Walking in to a Peet’s Coffee & Tea last week, I noticed they are once again offering their supply of Panama Esmeralda Geisha as a roast-dated “Reserve” coffee. We wrote about this coffee varietal last month (and also in 2006). It has consistently sold at record auction prices, and it has won numerous awards for the best coffee stock out there. (Good luck finding it at Starbucks.)

Unlike the ever-popular yarn for the coffee tourists known as kopi luwak, you will actually find reviews of the varietal on CoffeeReview.com. And although I didn’t purchase a sample at the $130-a-pound auction price for the green beans, I did purchase a roasted half-pound for $25 — for “research purposes” — making it the most expensive coffee I’ve ever purchased.

Peet's Panama Esmeralda - with the roast date posted on the label Peet's roasted the Panama Esmeralda a little too dark for my preferences

So what’s the lowdown on this coffee? No surprise: upon opening the bag (two days after the roast date) I immediately noticed how Peet’s will roast anything darker than I’d like — even a prized Central American coffee that has garnered ten first place awards in the past four years. For a Central American coffee with such subtle floral and fruit-like elements to it, roasting it darkly enough so that the beans start surfacing oil (well into the second crack) is a bit like serving prized Kobe beef cooked medium well.

Its roasted coffee fragrance is dominated by floral notes and some caramel. (Here I’m reserving the word aroma exclusively to the olfactory sensation at the back of the throat, per ISO methodology and Espresso Italiano Tasting.) The fragrance is rather subtle, however, and not as potent as Peet’s write-up leads you to believe.

Grinds atop a boiling Kona vacuum pot Vacuum draws the brewed Panama Esmeralda into the pot Note the battle between hot and cooler liquids in the stem

Brewing it in a Cona vacuum pot (vac pot being my clear favorite brewing method for more delicate coffees), it produced a surprising full and richer mouthfeel — not the kind you’d normally expect from a Central American coffee. Tasting it, right away you know you’re dealing with really, really good coffee. It has a wide breadth of flavors — jasmine, some slight citrus, and also some darker, earthy notes that gave it an unexpected structure. Which gave me the idea that it might not make such a terrible espresso after all.

Brewing it as an espresso, it produced an adequate layer of medium brown, even crema. It carried a lot of bright notes in the cup. Its vac pot mouthfeel did not translate to a great espresso body — it was a touch thin. But it makes a very good quality espresso. However, and no surprise, espresso does not highlight the real merits of this bean. (Espresso cup in the photo below courtesy of Bar Lamia, Portovenere.)

Speaking of merits, is Panama Esmeralda worth the expense? In a word, no. Or at least with the way that Peet’s roasted it to something more pedestrian. However, I do recommend it for a one-time tasting to calibrate your coffee palate.

The finished product: Panama Esmeralda A Panama Esmeralda espresso