Name: Elida Estate Coffee
Owner: Lamastus family (since 1918)
Region: Alto Quiel, Boquete
Total estate area (ha): Total: 65; Coffee: 30; Forest Reserve: 35
Altitude (masl): 1670-1890
Average annual rainfall (mm): 2800
Average age of trees (years): One lot: 40 years; the rest: 5 years
Harvest period: January-May 2014 lot: 100% Catuaí, composed of three separate day lots (February 7, 23 & March 31 reposo start dates)
Soil: Deep, sandy-loam
When a farm and its owner have the kind of reputation and following that Finca Elida and Wilford Lamastus do, it's impossible to 'stock' such coffees. Instead, the few coveted lots we receive from Elida each season are booked by roasters who send in their requests early in the harvest season.
The estate is one of the highest located coffee plantations within Panama and coffee is shade grown in rich volcanic soils. More than half the estate is surrounded by private forest reserve and Volcan national park: home to many native species of plants and birds (over 200 species). Shrubs receive fungicide and hand-applied chemical fertilizer 2-3 terms per year and no herbicides are used.
Robert first met Wilford and his family 10 years ago when he was hunting (as he usually is) for unique coffees produced by people who possess that magic combination of ambition, merit and a long-term vision, which we are always in search for. The Lamastus family met all of these criteria in spades.
Wilford is a third-generation producer, self-identifying as being "born" a coffee farmer; he fondly remembers using the trees planted in between the coffee on the family's 1.5 hectare plantation as a playground along with his four brothers. Coffee is and always has been his life's calling and the tradition only continues with his son who is currently learning the family's trade in pursuit of his own career as a coffee producer.
What sets the Lamastus family apart is their vision of Elida's niche within what we like to call high-end specialty coffee. In Wilford's words, "the super-specialty coffee industry is dynamic, challenging, competitive, innovative, there are always new players doing something new in thousands of super-specialty coffee farms around the world to improve quality. Therefore, every year we do something new in the mill and the farm to improve quality."
To remain atop this field, the Lamastus family invests in a lot of research in processing techniques, particularly in drying and resting methods, such as the ideal drying periods and storage facilities for parchment. Since the Panamanian coffee sector does not fund a research program or lab like many other countries have, the Lamastus family, their neighbours and colleagues belonging to the Specialty Coffee Association of Panama (SCAP) are constantly getting together to discuss each others' methods and new projects. There is a good sense of community and collaboration within the SCAP.
Elida has established itself as one of the most highly regarded specialty coffee estates in Panama. It consistently ranks within the top-10 at the annual Best of Panama competition, placing 3rd in 2007 for the non-geisha competition; it is highly sought-after by specialty roasters the world over; it placed amongst the top 30 of 350 submitted to SCAA in 2005. The Lamastus family, growers for the past century, is an experienced and proud coffee family that is continually investing in and seeking new ways of improving their already stellar coffees.
In addition to all the ongoing research, Elida is in the first of a very ambitious six-year plan to completely re-plant the farm with the geisha variety. Right now the farm is made up of 80% catuai, 15% geisha and 5% typica. Elida's sister farm, El Burro, is already 90% geisha planted. Of course, cup quality doesn't stop at experimentation and variety make-up: ensuring quality requires vigilant and non-stop cupping, which Wilford and his team are adamant about.
On the social side of Elida's projects, the farm is undergoing a restructuring and updating of its employees' living quarters. And during picking season, the children of the indigenous Ngäbe-Buglé pickers are provided with an education in an on-site classroom which has a capacity for 20 students.
Picking & Processing
Cherries are handpicked and processed using one of three processes: demucilaged-washed, honey, and/or a natural process. The mechanically washed coffee system produces zero-water discharge, meaning the coffee used for washing is mixed with mucilage and pulp to be used later as fertilizer. In the natural process, cherries are dried in their pulp and require 10 days of drying to achieve 10% humidity. With all three processes, daily harvests are identified and kept separate, with volumes ranging between 1-10 bags (green); averaging around 5 bags. Sometimes batches are combined after they are later cupped and are judged to be similar in cup profile.
Once cherries are harvested, they are sun-dried at low temperatures for 10-12 days. All these factors, combined with the high elevations, lead to a longer cherry development period, which express in intensified flavours in the cup. Once coffee is dried, it is stored or “in reposo” (i.e. resting) from between 75-100 days in order for the coffee to reach “full development”. The week before shipment, parchment is sorted using both a desimetric (oliver) machine and is further selected by hand.