“Geisha Coffee? I wish I had some,” Olga sighs, “but people buy it like mad!” From Olga’s Café we move on to the Boquete Roasting Company, where the owner shrugs apologizing: “Sold out. We were supposed to receive a pound today, but…” It seems that as soon as a package of the famous brand reaches the shops, it is instantly sold. The Geisha Coffee is grown at the Hacienda Esmeralda, near the charming town of Boquete in the highlands of Panama. Originally an Ethiopian Arabica variety, Geisha has recently been rediscovered in Panama and has since won several international cupping contests. The “Esmeralda Especial” coffee is currently praised as the best organic coffee in the world – and priced accordingly: It has been sold at auction record for $130 per pound.
“If you like strong coffee, then the Geisha is not for you,” Terry says firmly. “It is very lightly roasted with orange and blueberry flavours. Almost like lemon tea.” We have signed up for a tour of the Kotowa coffee estate with Terry. Most of the cherry-like red beans are already picked at this time of the year, but a sudden waft of chocolaty aromas comes from the roasting mill. Making our way from the coffee fields to the warehouse and on to the tasting room, we learn that the highest quality coffee must not have more than 5 less-than-perfect beans per pound and that even in years with dreadful climate conditions it is possible to produce high quality coffee, provided that you have enough workers who sort out the bad beans.
We ended up drinking only excellent coffee (and much of it) during our time in Boquete, but our hunt for the Geisha coffee remained fruitless.
The coffee town of Boquete has also been given a second life: Since the Modern Maturity Magazine chose Boquete in 2001 as one of the four top places in the world to retire, foreign pensioners (wearing orthopaedic shoes and driving land cruisers) flock to the real estate offices in the region and tour new building lots between coffee plantations and cloud forests. They are joined by crowds of tourists from Panama City and further afield, all hoping to get a glimpse of the elusive, green-feathered quetzal and to lay hands on a cup of Geisha Coffee…
“You know, I’d like to see … the woman … and the black. In any combination: The woman as president, and the black as vice president. Or the other way round… The black and the woman…,” Frank drawls several times. The cable TV programme is full of the American primaries, and we are both amazed how much money, manpower, strategies, broadcasting time and attention the selection of the candidates requires. “That would rock…The woman and the black…” Frank starts again. The middle-aged Texan has shoulder-length scruffy hair and is wearing faded cotton shorts. Drinking beer, he likes to hang out in the hostel for the better part of the day, bothering the other guests, the owner and his family.
Fortunately, travellers like Frank are the minority. In Cerro Punta we met Edith, who had just turned 71. “Last year I was trekking in Patagonia for my birthday”, she says. She is glad that after Panama, she will have “done Central America.” And for this year she is planning Nepal again, because there she won’t have to carry the backpack herself. Travellers like Edith impress us with their bottomless energy and curiosity and make us hope that we won’t ever have to retire to a coffee farm, trying to convince future Franks to exercise their voting rights.
We are now in Panama City , exploring the canal and organizing our onward travel to Colombia. As always we will keep you posted.