Picking barely begins, in the steep mountains of Panamanian province of Chiriqui, close to the border of Costa Rica. The coffee trees, cut at breast height, cover most of the hillside of these formerly extinct volcanoes including Baru, the highest in Central America with 3.475 meters ofaltitude.
A winding road leads to the Capital of the province, David, to the small city of Volcan, which stretches without grace facing Baru. Then starts the climbing to Boquete and Rio Sereno, which are close to the plantations. Palm trees leave gradual way to oaks or bitter mahogany, the one track road where only SUV can make their way, jolting between ruts andpotholes.
The first plants of coffee trees appear around 700 meters above sea level,stepped on the slopes. Each shrub with glossy leaves carries thousands of berries the size of small cherries, from which they take their name, the « cherry » ofcoffee.
Panama: low coffee production butquality
Panama has the lowest coffee production in Central America. According to the FAO’s statistics (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), coffee plantations cover 22.400 acres for a production which vary between 402 tons (1961) and 1,422 tons (1985). In 2014, it produced barely 510tons.
But the area of Boquete is proud to have been considered for several years as producing the best coffee in the world. Volcan, Candela and Bambito estates, located on rich volcanic soils, enjoy a ideal micro climate for coffee cultivation: average temperature between 20° and 30° Celsius, 9 months a year of precipitation which make the area one of the wettest places in the country with an annual total rainfall of 2.5 m to 5 m, an altitude around1000m…
Several varieties of coffee are produced, 80% are Arabica and 20% are Robusta, with jasmine and caramel notes… Many of them allow refining the taste, such as
Typical, San Ramon, Actual and the famous Geisha (Arabica), nicknamed the « Champagne » of coffee. Native from Ethiopia, the last one brings flavor reminiscent of mandarin, but also bergamot, blackberry, mango, cinnamon...
The caring for coffee throughout the year does not require a lot of staff. But the harvest, which lasts from October to April, forces them to appeal to a very large temporary workforce, a phenomenon that « pave the way for forced and child labor », noticed the HRWB director, MartineCombemale.