I have written about Boquete Panama coffee many times in the past. It’s coffee harvest season in Boquete Panama so I just had another brush with the economic realities of the coffee grower. We harvested my coffee this week. Harvesting gourmet coffee is a manual effort, one cherry containing two beans at a time. The beans are measured in “latas” literally tins in our case times of 5 gallons and the pickers are paid by how many latas they pick. This year I paid $2.25 a lata for picking. I sold the coffee for $7 a lata to Cafe Duran.
Cafe Durhan has a sign up that they pay $7 a lata but they really have added updated scales and pay by the pound, not voume. I pay pickers by volume, they pay me for weight, the reality is I received a little less than $7 a lata.
The small difference on the scales is not the point of this post. The point is that at $7 a lata I and most small coffee growers lose money growing gourmet coffee. From that $7 less $2.25, we have a gross profit of $4.75 a lata. We pay for land, labor to tend plants, fertilizer, weed and fungus control and wait at least 3 years for new plants to produce.
A lata of beans becomes about 4 pounds of coffee so we gross about $1.75 a pound and net nothing. When you buy a pound of gourmet coffee think not of just the pickers who are often labeled as underpaid but also small grower who subsidizes your morning cup of java.
I rationalize it all by knowing coffee is great ground cover and I never have any mud slides.