Panama is known globally for producing some of the world’s most exquisite coffees. But it’s not just a fantastic origin. The capital, Panama City, is a coffee destination like few others, where patrons can enjoy worldclass coffees just a few miles from where they were grown (well technically a few hundred miles, but whose counting?). If you find yourself in Panama City, be sure to check out these cafés, serving the best their country has to offer.
With five locations around the city, Cafe Unido is the largest chain of specialty coffee shops in the city. Their flagship location is in the trendy San Franscisco neighborhood, but tourist staying in historical Casco Viejo might find it easier to visit their café in the lobby of the American Trade Hotel. This beautiful space combines the best of old world and contemporary coffee culture. Expect one of the widest selections of different farms, varietals, and processing techniques you’ve ever seen from one country. A true coffee nerd’s dream.
Leto Coffee Brew Bar
Brothers Cesar Eduardo Bermejo and Cesar Andrés Bermejo run Leto Coffee Brew Bar, in Panama City’s San Francisco neighborhood. Although they’re originally from Venezuela, the Bermejo brothers have become international representatives of Panamanian coffee, winning the 2017 Barista and Brewers Cup Competitions. They work closely with their producers to pick their favorite lots, including lots of black honey process coffees: a difficult processing technique the top Panamanian producers have perfected. Their café is also open later than most, making it a perfect to unwind with a delicious espresso after dinner.
Bajareque Coffee House
The catalyst for Panama City’s coffee revolution is a small shop in Casco Viejo: Bajareque Coffee House. Owned by the famed Lamastus family, Bajareque serves coffees from their esteemed farms Elida Estate, El Burro, and Luito Geisha Estate. As Wilford Lamastus Sr. and his son Wilford Lamastus Jr. cultivated relationships with international companies like Verve Coffee Roasters, they realized they could add value to their product by roasting and marketing it locally. The result was Bajareque, the first café in Panama to serve specialty-grade coffee. Be sure to check out the Geisha menu, roasted by Lamastus Jr. himself on a small Probatino roaster in the back room.
The new kid on the block in Panama City’s coffee scene is Paddle Coffee, the brain child of Manuel Barsallo. Barsallo grew up in Panama City, and was surprised to learn that coffee from Panama’s Boquete and Volcan regions was setting world records. That set Barsallo on a path that led to him opening his own café, with backing from the owner of Bambito Estate. A little off the beaten path for tourists with a short itinerary, Paddle is a great option for remote workers with its open seating. A glass-encased tasting room offers guests a chance to watch Barsallo’s meticulous quality control protocol.
Editor’s note: for a more indepth look at Panama City’s café scene, check out the December 2017 issue of Fresh Cup magazine.