My Experience at Toby's Coffee Farm in Panama by Bill Ballard

Posted by admin in Coffee Trails

Here is a personal note from one of our dedicated Roasters, Billy Ballard about his recent trip to Toby’s Farm, Finca Santa Teresa.

“So how can I begin to tell you about Panama? This country has unbelievable scenery, great weather, impeccably good coffee, beautiful women, and fantastic Rum. No wonder why Toby brought us here. The only problem is, it’s so far away.
But believe me; the journey was well worth it.

So finally after 24 hours in transit there we were, Heather (our Customer Service Manager) and I sitting in the domestic airport of Panama city, waiving our phones in the air to try and find the Wi-Fi signal, Heather pointing out the dinky little Panama Air airplanes that we would soon be flying on. Believe me when I tell you (and Heather can vouch for this) one had smoke coming out of the engine. Literally, 10 mins before our flight was about to board, up popped Toby, and then we were off. The flight from Panama City to David (the town closest to FST) was one of the most beautiful flights I had ever been on, it felt like we where only 1000 meters off the ground, I could literally tell the color of people’s shirts as we cruised over. A quick bite to eat and a warm shower after we landed, then I was out like a light.

The next morning was an early start, a run around town to pick up last minute provisions, like vegetables and water. Then we set off up the mountains, and eventually we get there. I mean it, words just can’t explain how gorgeous Toby’s farm is. It’s nestled right beneath an extinct volcano, at about 1500mtrs above sea level with views stretching thousands of kilometers, over town ships, little streams and of course, hundreds of coffee farms. I really had to give myself a good ten minutes to take in what it was that I was looking at. After I snapped back to reality, Toby told us we’re heading up to our camp site, which was still another 200 meters above where we were, and where the view and scenery got even more amazing. We got a fire started, unpacked all our gear, sat down to dinner, had a few Rums and then CRASHED. It’s amazing how much travelling and sitting on your bum all day can take it out of you.

Little did I know I was about to have one of worst sleeps of my life!! Now… I packed my bag for “Panama” right? Shorts, thongs, a couple of T-shirts. Little did I know that the altitude and drop in temperature was so extreme! That night it must have got down to 6 or 7 degrees and it was very windy, I was absolutely FREEZING, and I was sleeping on an air mattress with one tiny little bit of linen covering me, I was this close to getting out of bed and lying in the smoldering embers of the fire. Thankfully it wasn’t only me; there were little grunts of agony coming from Heather and Toby’s tents all night as well. I think we all slipped into a little frozen coma that night, not asleep but unable to move over fear of hitting a cold spot in your bed… It was pretty bad.

Morning light broke and we all rolled out of tents and huddled around a small fire. Now there wasn’t much talking going on but everyone knew what was on everyone’s mind, COFFEE. We quickly made our way down to the mill and got started on what was our mission for the rest of our stay, roasting and cupping as much coffee as we possibly could, and as much as Finca Santa Teresa could give us.

The next couple of days almost worked out to perfection, we had 4 full days on the farm with around 80 different lots of coffee to be tasted, which works out to be about 4½ hours of roasting and 2 hours of tasting everyday. We still needed to allow some time to see the farm and assist with the processing, planting, picking, and basic all-round operations that where taking place on the Estate. And my god did the coffee’s taste amazing this year.

To give you all a basic idea in how to score coffee’s in the way the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) does, cups that score between 80 and 83 usually are your lower ranked coffee’s, still good and with nothing offensive in the taste but just a little boring. Coffee’s that score 84-85 are the real special coffee’s, with beautiful sweetness, smooth body and interesting character. And all coffee’s that score 86 and higher, are the blow your socks off, slap a huge price tag on, unbelievably awesome coffees. So, out of the near 80 coffees that we tasted (all from different sections of the farm) we all would have scored 4 or 5 in the 82-83 range, the main majority in the specialty coffee range of 84-85, and I’m dead serious around about 5-10 in the 86 and above range, which where some of the best coffee’s I have ever tasted. And then came the Gesha’s, which as you all know are in a game of their own! One of these was FST’s natural processed cabana Gesha, which in my eyes scored a 92.5. I was trying so hard to find something… anything wrong with it, but I simply couldn’t, it was perfect and should win the Best of Panama this year for sure.

It really was 4 very full on days, and much to our surprise we achieved everything we set out to do. We were all very happy to call it a Job Well Done.
During the trip there were lots of shenanigans and plenty of stories to be told, that I just for the life of me can’t put on paper.

It’s been an amazing experience, and one that I’ll never forget.”

BILLY