Barista Magazine

JUN-JUL 2018

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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101 varieties, and its famed kingdom in Boquete. Rachel reflects fondly on coffee champions she's worked with and hosted, and she's proud of the baristas who have used Esmeralda to secure national and international titles (U.S. Brewers Cup champions Todd Goldswor- thy (2014, 2016) and James McCarthy (2013), who went on to use Esmeralda to win the World Brewers Cup Championship). "I have seriously learned so much from baristas," Rachel says. "They're some of the most curious and thoughtful coffee profes- sionals I know. If they're interested in our farms, well, I consider that an honor." Sarah Allen: Let's begin by talking about the early days of your family owning and operating the farms. Can you provide some context for that? Rachel Peterson: Sure! When my grandfather bought the farm [in 1967], he would return for occasional visits. There were horses for riding, and the oldest herd of Charolais cattle in Central America. My grandfather had thought of eventually retiring on the farm, but decided against it, and my dad moved there and took over. When we first moved to Panama, in addition to the herd of Cha- rolais cattle, my dad started experimenting in agriculture (lettuce, potatoes, etc.). After several trials with different crops, he decided to start a milking herd instead. The dairy took off and we started selling milk to the local milk plant. To this day, the dairies are the main income of the farm. In the early 1980s my dad decided to go in to coffee as well. Originally we planted the Catimor variety, but that was all replaced by Catuai in the early 1990s. In the mid 1990s we opened our own beneficio, or mill, and started exporting coffee. In the late 1990s, the Specialty Coffee Association of Panama (SCAP) was founded and judges were invited down from the United States to cup Panama coffees. At that point, we knew that coffee from Panama was good, but no one really even knew that Panama had coffee because we export so little as a country. My father was one of the founding members of the SCAP. We competed in the first Best of Panama and came in dead last for the first two years. It was a blessing in disguise. This was a good incen- tive for us to figure out why we came in 21st out of 21—it helped us to understand what aspects are important in coffee production. We learned how different temperatures at day and night (altitude, in the case of Panama) are a very key factor in the equation. So we started planting higher. And my brother, Daniel, who had just graduated from college and gone back to the farm to work, started cupping. And because of this, he cupped different lots on the Jaramillo farm and he found the Geisha. SA: Can you tell me about the four farms under Hacienda La Esmeralda? RP: Yes, two of the farms are the original farms that my grand- father bought in 1967. The Palmira farm, where my parents live still and where the original dairy is located, is around 1,100 meters above sea level. The Cañas Verdes farm, which is higher up the mountain from Palmira, ranges from 1,400 up to way above coffee-production elevation. We produce coffee on that farm at up to 2,000 meters, although we only have coffee up to 1,800 meters in production at the moment. In the mid 1990s my dad and I went to see a farm that was being repossessed by the bank. It was beautiful and we fell in love with it right away, with its huge, gorgeous old trees. We put in an offer and got it. That's the Jaramillo farm, where Geisha was first discovered in 2004. The elevation of Esmeralda Jaramillo ranges from 1,400 to 1,750. Then, in 2013 we bought another farm in the region of Alto Quiel, called Esmeralda El Velo. El Velo starts at 1,650 and goes up to 2,000 meters in coffee, although only up to 1,850 in production at this time. In El Velo we also have 400 different Ethiopian accessions that Daniel and I cup annually. SA: Back to you: What kind of a kid were you, growing up in Pan- ama? What was your childhood like? RP: I was a shy and awkward kid, I think. None of us spoke any Spanish when we got there. I went to the local elementary school, which, with the bad roads and all, took about an hour to get to, and on some rainy days we couldn't get out at all (with landslides and bad, muddy, cliffy hills). But I learned Spanish fast—by second grade, I was completely fluent. I was approximately a full head taller than everyone in my kindergarten class, and blond, so I stuck out like a sore thumb. By the time I was in high school, the access to the main road was better, but I still commuted over an hour to school. We did have electricity. There was no telephone until I came back from college

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