La Berlina Estate is located in a little corner of the Boquete district of Chiriquí province called Horqueta. It borders La Amistad International Park that crosses the border into Costa Rica (you might recognize the name Amistad from one of our other Crown Jewels, located on the other side of the border). La Berlina was founded in the earliest years of the 20th century by a Colombian soldier named Segundo Diaz who, finding himself out of work in the wake of a successful Panamanian bid for independence and in love with a local woman, settled in Boquete.
The Diaz family found enough coffee trees growing wild in the mountains surrounding Boquete to establish an 80 acre estate that transformed the stray coffee into a fully functioning farm. A generation later, the Diaz children were forced to sell the estate, which eventually ended up attracting the attention of Plinio Ruiz who knew the farm’s reputation from the 1920s and 30s. Plinio’s family company, Casa Ruiz, acquired the estate and began the work of returning it to its former glory.
The Ruiz family have their own coffee history in Panama: the original coffee, flower, and vegetable farm was destroyed by flooding in Boquete in 1970, and the family business was redirected towards roasting and exporting. However, opportunities for farm ownership starting in the late 1970s were too good to pass up, and the Ruiz family reinvested in land, eventually evolving into a successful regional brand that includes roasted coffee sold to the consumer market in Panama.
The Ruiz family are among the founding donors of the Ngäbere literacy program, named for the indigenous population Guaymi, who call themselves the Ngäbe. Many of their population work on the estate during the harvest, and in some instances this may constitute their only source of income. The literacy program aims to preserve the Ngäbere culture by encouraging transliteration from spoken word to written in their native tongue.
Great coffee deserves a great story. The Geisha variety’s unlikely origin story begins somewhere close to the town of Gesha in remote western Ethiopia. Coffee berries were picked and transported to Kenya, then to Uganda and Tanzania, and finally across the ocean to the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center in Costa Rica where attempts to cultivate the trees earnestly began in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Planting there, and shortly thereafter in Panama, was largely abandoned due to low productivity and poor quality. It’s generally accepted today that the variety is fickle, and that its best attributes are highlighted by a combination of elevation, rainfall, soil and nutrient composition, and myriad other environmental and horticultural factors. It seems apparent that either early trials lacked the necessary conditions to produce the sweet, floral attributes now recognizably associated with Geisha, or that those attributes simply weren’t valued the way they are today.
It’s hard to believe that it has been more than a decade since Price Peterson’s unusual coffee swept the Best of Panama competition and ignited a feverish global appetite for the variety. The country of Panama – and Peterson’s Hacienda La Esmeralda in particular – deserve credit for putting the spotlight on the cultivar. Panama is the cultivar’s home away from home, where it continues to demand extraordinary prices and attention despite its propagation throughout the coffee growing world.
We’ve seen an uptick in natural Geishas in recent years, the “eat your cake and have it, too” processing method for this variety of coffee that seems to provide a little bit of everything: the big ripe berry notes from the process, the inherent red cherry and chocolate “classic” Boquete character, and the distinctive, coveted, cultivar-specific floral flavors. This dry processed Geisha has a slightly large screen size of oblong seeds with pretty pedestrian-looking density. It is also pretty dry and possesses a lower than average water activity. It is also remarkably fragrant green, and you’d be remiss not to sample the aromas before roasting.
This coffee can be particularly tricky to roast and looking at Chris’ metrics above, it is easy to see why. The Geisha cultivar is also known as a long berry because of the shape of the seed, making it difficult to roast evenly. I was fortunate to roast the washed version of this coffee before and learned a thing or two about it. Because of the large size, relatively high density, and low moisture content, this coffee really wants to race through the Maillard stage and into first crack. With that in mind, the natural version of this coffee has a slightly lower density which should give us an advantage when manipulating the Maillard stage.
The first roast was a bit more relaxed with simple heat adjustments and easily repeatable. The second roast I applied heat in the shape of a bell curve. At the onset, low heat, and then quickly ramping up the heat just after turnaround to shorten the drying stage. As soon as Maillard reactions begin, I lowered the heat and finished with an overall shorter roast time. Roast one was filled with flavors of dried fruits and extremely vibrant while roast two expressed a more balanced cup like a sweet, jammy blackberry pie.
Roast one: concord grape, raspberry, lime, dried fruits
Roast two: blackberry, dark chocolate, plum wine
The Panama Horqueta La Berlina Natural Geisha roasted relatively quickly. As you can see from the Color Track numbers, this coffee was roasted in a slightly shorter time than its fully washed counterpart, but achieved a darker roast. That being said, this darker roast still had plenty of fruit to go around, and would please anyone looking for a very fruit-forward flavor profile. One option the roaster has on the Behmor is to start the cooling program early. In retrospect, I would have liked to do this shortly after first crack in order to stop this coffee from “running away.” This is particularly common with fruit-dried coffees, and I’ll plan to perform this sort of trick in the near future with all the Ethiopian naturals that will arrive in July!
Everything one would expect from a fruit dried coffee is present in this Panamanian Geisha. Both roasts displayed ample fruit notes, with strawberry and raspberry being some of the more prominent notes. As Jen noted previously, we found the first roast to be a drier and more crisp representation of this coffee, while the second roast was a jammier, more syrupy, and texturally focused roast. These two roasts gave very similar results as far as brewing parameters, but were quite different in the cup. Check out our notes above.