderful trip full of friendship, the exchange of knowledge, and some fantastic coffees. A lot has changed since our last update and we couldn't be more excited about the incredible progress being made.
In case you missed it, La Cabra is our coffee farm in Portrerillos Arriba, Panama. Just over the ridge from the famed town of Boquete. We’ve partnered with two heavyweights of the coffee world, Willem Boot, owner of the award-winning Finca La Mula and Finca Sophia farms, and Kelly Hartmann of the renowned Finca Hartmann in Santa Clara, Panama. The farm is nestled between 1,450-1,575 meters above sea level on the side of the Baru volcano and grows primarily the Panamanian Geisha coffee varietal.
As of our last update we had just finished planting 25,000 trees on the farm. We are proud to report that the overwhelming majority of those trees have taken root and many have begun to produce coffee. That isn’t to say we have not suffered any setbacks. At Finca La Cabra we take an integrated approach to farming. We view the biosphere of the farm as a closed loop system, and we refuse to use anything but the most sustainable and natural inputs. As such, we have suffered at times from fungal attacks, pests, and soil quality issues. The best way to naturally combat pests and plant diseases is to give the trees the proper nutrition. So we've worked with conservation biologists like Esteban Acosta from Costa Rica to establish natural fertilization and composting programs.
Finca La Cabra is a modest coffee farm at 11 hectares. The elegant Geisha coffee is a relatively low yielding varietal. At full maturity we can expect that each tree will yield about 1lb of green coffee. This past harvest we successfully picked roughly 3,000 lbs total, all of which almost immediately sold out. As the trees mature and we continue to fine tune our practices and improve our soil, we expect to see each harvest increase from year to year. That said it is important to note that coffee being an agricultural product will fluctuate from year to year given environmental conditions. Quite a few of our neighbors had lower than expected harvests this year. The consensus seemed to be that early rains, fewer blooms, high winds, and an extended growing season due to climate change were the biggest factors. We have witnessed first hand how climate change has dramatically affected coffee production and processing from Ethiopia to Honduras, and Panama is no different. One producer recounted to us how in the past, harvest time was always busy, but they knew they would always be finished by Christmas and have an empty warehouse and mill. These days they work straight through the holiday because the season has been extended that long, often milling their coffees year round. The annual Best of Panama competition will occur later than usual this year as a result.
Coffee farming is no easy task and takes a dedicated staff to give constant care to the land and trees. On top of that many coffee farms are located in rural areas that are often difficult to reach. La Cabra is no different, requiring an arduous journey up winding mountain roads, few of which are paved. For this reason it is necessary for farms to provide housing for their workers. After planting the trees, the next order of business was building solid housing for our crew. We started before the pandemic and it is nearly complete. The structure consists of five units, each of which contains two bedrooms, a private bathroom, a small kitchen, and a living area. The front of the complex features outdoor washing stations for farm gear, and the rear opens to a wide porch that overlooks the farm and on a clear day one can gaze the 40 or so miles all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
After picking, coffee must be further processed before it is bagged and shipped to coffee roasters. There are many different ways of processing coffee, and a constant flow of new experimental processes in the works. Processing at the farm level involves the sorting, fermentation, removal of the fruit from the coffee seed (bean), drying, and resting of coffee. On La Cabra we built a dedicated fermentation room attached to the far end of the worker’s housing. The fermentation room offers a sheltered area where we can experiment with various methods and protocols. We are currently experimenting to great success with an anaerobic process where the coffee is sealed in tanks and the oxygen is removed during fermentation. After fermenting, we dry the cherries on four African-style raised drying beds with parabolic covers to protect the drying coffee from the rain. The beds are raised, perforated mesh sheets that allow for ample airflow on both sides of the cherry to ensure consistent and precise drying of the coffee cherries with no molding.
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