Coffee competitions: Exploring Best of Panama

Karmen Yoong
January 17, 2022
best of panama cupping

Coffee competitions help drive the specialty sector forward – and few are more influential than Best of Panama.

Organised almost entirely by coffee producers, its aim is to promote and empower Panamanian coffee growers, while encouraging them to produce higher quality coffee.

Since its first installment in 1996, Best of Panama has gained recognition as one of the most prestigious coffee events in the calendar year.

The winning coffees, which are decided by a group of professionals in a blind cupping process, often going on to fetch some of the highest prices on the market. Only recently, at the 23rd edition of Best of Panama, per-pound averages reached just above $100, significantly higher than the C market average.

For specialty coffee roasters, following events like Best of Panama and understanding the latest trends are fundamental to running a successful business.

Read on to find out more about the competition and its significance to the coffee industry.

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best of panama coffee

What is Best of Panama?

Best of Panama is an annual coffee competition and auction held in Boquete, a small town in the Chiriquí province of Panama.

The concept emerged in the late 1980s following a price crash which led to the collapse of the Panamanian coffee market.

In search of a solution, a group of coffee producers came together and formed the Specialty Coffee Association of Panama (SCAP). The inaugural Best of Panama competition in 1996 was seen as a way to usher in a new era and to promote the country’s coffee in the international specialty market .

From there, the prestige of the event grew, as more and more producers began to enter coffees.

A key turning point came in 2004, when a Geisha coffee entered by the Peterson family from Hacienda La Esmeralda was auctioned off at a record-breaking price of $21 per pound.

Today, Panamanian Geisha coffee continues to set record prices year after year, and is one of the most expensive and sought-after coffees in the world. It is still closely associated with Panama.

The format of Best of Panama is similar to Cup of Excellence, an annual event held in several coffee-producing countries: Panamanian producers submit samples, which then go through a rigorous evaluation process.

In the first round, coffee samples are blind tasted according to its categories by the national jury consisting of certified Panamanian coffee cuppers.

Eligible samples are then passed onto a group of international judges to determine the best lots to be sold at the online auction.

To uphold the integrity of the competition, SCAP also uses a third party auditing company to oversee the process which includes handling of coffee samples, collection of cupping notes as well as verification of scores.

cupping coffee

Why is it important to the coffee sector?

Over the years, Best of Panama has contributed significantly to the development of the specialty coffee industry.

One of the best examples is the influence it has had on Geisha, a unique coffee variety originating in Ethiopia. Despite having been cultivated in Panama since the 1960s, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that Panamanian Geisha became widely known.

Within a few years, it was being planted all over the country, as well as spilling over into countries such as Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. 

Thanks in a large part to its high cup potential, the extraordinary prices Geisha fetches on the market today also show the extent to which Best of Panama can influence the specialty sector.

The greater financial reward encourages continuous development in quality and pushes for innovation within the coffee producing community.

In an interview with the BBC, Ric Rhinehart, former executive director of Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) said: “That’s rewarding for the farmers and rewarding for the consumers. Farmers make a better living and consumers enjoy a better product.”

Ultimately, the shift in consumer perceptions towards the value of coffee, together with improved livelihood of producers and better coffee quality, help contribute to the sustainability of the specialty coffee industry as a whole.

best of panama coffee bag

Why roasters should offer Best of Panama coffee

Every year, Best of Panama receives press coverage from a number of the world’s leading coffee journals and magazines.

With the media attention extending towards buyers of the lots or roasters who sell Best of Panama coffees, it earns the business publicity as well as generating interest among coffee consumers.

For example, Klatch Coffee made headlines around the world when it sold the 2018 record-breaking Best of Panama coffee from Lamastus Family’s Elida Estate coffee for a staggering $75 per cup.

Securing 10lbs out of the 100lbs of beans available for purchase, Klatch Coffee was able to market it as a rare and elusive coffee.

The limited supply of Best of Panama coffees means that roasters and cafés that offer them send a message of exclusivity and prestige.

At the same time, it signals a business’ strong commitment towards quality, thereby setting itself apart from other competitors.

What’s more, the differences in price range breeds curiosity in consumers, which provides an opportunity for roasters to start a conversation with consumers and offer a unique customer experience.

In a recent article, US-based roastery Sey Coffee said that while a consumer might not purchase Panama Geishas on a regular basis, they will stop into a local coffee shop to try a specialty coffee to see if it is good, and, after tasting the difference, likely become a regular customer.

With the rising interest in high-quality products including coffee, especially in East Asian countries, selling Best of Panama coffees gives roasters exposure to an international consumer market.

recyclable coffee bags

The Best of Panama has undoubtedly created a space that stimulates innovation and knowledge-exchange within the coffee producing community.

By honouring the hard work of producers and bringing to light the true potential of coffee, it sets the specialty coffee industry on the right path towards greater growth and advancement.

At MTPak coffee, we offer a range of high-quality sustainable coffee bags that will protect and keep your coffee beans fresh for consumption.

Fully customisable from material of the bag to design, you can develop the perfect packaging that showcases the best story of your coffee.

We also provide a low minimum order quantity (MOQ) of 500 units to cater to roasters who are looking to sell coffee in limited numbers.

For information on our sustainable coffee bags, contact our team.

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