Coffee auctions in Panama are always good for a surprise and a new record price.
The Best of Panama Auction 2023 did not disappoint in this respect and again set a new record. This time, 50 lots of 25kg each of top-quality coffee with a total value of $1,085,275 were sold.
This broke the previous record set in 2022, when the auction generated a total sales volume of $1,058,581.
And with $10,005 for one kg of washed Geisha coffee, we have seen the highest price ever paid for an individual lot.
Please note that for the first time, prices were quoted as per kilogram instead of pound. This underscores the growing importance of the international market, where the global standard is metric.
What is the Best of Panama Auction?
The Best of Panama auction is an annual event started by the Specialty Coffee Association of Panama (SCAP) in 1996 in cooperation with Sensible Coffee. SCAP was established by a group of Panamanian coffee farmers in the early 1990s amidst the coffee crisis. World market prices had plummeted to less than a dollar per pound, and Vietnam started to become a major player in the mass market.
The brilliant answer of the Panamanian farmers was to compete with quality instead of price. They went all-in into the top-quality segment of coffee, jumped on the third-wave coffee trend, and made Panama Coffee a synonym for luxury coffee.
The 2023 auction marked the 27th year of this illustrious tradition. It’s a prestigious platform that aids Panamanian coffee farmers in promoting their high-quality coffees.
The auction introduces the best Panamanian coffees to the world and sets the benchmark for specialty coffee globally. It has received even more worldwide attention since the boom of Panama Geisha coffee started in 2004.
Buyers from around the world are welcome to participate in the online auction. The auction website is multilingual. Besides English, the site can be accessed in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. There is even easy navigation through the different time zones of the world.
Buyers interested in participating in the auction must register and meet certain criteria to bid on the available lots. The auction utilizes a real-time bidding process, allowing buyers to place bids online. Each lot has a predetermined bidding increment, ensuring that the bids increase in an orderly fashion.
The auction is open to Panamanian coffee farmers and producers using traditional and innovative coffee processing methods, allowing for diverse flavors and profiles.
In preparation for the competition and auction, coffee producers submit their beans to the SCAP. The submitted beans undergo a competition with a rigorous screening process. They must meet the minimum criteria to be considered for inclusion in the competition:
- Grown in Panama
- Arabica coffee beans only
- Free from any defects or off-flavors
- Produced by sustainable practices with a priority on environmental conservation and social responsibility
The beans are carefully cupped and judged by national and international experts in the specialty coffee field. The samples are evaluated blindly, ensuring that the judges do not have any prior knowledge about the coffee they are testing. Only the highest-scoring lots advance to the auction stage. This rigorous selection process guarantees that every lot featured in the auction represents the pinnacle of Panamanian specialty coffee. The coffee cupping process follows five criteria:
- Aroma: Assessing the fragrance and aromatic qualities of the brewed coffee.
- Flavor: Analyzing the taste profile for distinct flavors such as fruitiness, floral notes, and chocolate undertones.
- Acidity: Evaluating the level of acidity present in the coffee, determining its brightness and liveliness.
- Body: Examining the mouthfeel or texture of the coffee on the palate.
- Aftertaste: Assessing the lingering flavors that remain after swallowing.
Details of the Best of Panama Auction 2023 Results
The online auction lasted for 11 hours, and the total value of coffee sold reached a record-breaking $1,085,275, demonstrating the continued growth and success of the Best of Panama Auction.
The auction featured 50 outstanding coffee lots, 36 micro lots of the Geisha varietal (washed and natural) with scores of 92 and higher, and 14 micro lots of other varietals with scores of 89.13 and above. The other varietals included Catuai, Caturra, Chicho Gallo, Chiroso, Ethiopian Heirloom, Java, and Sidra.
The bids ranged between $372 and $2,504 in the category Natural Geisha category, and in the Washed Geisha category, from $374 to $10,005.
In the category Varietals, the range was, of course, lower but still impressive, with $90 to $488.
The Winning Lot and other outstanding Geisha coffees
The top lot in the 2023 event was the Carmen Geisha from Carmen Estates By Panama Red Carmen Café Trading. It fetched $10,005 per kilogram, a new record for the highest sale price. It is a washed Geisha grown at an altitude of 1,900 m in Paso Ancho, Tierras Altas, Chiriqui. It had scored 96.5 points in the cupping session. The tasting notes are floral, jasmine, sweet orange, lemongrass, and sugarcane.
Carmen Estate is located in Volcán, Chiriqui, and is not a newcomer at all and has won many awards. The harvest is done by the Nôbe-Buglé indigenous people, who are trained only to pick fully ripe coffee cherries. Carmen Estate is also observing strict principles of ecologic farming and milling.
Besides Geisha, they also produce Typica and Caturra varietals. Their Caturra lot in this competition scored 89.38 and was admitted to the auction.
