For a time Costa Rica was considered the peak of coffee excellence in the commodity trade. Small farms joined cooperatives, and with the help of government assistance, a large number of farmers were able to export coffee directly. This system though was something of a liability in the emerging climate of specialty coffee, single origins, traceability, and microlots, leading to difficulty in producing coffee that was “specialty”. However the micro mill revolution enabled Costa Rica to still stand tall, as these last two Superlatives have shown.
By a virtuous combination of serendipity, geography, and economics, other producers have leapt ahead in this market. Notably Panama, leading us to this months big news: a record breaking USD $610/lb price
paid for the Esmeralda Geisha Cañas Verdes Natural.
31 of the 51 lots up for auction went to buyers from East and South East Asia. Demand here can in part be explained by the burgeoning middle class of Chinese consumers with greater access to disposable income. In this light, there’s a luxury goods market with Panama Geisha fulfilling that segment.
But that’s not the only emerging aspect to this demand. Dense living and working conditions combined with the controlled chaos of urban living has lead to a need for calm. A place to meet friends, relax, unwind. Specialty coffee shops are providing that space.
200 million people with disposable income, with a place they’re motivated to seek out, providing a product differentiated as a luxury good, makes USD $20-27 a shot sound like a not-unreasonable bet. This market was once provided by Costa Rica; for a time it was Ethiopian washed coffees, and the less said about cat shit coffee the better. What influences these trends is arguably not that it’s coffee, or specialty coffee — but that it’s Costa Rican or Panamanian coffee, from a particular farm or group of farms, from a particular variety, using a particular processing method. This leads to a distinctive cup and a distinctive product. What needs to be disentangled here is what’s being paid for: the cup or the product?