In 2018, Wilford Lamastus of Elida Estate made Best of Panama (BoP) history when he won in both washed and natural Geisha categories and broke the coffee quality competition’s record for its highest scoring coffee.
Now, Elida Estate has done it again, winning both categories and setting new records at BoP 2019, which took place from 22 to 25 May.
The Elida Geisha Green Tip Natural ASD scored 95.25 out of 100 in the natural/special process category, beating last year’s score of 93.34 points.. Its washed equivalent scored 95 in the Geisha washed category, beating the previous record of 94.66 points.
“It feels unbelievable, like a dream. There was always this thought about winning one category and doing well in the other, because no one had ever won both categories in the same year, and then we ended up doing it twice,” Wilford Lamastus Jr says.
“The first time was an amazing feeling, but the second time was truly special. There was a feeling of ‘wow, we did it. It was no lucky year, this is for real, our Elida Estate Geisha is for real’.”
To reach that record-breaking score in the natural category, Elida Estate used processed its coffee through an anerobic slow dry method, termed ASD. Wilford and his team fermented the coffee in anerobic tanks for five days, and then slow dried it over a five-week period.
“Most coffees are dried within two to three weeks. We made sure that the coffee dried in a longer period of time while being careful to ensure it will come out clean in flavour,” Wilford says.
“[Combined with anaerobic fermentation, slow drying] a coffee from a lower altitude than 1700 metres or a non-Geisha variety, creates a new flavour profile that changes the cup, creating intense liquor and winey notes, with some cacao nib notes. But in high altitude coffees, there is not much change. There is just an added feel of elegant subtle red wine notes, or a cherry liquor feel that helps add complexity to the coffee without losing the flavours from the variety. In other words, it remains a clean Geisha.”
Will Young, Founder of Campos Coffee, was Head Judge of the BoP for the second year in a row. He says the high scoring coffees from the panel of 21 international judges is proof that Panama has some of the best producers in the world.
“Judging by this year’s high scoring results, Panama has currently the best coffee in the world. It’s like the Bordeaux region in France, a region that has an incredible reputation for producing the greatest wine in the world, that’s what Panama, and in particular, the Baru volcano region is for coffee. It’s a country that keeps innovating and drawing the best out of its coffee. The value is also inherent in its terroir and microclimates.”
Among this year’s five competition categories was the new Special Processes, to accommodate coffee processes other than washed. As such, Will says this year’s entrants saw wild flavour descriptors, despite some traditional growers concerned about losing the essence of what makes Geisha special.
“The coffees that won the special processes category had distinct Geisha flavours but the experimental verses traditional flavour profiles was a big topic of conversation. How much processing is too much?” Will asks.
“We experienced very outspoken flavours that were outlandish, winey, umami, and pungent, but in a good way. Some producers felt it was really cool to see, using processing techniques that create flavours that are in demand and will sell well, particularly in the Asian market, but traditional growers thought it was too much and that it loses the focus on what makes Panama’s coffee special. It was a fiery and divided debate but hopefully there’s a place for both. It begs the questions, how important is the actual taste of coffee?”
In the case of the winning coffee from the Lamastus Family, Will says it proves that the judging panel valued traditional flavours, despite it still being “quite outlandish”.
“The Lamastus family received a record score of 95.00 for their Geisha Washed, which is remarkable, beating their own top winning score last year by half a point. This is a record coffee so will no doubt receive a record high price.”
The BoP competition has been running since 1998, however, the overall winning award recognising the producer with the most points across all categories, the Panama Cup, has been a title for only the past six years. It was awarded to Hacienda La Esmeralda, which beat the Lamastus family by just four or five points.
This year marks the 15th anniversary since Geisha coffee was first launched on the international market by Hacienda La Esmeralda.
“To see Daniel, Rachel, Price, and Susan on stage to accept the winning trophy was an incredible moment, 15 years after they introduced the world to the Geisha varietal. There couldn’t have been a better result for the Petersons, who have now won the BoP twice, along with the Lamastus family, and Kotawa Estate,” Will says.
Will says it was also exciting to see some new farmers and a high number of female producers enter and win some of this year’s BoP categories.
Wilford says his family’s consecutive Geisha category wins demonstrate the overall quality of Panama coffee.
“In the past years, several Panama Geisha farms performed exceptionally, and placed high in BoP and BoP auctions, but Hacienda La Esmeralda owned the records and the majority of the first places,” Wilford says.
“So, in the general public’s eye, it was about Esmeralda Geisha more than Panama Geisha, and I feel that by us winning back to back, it helps the general public understand that is not only about Esmeralda’s superb quality, but Panama’s quality as a whole.”
With last year’s winning coffee from Elida Estate becoming available in the United States, Wilford says he hopes BoP continues to raise awareness of coffee’s potential for quality.
“Recently Panama Geisha from Elida Estate made headlines, talking about the US$75 cup of coffee sold in the US by Klatch Coffee, but the news just focused on the superficial part of it,” he says.
“If you put a headline that says US$75 for a cup of wine, no one will be amazed, and why? Because the consumers understand that wine is a special product, but they still think of coffee as a commodity, and people still see it as absurd that coffee can be as much as US$15 a cup. You don’t have to pay for it, but you need to understand everything that is behind it and why those prices exist. We need to educate consumers that coffee is not just a commodity. Like wine, coffee is a special product. And like wine, there are several countries producing unique and special coffees. France is number one in wine, Panama is in coffee.”
The BoP 2019 auction will open at 9am Melbourne time on 17 July.
For more information, visit auction.bestofpanama.org