The second highest bid of $3.048 was received by Longboard Misty Mountain Washed Geisha by Longboard Specialty Coffee. Their coffee is grown at an altitude of 1,650 m above Boquete. The soil and climatic conditions are very unique, contributing to the extraordinary flavor profile. Six months of the year, the plantation is shrouded in mist, slowing the maturing of the cherries. Shade-grown and strictly free from any chemicals,
The producer offers the following elaborate cupping notes: Jasmin, bergamot, lemongrass, and lemon blossom on the nose. Lemon candy, pink guava, tangerine, and peach on the palate. Lingering aftertaste of jasmine and bergamot. Bright, layered, sparkling citric/phosphoric acidity like tangerine and sweet lemon. Sugar cane sweetness. Creamy body like lemon custard. It is extremely balanced with a crisp minerality that melts into the palate. Long, elegant, mouthwatering jasmine finish.
Longboard has been performing very well in at least seven of the Best of Panama competitions and is definitely a producer to be watched closely going forward.
The third highest bid with $2,504 per kg, went to a washed Geisha, De la Rosa Mount Totumas Cloud Forest. This lot achieved a cupping score of 96.25, the second-highest in this year’s coffee competition.
This coffee is produced by Mount Totumas Coffee, which has six lots located at an altitude of 1,800 to 1,900 m in the cloud forest. Shade-grown under ideal climatic conditions and with careful and elaborate processing, their coffees are consistently high quality. Besides Geisha, they are also growing Typica, Caturra, and Catuai.
One more lot fetched a bid of over $2,000, La Roca from Finca Sophia. This coffee scored a great 95.0 points in the cupping session and achieved a price of $2,004 in the auction.
These are the cupping notes: Fragrance and aroma of cherry and bergamot orange. In the cup, powerful floral and citrus notes, expected from a washed geisha, with a layer of fresh fruits – black cherries, currants, and plums – finishing with a creamy mouthfeel.
Finca Sophia was established only in 2008 but already had a very successful and impressive career, winning first place in the Best of Panama Competition of 2017 and 2020 in the category Washed Geisha and several other prizes and awards. They specialize in Geisha coffee, either washed or natural.
One reason for the quality of their coffee is the altitude of up to 2,175 m, one of the highest in Panama. This ensures a slow maturation of the coffee cherries and the development of an amazing flavor profile.
Other well-known contenders
There were a number of well-known participants who didn’t make it to the very top of this year’s event. But being in the Best of Panama competition is by itself already a great achievement for Panamanian coffee growers. This includes Janson Coffee Farm, Hacienda La Esmeralda, Finca Lérida, Lamastus Family Estates, and Finca Hartmann, who all have an excellent reputation for their estate coffee.
The top Non-Geisha Varietals in the auction
Black Moon Farm is a new producer which started planting only three years ago. With their first harvest, they already fetched the highest bid in this category with $488 per kg for their Black Moon Constellation. It had the second highest score in the Varietals category, with 91.88 points. The varietal is Chiroso, which is an Ethiopian Landrace variety discovered in recent years in Colombia.
In the near future, we can expect Black Moon to produce Geisha, Bourbon Pointu, Pink Bourbon, Rume Sudan, and Mocca varieties. An interesting newcomer to watch.
The second highest bid of $412 went to Guaromo Coffee Farm for their Chicho Gallo varietal. It scored 92.38 points, the highest in the category of Varietals.
Chicho Gallo is a unique hybrid between Amaro Gayo and Geisha. Both have their origins in Ethiopia.
Guarumo Coffee Farm is a relatively small farm of 4-hectars in Santa Clara, Renacimiento, and an altitude of 1,750 – 1,800 meters. It produces Geisha, Chicho Gallo, Sidra Bourbon, and Ethiopian heirloom varietals.
Who were the Successful Buyers?
Over the last few years, Asian buyers have become more and more visible in many luxury markets, from wine, fine spirits, and fashion. Going into high-end coffee is a natural extension of this trend.
It wasn’t surprising that the auction was clearly dominated by Asian buyers, mainly from China, including Grand Cru Coffee. Several Korean and Japanese buyers, including the well-known SAZA Coffee and Geshary Coffee from Japan, were also successful.
Coffee Tech Limited from New Zealand and George Howell Coffee Company from Acton, MA, were among the few Western buyers I recognized.
Coffee consumption in China is growing at an annual rate of 15%, much higher than in the West. But for many, it is still a decadent adventure, as you can see in this English-language article in the global edition of China Daily.
The importance of Coffee auctions
The prestigious Best of Panama auction is one of the most watched events of this kind in the specialty coffee industry worldwide. It showcases the finest and rarest coffee beans and attracts the attention of key market players, including international roasters and coffee enthusiasts. Following this successful strategy, similar auctions were set up in many other coffee-producing countries. Many of these auctions are managed by Sensible Coffee.
The variety of coffees submitted to the auction by renowned Panamanian farms highlights the country’s unique terroir and microclimates in the diverse growing regions. There is a great potential for producing complex, sophisticated, and rare coffees. Among them, Geisha coffee regularly gets the most attention, but several coffee producers are also experimenting with less well-known varietals and hybrids. They are also actively developing sustainable coffee growing and post-harvest processing techniques.
Photo credit: CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture on Visualhunt