Summer fun food and drink – Great coffee in Panama – a downside

Panama Esmeralda Geisha La hacienda CoffeePanama’s gourmet coffees fetch record prices for their prized flavors – and I know all too well just how wonderful Panama La Hacienda Esmeralda Geisha tastes – but the increasing demand has convinced some growers to clear land illegally… and plant in one of the country’s few protected highland forests.

Here are some facts. Coffee employs 12 to 15 million people World-wide, many of them complete families… all ages. And many of them live in a cycle of poverty. The average coffee bean changes hands over 100 times on its way from the coffee bush to your cup – often by people who never actually see the often – who live a World away from the environment that actually produces coffee.

The internet, on various levels, has changed some of that – for at least a some of these hard working folks: Online auctions and farm to roaster direct purchases have put the money where it belongs – in the hands of the farms (fincas) and the farmers and their community.

The upside is, the average family has gone from earning pennies on the pound to several dollars for a pound of green coffee – coffee you and I regularly pay 10 to 15$ a pound for roasted. This means food, health care, shelter (for the farmers) and an education for the children – and great coffee for you.

For Panama, having small tracts of incredible coffee that has been yielding upwards of $130/pound in the marketplace, the temptation to exploit this has been irresistible . Panama’s Environmental Protection Agency has uncovered rogue tracts of land in the Volcan Baru National Park, raising concerns that more park land could be endangered as the demand increases.

The nature preserve is ringed with coffee farms growing the country’s “geisha” beans, often described as the champagne of coffee for their subtle jasmine-like taste highly sought after by boutique roasters from North America, Europe and Japan. I have had this coffee. The descriptions do not do it justice – and if you do a google search, you will see that the net has been sprouting new Geisha sites every week.

And now, an insatiable demand for geisha beans have lured some growers well inside the park’s boundaries. It is ironic, but not surprising considering the kind of hardship coffee farmers have lived with.

The point of all of this? Get to know your coffee when you are drinking it. Get to know the farmers, the processes and the economy of coffee – look beyond the rim of your coffee cup and get the big picture.