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Panama Esmeralda Jaramillo Especial

July 5, 2006
Intelligentsia, Sweet Maria's
Jim Schulman

Two years ago, this coffee created a sensation for garnering an unheard of price of over $20 green after getting a 96 rating in the Best of Panama competition. It's now won the Best of Panama three years running, gathered a host of other honors, and set a new auction record of $51 per pound green. Intelligentsia may also have set a record, selling its share of this coffee at over $100 per pound roasted. The Jaramillo has become the poster coffee for the new category of super-specialty, perfectly picked and prepped coffees sold at auction or in direct arrangements to a small group of roasters. Readers of this site will know the players in the US, since we review many of their excellent coffees here.

The secret of the Jaramillo is the cultivar, Geisha; a varietal from Ethiopia brought to Central America in the 1920s, then apparently forgotten. Price Peterson, the new owner of the Esmeralda estate, rediscovered it in a remote corner, and now the great Geisha hunt is on. Other plantations in Central America have found a few trees, but not enough to put together lots; look out for a Geisha flood in about five years, when the new plantings start to produce. In Ethiopia, people are also looking for the tree. There is a coffee producing province called Gesha, but its main cultivars are apparently high yield trees used to produce Djimmah coffee, which is only rarely good enough for the specialty trade. So the search for the Geisha in its homeland continues.

When I tasted it two years ago, my first thought was that it tasted like a perfectly wet processed Harar, redolent of apricots, filberts, chocolate, cinnamon citrus blossom and candied lemon zest. It also has the longberry shape. So my suspicion is that the Geisha is a very close cousin to the Longberry cultivar.

This year I cupped it alongside the Bale Kara and the Colombia Tres Santos microlot from Intelligentsia. I also had friends over, so these coffees were cupped by five people. The Jaramillo and Bale kara were a light City Roast, suitable for cupping, while the Colombia was slightly darker, a light production roast.

The aromatics were close to perfect this year. Flowers with cinnamon and chocolate underneath filled the room as the coffee was ground, and were apparent on the break as well. The wet aroma was more balanced towards spice, with the floral component slightly musky and perfumed. In the taste, the florals and chocolate took a backseat to the cinnamon and a granny smith apple acidity as the cup cooled. The cup was crystal pure and fairly sweet.

Tasters split as to the relative ranking of the three coffees. The Colombia started out smokey and allspice, cooled to almond, cherry, and chocolate, then finally an apple crispness. It was clearly an excellent, 90ish cup; but everyone placed it third. We split over whether the Bale or the Jaramillo was the best cup on the table. We all agreed that the Jaramillo had more powerful aromatics and better clarity; but it had neither the honeyed warmth of the Bale, a dry processed Yrgacheffe, nor the brilliant sparkle of a good wet processed Yrgacheffe. As my score on the taste shows, the combination of flavors, although complex, was somehow unconvincing.

So was this coffee worth $50 per pound green? It did not have the perfection this year that it had in 2004, when it went for $20. And many other coffees as good sell for under $10 per pound green. Nevertheless, I think it is worth it. A pound of roasted coffee that costs $100, prorates to about $2 per cup; and coffees at this level of excellence drink like fine wines which cost far more per glass. So my take is that the Jaramillo wasn't overpriced, but that most other superb coffees remain absurdly underpriced. My advice: grab them before the world wakes up!

Dry Fragrance: 5.0
Wet Aroma: 4.75
Flavor: 8.25
Finish: 9.0
Acidity: 8.0
Body: 7.5
TOTAL (subtotal + 50): 92.5



UPDATED: July 21, 2006