Friday, February 13, 2009

Coffee in Panama – Faking Is Not All Bad

In my earlier blog Anhinga in Costa Rica - Faking Is Not All Bad I reflected on how in my child psychiatric practice, I came across a number of children who seemed to have made good use of faking. Indeed I came to the conclusion that faking might not be all bad.

Panama has been associated with some fabricated plots. There were the John Le Carre book
The Tailor of Panama that was turned into a film, the location shoot of the Quantum of Solace (in Panama, doubling as a country in South America), and the Canoeist faking death, just to mention a few.

Panama ©2009 Am Ang Zhang
Then there was the coffee scandal.
In 1996 in California, a certain  Michel Norton, owner of Kona Kai Coffee was sentenced to 30 months in prison. Apparently for an extended period of time (some reckoned a decade may not be an over estimate), cheaper and “lower grade” Panamanian and Costa Rican coffee were used to pass off as “Pure Kona Coffee”.

Cheaper, certainly, as you would not otherwise be doing it. But, INFERIOR? I think many would certainly dispute that. I do not think you can really use an inferior product to pass off as something superior and fool people for long.

So the Ambassador of Panama in Washington D.C. wrote to the
New York Times:

To the Editor:
I read with amusement about the indictment of a coffee supplier on selling fraudulently marked beans to retailers (news article, Nov. 13).
Without making light of the charges, I am pleased that the coffee buyer for Peet's Coffee and Tea is uncertain that he can tell the difference between the ''cheaper'' Panamanian beans allegedly substituted for the more expensive Kona.
Panama's coffee is among the world's best. In fact, members of my staff have seen Panamanian beans for sale at high-end coffeehouses for little less than Kona. Perhaps we can arrange a taste test of Kona and Panamanian coffee for the sellers mentioned in the article. I am sure that no one will be more pleased with the results than my native coffee growers.

Ambassador of Panama, Washington

The Cockroach Catcher was fortunate enough to have visited both Costa Rica and Panama. Costa Rica coffee is quite well known but few people realise that Panama produces coffee. I was determined to find out more about coffee grown in Panama.

Plants need to struggle to produce the kind of ‘poison’ against diseases, and coffee apparently is no different. This is well known for wine: vines grown in abundant sunshine may produce wine with a high alcohol content but does not produce enough of the ‘poison’ that humans love — we call the ‘poison’----- anti-oxidants.

Now even for the wonder malaria drug, Artemisinin, the plant Artemisia annua if cultivated with good fertilisers will not produce the anti-malaria ingredient at all.

Yes, plants need to struggle. Shade, and a misty atmosphere all work together to help the coffee shrubs struggle and help certain varieties of to develop health conferring properties, although the yield is lower than if you apply fertilisers and cut away the shading trees.

Misty Boquete, Panama ©2009 Am Ang Zhang Berry picking ©2009 Am Ang Zhang
  My friend's coffee©2012 Am Ang Zhang
Happily the shading trees provide a sanctuary for birds. Panama is famous for the number of bird species both resident and migrating, and for a number of years, has achieved the highest Christmas bird count as audited by the Audubon Society. A traditional coffee plantation (known as Finca) can play host to nearly 280 varieties of birds.

Well, call it chance or luck, someone bought a Finca in Boquete in Panama. Unfortunately a fungal blight wiped out most of the coffee plants that were originally there. A quick research by the owner showed that one variety of coffee called by the unlikely name of Geisha is resistant to the fungal disease. Remember, it can probably produce the ‘poison’. This tree grows taller, yield is lower but the coffee it produces is just wonderful.

In the last few years, in international cupping competitions, this coffee came first. Yes: FIRST.

The name: La Esmeralda Especial, from the
Hacienda Plantation.

But wait for this, in 2007 the price fetched at auction was US$130 per pound. That is expensive. Or is it? With espresso extraction you can get 40 cups to the pound. Is that not under $4 per cup, and since you can extract a second cup – water based “decaf”, is that not under $2 per cup? Here is the latest
tasting note.

As I was preparing this blog, news came about:
Coffee Linked to Lower Dementia Risk
Over time health benefits have been associated with red wine, olive oil, chocolate, almonds, pomegranate, blueberry, green tea and coffee. The Cockroach Catcher is sceptical of extreme claims, but for the record I do take all the items mentioned above, in moderation. It is indeed more important that you should enjoy what you eat and drink and not just what researchers tell you, and in moderation.

Next time in Trivial Pursuit you will know the answers to: What is the best coffee in the world? What country has the highest count of birds at Christmas?

Birding in Boquete, Panama ©2009 Am Ang Zhang

Happy cupping.

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Anonymous said...

Wow! What a bird picture. Love all the info on coffee. Never imagined Panama to produce the best.

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