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.
This fully washed Geisha is somewhat dense and of average screen size despite the obvious wider and longer than average appearing seeds. It is also quite dry and possesses a lower than average water activity. This translates to a really nice preservation of the cultivar’s floral notes, an attribute that will undoubtedly be aided by lighter roasting styles.
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. With the added difficulty of low moisture content and high density, you will need to pay close attention to every stage of the roasting process. Looking at the profile of roast one, nothing seems out of the ordinary, just a slightly lower temperature for first crack than normal on the probatino. While roasting this coffee, I could only smell sugar browning characteristics in the trier, which was unexpected for a Geisha. Because of the low moisture content, I decided to shorten the drying stage by using a slightly higher charge temperature and applying heat just after turnaround which was 1:19 minutes faster.
The high density of this bean captured and retained the heat quickly and no further heat application was necessary to reach first crack at a reasonable rate of rise (~10°F / 30 seconds) to control the roast through post crack development. The results of the second approach brought more floral character to the forefront of the coffee and produced a clean and balanced cup.
Roast one: nectarine, orange, honey, juicy, chocolate
Roast two: jasmine, lemon curd, white grape, vanilla, citrus blossoms
This coffee roasted a bit quicker than my previous batches. I used the methodology outlined in my Behmor article (manual full power, high drum speed), and had somewhat similar results. Though I ended up taking this coffee two minutes past first crack, there was plenty of nuance remaining on the cupping table. As you can see by the final roast time in comparison to the Color Track numbers, this coffee moved slower than its fruit-dried counterpart. The Panama Horqueta La Berlina Natural ended up racing after first crack, and achieved a darker roast in roughly the same amount of time. Though Richard, Jen and I were satisfied with the result, I will pull this coffee a little sooner next time, with 1:45 development time.
I brewed up Jen’s roasts side by side using my default Chemex recipe: 40g coffee to 640g water with a long preinfusion. At the usual grind setting, the coffee took a little longer to brew than average (though it should be said, not unusually long for the thick filters used with Chemex brewers). The longer steep times yielded a nice extraction for both roasts, just shy of 22% and did a nice job of highlighting the classic fruit and floral attributes of the coffee.
Jen’s roasts were both great, but the second roast really opened up with a few days off roasting and showed up spectacularly floral and complex in the cup. The first roast offered more tart fruit notes and, while floral, was not as nuanced.
Quicker extractions and tighter ratios will likely result in tarter coffee with less sweetness and floral tones, so try and keep your extraction percentage up above 20% and your brew times long enough to draw out all the sugars and beautiful jasmine flavors.