Estate: Hacienda Esmeralda
Region: Jaramillo and Canas Verdas
Location: Boquete, Panama
Process: Washed and Natural
As a coffee farmer, Daniel's interest in the sensory evaluation of coffee was once a rarity. The custom at Hacienda Esmeralda has always been to pick coffee berries as they ripened, plot by plot, but all the coffee from Jaramillo was mixed. It was only in 2002 that Daniel became aware that it was the few plants (3%) on the farm of this special varietal, which elevated the overall fresh acidity of the whole lot. Daniel began to selectively pick and separate the berries that he considered to be the particular varietal creating this unique aroma and flavour. This is where the new era begins.
Boquete is a very special place in this respect: there is good camaraderie and professional solidarity between clever and ambitious coffee farmers in one place. From this fertile ground sprung the Specialty Coffee Association of Panama (SCAP), and the Best of Panama (BoP), first held in 1996 – three years before the CoE. Many coffee farmers here know their coffee well. They are seasoned roasters and skilled cuppers. Daniel has been a part of this community since its inception. (In 2012, the BoP made the radical – and absolutely natural – intervention to separate Geisha coffee in a separate category of the competition. This made BoP the first auction program to do so, but we are going to see more of it ahead!)
Daniel is a meticulous, curious and ambitious person. When we visited him in 2006, we were presented with a coffee that he had put great pride in “making”. Daniel had selectively picked from the areas on the farm he had presumed to be the best. He then tasted his way through the coffees, selecting only the best, mixed the small lots, and sold it as Esmeralda Special Geisha. Winning the BoP every year from 2004 to 2007 would suggest that this was not a bad strategy. But we wondered if it would be possible for us – who would buy his coffee anyway – to taste the day lots, from different areas of the farm separately. Given that the characteristics would be slightly different from area to area, from early to late in picking season, we would thus be able to select the best of the best.
To begin with, Daniel wasn’t sure of idea of letting us have this opportunity. He had, after all, taken great pride in finding the best, and then creating (by blending) the best of the best. But the following year Hacienda Esmeralda agreed to this strategy. They even put up an auction where they offered small lots from all areas, with different picking dates. All were from Jaramillo, everything was Geisha, but all the lots were a little different. It was a success!
The early Hacienda Esmeralda Special Geisha offerings have become an exercise in showing the different characteristics and potential of a single varietal; with aromas ranging from highly refined bergamot to jasmine; flavors varying from stone fruit sweetness to citrus acidity, and different mouth feels – and all from a small geographical area. Prices at auction have also shown that subtly different attributes attract different buyers, and show that roasters are valuing those attributes very differently. This auction has now become a yearly barometer for the value of The Geisha Coffee from Boquete in Panama.
The Coffee World can consider itself lucky that this single piece of land, a small coffee farm in Jaramillo, Boquete, ended up in the Peterson family’s hands. In such a short time, the trend in the specialty coffee world has gone completely parallel to this story: this practice is no longer unique to Hacienda Esmeralda. In that sense, this is also the story of the development of specialty coffee in recent years.
Daniel’s work and his impact on specialty coffee are undeniable. The Peterson family of Hacienda Esmeralda have helped us to define the true value of truly good coffee: it’s about its taste. And that is priceless.