2022 Best of Panama Award Ceremony attendees: (left to right) Will Young – Head Judge for Best of Panama 2022, Linda Arauz – Panama Operations Manager, Max Arauz – Cupping Lab Assistant, Hunter Tedman – San Francisco Bay Coffee's Panama & Colombia Director, Hector Aguilar – Farm Manager

San Francisco Bay Coffee Takes Fifth Place in the Esteemed “Best Of Panama” Competition

There are several coffee competitions that take place annually all over the world. You might be more familiar with skill-based competitions like the World Barista Championship, the Brewers Cup, and the World Latte Art Championship to name a few. Some coffee farmers and producers look to the World Coffee Championship and the Cup of Excellence to make their mark in the juried cupping trials. But by far the most important and prestigious competition amongst the global specialty coffee markets is the Best of Panama Competition and Auction. San Francisco Bay Coffee Company recently placed fifth in this highly competitive arena. We spoke with Carlos Serrano (San Francisco Bay Coffee Company’s Green Coffee Buyer and Head of Supply Chain) and Hunter Tedman (San Francisco Bay Coffee Company’s Panama Agronomy Director) to hear about the incredible success they achieved in this year’s competition.

 On top of providing an amazing array of coffees, San Francisco Bay Coffee Company works with farmers and agronomists who are true coffee experts operating in the highest levels of competition. They are obsessed with quality, and that quality starts at the very beginning of the growing season. “Decisions that will affect the outcome of participating in the competition and the auction are made months in advance before the harvest even begins,” says Tedman. “We start initially with farming decisions because we have to choose the nutrition program and cultural practices that will produce the best cup of coffee. We have to make decisions all the way through the growth and harvest - even to what processes we will incorporate at the mill.” A great deal of thought and skill goes into each of San Francisco Bay Coffee Company’s entries.

“It is a great time to start trying specialty coffees because what they have to offer is endless.”  

~ Carlos Serrano, San Francisco Bay Coffee Q-Grader

Returning after a Covid hiatus, the 2022 edition of the Best of Panama Competition drew the specialty coffee world back to Boquete in Panama’s Chiriqui province. A combined panel of fifteen Panamian and International judges from the United States, Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan spent six cupping days of exhaustive blind testing to find the best of the best. Panamanian coffee represents the “tip of the arrow” for the specialty coffee market throughout the rest of the world. The prices that are paid for specialty coffee all across the globe are due in large part to the prices that are reached in the Best of Panama’s Auction over the years.

San Francisco Bay Coffee Company owns farms in the most sought-after regions of Panama - the equivalent of owning vineyards in Bordeaux or Burgundy, Napa, or Sonoma. We are the biggest exporter in the country through Beneficio El Bajareque, which purchases coffee from over 100 small farms. We always have great results in the competition. For the last couple of years, our coffees have been auctioned for over $100 a pound. The 2022 competition was the first time we entered coffee from Las Brujas Farm. The varietal batch we entered, named “Mrs. Barbara” after Barbara Rogers, one of San Francisco Bay Coffee Company’s founders, ranked 5th in the competition and garnered a price of over $100/lb at the prestigious Auction.

Best of Panama has held its yearly competition since 1996. It was there, in 2004, that a family farm, Hacienda La Esmerelda, entered a Geisha coffee that took the competition by storm. The specialty coffee world was changed forever. Winning coffees at this competition have consistently broken records of the highest-scored coffee in the world and the most highly-priced. The current record holder is the winner of the 2021 Natural Geisha category, and its selling price at auction was $2,568 per pound!

Three categories of coffee are judged in the Best of Panama Competition: Geisha Washed, Geisha Natural, and Varietals. San Francisco Bay Coffee Company has entered coffee batches in each of these categories. “Mrs. Barbara” and “Big John” are our most recent entries (named for our founders), and after each competition, these coffee batch names must be retired, never to be used again.

Green beans from Las Brujas being packaged for submission to the 2022 Best of Panama Competition. 

The Geisha Washed coffees have only the attributes that come from the genetics of the plant and the terroir (the soil composition, temperature, rain, climate, and specific cultural procedures that are applied to agriculture). Fruity, winey, and other “fermented” cupping notes are forbidden and result in disqualification.

The Geisha Natural coffees include any coffee that undergoes a natural process (for instance, anaerobic fermentation) to produce a more fruity, winey, and overall more complex cup profile. Usually in this category, we see the highest-scoring coffees with the highest price at auction. Winning Geisha Natural coffee can be sold at coffee shops for more than $100 a cup.

A beautiful view of Hacienda Barbara located in Panama. 

Varietal coffees are categorized as non-Geisha beans (Typica, Caturra, Pacamara, Bourbon, Catuai, Novo Mundo, and Maragogype). Basically, this is an open category, and if a Geisha cupping profile is found here, the coffee is disqualified.

“We’ve been competing at the Best of Panama since 2016, where we won the Traditional Washed category that year with a coffee batch that auctioned at $26.00/pound. We’ve won or placed in each category, achieving prices of over $100/pound. Next year’s plans focus on improving the quality of our Geisha coffees, the jewel of the crown for the world’s specialty coffee markets,” Serrano says. “I hope our readers learn that there is a world of great coffee with flavor attributes and aromas that make the experience of drinking coffee a lot more than just getting some caffeine. It is a great time to start trying specialty coffees because what they have to offer is endless.”

Before harvest, coffee cherries are tested for sugar content to make sure they are picked at their peak.