Every year, Boquete's high elevation arabica coffees win accolades, prizes and astonishing ratings in the world of Specialty Coffee Tastings. This year's most recent judging of the relatively rare Geisha varietal grown in here once again led the pack. Other varieties of arabica from Boquete also fared well, and are also commanding ever higher prices on the world market. But, why? What makes certain coffees special or even extra-special?
The Specialty Coffee Association of America defines specialty coffee this way:
Sometimes called "gourmet" or "premium" coffee, specialty coffees are made from exceptional beans grown only in ideal coffee-producing climates. They tend to feature distinctive flavors, which are shaped by the unique characteristics of the soil that produces them.
Limited availability combined with great marketing are also prime factors and you need both, in addition to exceptional beans. Availability and marketing are obvious. But what constitutes exceptional? By what standards is one coffee pronounced exceptional while another of equally limited availability is denied this sobriquet?
Professional coffee 'cuppers' --yes, some people get paid, a lot, to travel around the world, sniffing, slurping, and spitting coffee--use hundreds of descriptors for the fragrance and taste of a particular cup of coffee, all subject to the interpretation of a cupper’s nose and tongue. Lemony, vanilla, woodsy, earthy, chocolatey, winey,…right on around the Taster's Wheel to wet dog, skunky and brown paper bag.
A friend sent me a Reuters article entitled: Pricey Coffee Good to the Last Dropping. Kopi Luwak, grown on a few of the 13,000+ islands in the Indonesian archipelago, may be the ultimate in ‘specialty’ coffees. Until recently it was also the most expensive coffee, selling for $500 a pound, ergo, it MUST be exceptional, right? Kopi Luwak has been ‘cupped’ and described as earthy, heavy, syrupy, caramel, chocolate, complex, with a mysterious, indescribable funky zoo-like aroma. H-m-m. Wait a minute. Funky?Zoo-like aroma?
Turns out there is good reason for the ‘zoo-like’. Kopi Luwak is exceptional because unlike ordinary coffee cherries that are picked off coffee trees, these cherries are retrieved from the jungle floor—after they have been eaten, partially digested and then excreted by palm civets, a small, tree-dwelling marsupial closely related to the raccoon, but looking like a cat or an otter, who thinks the coffee cherries in his habitat make a dandy dessert following a feast of insects, fruit and small rodents.
I am not making this up. One of the most expensive coffees in the world is harvested from animal poop. I really think this may be where marketing outstrips reality. Seriously, folks.
Many of the coffees produced here in Boquete—Hacienda Esmeralda, Casa Ruiz, Lerida, Suarez, Kotowa, Milagrosa and our very own Cafe Mariposa Azul, to name just a few—are exceptional coffees. Their production is limited, as most are grown on single estate, privately owned farms. They each have distinctive, individual profiles, they are consistent, and they both smell and taste really, really good, ranging from light, floral citrusy tones to deep rich spicy chocolate. No wet dogs here.
Boquete coffee has the key elements necessary for becoming an internationally recognized coffee icon: an ideal coffee producing environment (high elevation, volcanic soil, the right balance of moisture and sun in a tropical highland climate), limited availability, and truly exceptional quality. The world is taking notice.
Drink the best. Drink Boquete coffee.
Order Cafe Mariposa Azul here...rich, smooth and chocolatey with hints of jungle flowersand hazelnut.
A medium European roast perfect for morning, afternoon or evening.
Post script: My daughter recently visited from China, by way of Vietnam, where they harvest their own version of Kopi Luwak. She brought me a small bag. We brewed it in the traditional tiny press. It was very, very dark and smelled...I just don't quite know how to describe it. Like coffee, but like earth, and something oddly bitter. It tasted like deep dank jungle laced with fruity sweetness. The Vietnamese drink it with sweetened condensed milk. I tried that, too. Then I poured the whole thing out and brewed up a french press pot of Cloud Forest Botanicals' Mariposa Azul. It made me happy.