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Behind making Panama’s $100-a-cup coffee

Panama grows some of the best coffee in the world, but no brew is more enticing than the “Geisha” variety grown in the country’s remote regions.

The Panamanian version of the coffee, which can sell for up to $100 per cup in the United States, is the most expensive in the world.

In western Panama’s Chiriqui province, coffee farmer Ratibore Hartman, his son Rabbitor Jr. and coffee importer Ellen Fan took CBS News behind the scenes of their operation. The estate where they grow coffee is located on the side of a mountain, where the altitude and volcanic soil make it the perfect place to grow the famous beans. Ratibor says that winds from the Pacific and Caribbean grace the mountain slopes, adding flavor.

Hartman describes Geisha Coffee as “very juicy, very sweet” while Fan describes it as having “fruity notes like candy and grapefruit”.

“This variety, the Panamanian geisha, is the best,” added Fan

Geisha coffee beans actually originate from Ethiopia. They were originally called “gesha” beans, named after the region of Ethiopia where they originated, but the misspelling stuck.

The bean arrived in Panama in an experiment by the late Price Peterson and his family, who found that geisha beans could survive in some harsh climates.


This experiment resulted in a coffee different from their taste, and in 2004, they entered the coffee in the “Best of Panama” competition.

“It was no contest,” said Daniel Peterson, Price Peterson’s son. “Judges, international judges who have been exposed to coffee all over the world – they fall in love with it.”

Since then, Daniel and Rachel Peterson have been working to top it. They experimented with different varieties, fermentation and drying methods and more. Due to the limited supply of beans and the estate’s careful management of the prized commodity, some batches of them sell for more than $500 per pound.

Panamanian chef Charlie Collins says sales of Geisha coffee have helped draw tourists to Boquete, a town near Panama and the Peterson farm. One of his baristas, Kenneth Duarte, loved coffee so much that he learned the fine art of making it.

“Business has increased, it’s been great for the community in Boquete, but it’s also been great for Panama,” Collins said.

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Manuel Bojorquez

Manuel Bojorquez

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