Having spent the last six years visiting with farmers in Latin America, I am regularly invited to buy conventional and organic green coffee in bulk. Most of the time I simply respond that coffee is its own beast, and I stick to fruit.
However, a visit to the world class coffee region of Boquete, Chiriquí, Panama inspired me to take a deeper look.
While I appreciate quality coffee, my experience in coffee had tended to be one of necessity. In the past, I drank coffee because it was early in the morning and I needed help to wake up and start working. Or, I drank coffee socially during meetings.
I could definitely taste and appreciate the difference between coffee brewed at Blue Bottle and coffee from Dunkin Donuts (sorry, Dunkin Donuts). However, I never ventured into the world of pristine coffee experience. I had often seen the $10 coffees on the menu in coffee shops in San Francisco, California and wondered who pays that much for coffee—and why.
Now, after visiting Garrido Coffee in Boquete, Panama, I understand .
David Garrido, the owner and operator of Garrido Coffee, was kind enough to give me and my father a tour of his coffee farm and share a tasting of his coffee varieties.
The Geisha coffee has earned a reputation for being a smooth yet deep-flavored coffee with flower and fruit aromas and a range of taste nodes. Legend has it that the most expensive bulk wholesale coffee ever purchased at a coffee auction was Geisha from Panama. Legend also has it that a buyer from Asia paid over $300 for just one pound.
On my visit, I first got a tour of the Geisha coffee farm located at exactly 1,500 meters above sea level. The Geisha coffee is planted alongside the more common Caturra variety. Worms and other beneficial insects crowd the rich volcanic soil, and the coffee leaves and branches quickly decompose to become a naturally rich fertilizer. David explains that to get the perfect flavor he uses a bit of artificial fertilizer in order to provide the exact deployment of nutrients. The plants are grown in partial shade, surrounded by a biological corridor of native forest and streams.
When it is harvest time, the pickers know to harvest only the Geisha plants first in order to get a 100% pure Geisha harvest. On the second and third harvests, however, they harvest the Geisha together with the Caturra beans, creating Geisha blends.
Achieving a 96 Score
After my tour of the Geisha farm, it is time for a cupping of their different lots and blends.
Garrido has a cupping room featuring artisanal small-scale roasting. On a large round table are eight different roasted beans lined up in glass containers. One by one, the beans are ground and then poured.
We start with the Geisha--Caturra blends, which are said to have scores of around 88-89. We grab our metal spoon and sip loudly, oxygenating the liquid—embracing the experience in full. I take note of the smells, taste, and overall experience. The 88-score blend has a light floral fragrance and a mellow coffee flavor. While the blend is delicious, I had tried coffees in that range before.
As we advance around the table, sampling the other varieties, the scores gradually go up. The flavors get increasingly fragrant, with a range of floral and fruity notes that hit different areas of the palette.
As a novice to world class coffee, I am in complete shock that the coffee literally tastes like fruits as we get to the 94-score and up. The 94-score resembles pineapple, and with the 96-score coffee I feel as if I am drinking a cup of ripe wild blueberries.
Garrido's coffee is available wholesale in small batches green and ships to exquisite coffee purveyors in major metropolitan areas around the world.
This experience taught me that fine coffee is in many ways like fine wine. From the growing, to processing, to pouring, to tasting, there is a deep culture present. Every detail makes a difference as you transcend from a score in the mid-to-high 80s (considered high quality) up into the 90s.
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