A Promising New Partnership
When we opened Archers to improve access to better quality coffee here in the UAE, our focus was already on higher-end specialty coffee.
The baseline for specialty coffee is a cup score of 80. In terms of cup quality, an 80 means you experience the barest minimum of what specialty coffee can offer: a clean cup (i.e., without taints or faults) with a balance of the basic tastes. We source cup scores of 85-86 and higher, and our buying has always been quality-driven.
Whether we’re cupping with long-term or potential producing partners, we request them to bring their best to the table. We taste, select the best of their best, and then work towards agreeing on the coffee’s value.
Our partnership with Abu Coffee, founded and led by Jose Luttrell, began like this. He and our Co-founder, Head of Operations, and Green Buyer Fred Bejo had a good conversation at the Specialty Coffee Expo in Boston in April 2022 when they first connected. They met again on Archers’ first trip to Panama in the same month.
As Fred shared, the idea was to have a small cupping session and bring back a few kilos of Abu Coffee to the UAE. He disclosed, “But it’s tough to turn away beautiful coffees; we ended up buying six out of their eight lots.”
Abu Coffee Producer’s Talk
Jose was the third speaker at our Panama Producer’s Talk held at the retail area of our Sharjah roastery last January 10. He told us about his personal coffee story, their farm’s history, and their approach to processing.
Abu Coffee was established on Finca Cañas Verdes between 2013 and 2014 in Boquete, Chiriqui — Panama’s premier coffee-growing zone and an agro-tourism destination in the government-promoted project “Coffee Circuit.”
Jose refers to theirs as a “petite coffee farm” vis-a-vis legendary pioneers like the Lamastus Family Estates and neighboring Hacienda La Esmeralda.
Abu Coffee started to become known when they won 6th place in the Geisha Washed category at the 2017 Best of Panama Competition. They have been awarded yearly in different Geisha categories since then. In 2021, their Catuai lots were also awarded in the Varietal Natural and Varietal Washed categories.
They have grown from having a single international customer to having customers in 26 countries and counting.
Reclaiming Abuelo’s Legacy
A civil engineer by trade, married for twenty years, and father to young children, Jose was settled in Panama City when his father, José Guillermo Luttrell Tedman, took him to revisit their family’s farmlands in Boquete. This sparked his interest in specialty coffee which, in time, became a passion.
He is the 4th generation descendant of a farmer who originally migrated from Canada in the 1890s to work on the Panama Canal and then acquired the Chiriqui farmlands as a respite from increasingly strenuous city living. When Jose's father came to inherit the property, he dreamed of creating the best-tasting coffees from their farm. However, the fulfillment of this dream was postponed when circumstances required him to prioritize a career in construction.
After his father passed away, Jose took on his father's aspirations as his own. He went deep into producing specialty coffee and started Abu Coffee. Abu was the affectionate nickname all of his eleven grandchildren had for the elder Jose. They named Abu Coffee in tribute to him.
Wunderkind Among Legends
Abu Coffee’s consecutive BOP awards are particularly noteworthy because their operations are much younger than most of the award-winning producers in Chiriqui. Jose credits their success to three things: the unique terroir, their discernment in processing, and the specialty coffee community’s support — with special mention to Wilford Lamastus Sr. and the Lamastus family, as well as their roaster partners and friends worldwide.
Situated at 1,550 masl on the inclines of the Volcán Barú National Park in Boquete, Finca Cañas Verdes benefits from a tropical forest microclimate, rich biodiversity which is well-protected, and volcanic soils that are fertile, deep, and well-draining. There is also a good balance of shade from native trees and sunlight due to the farm’s location, as well as the right amount of moisture from a light tropical mist in the daytime and dense fog at dusk.
These conditions enhance the cherries' maturation process, such that sugars intensify and enrich the beans' flavor. Jose then selects and configures their post-harvest processing methods according to the known characteristics of the coffees, where their objective is always to make the most of the coffees’ inherently desirable attributes.
For instance, they would opt for a washed process on cherries they know to have a higher degree of florality (based on where they grew on the farm). An anaerobic process would be used to achieve intense fruit qualities, a heavier body, and a silky mouthfeel. They also have a double-phase process that combines aerobic and anaerobic processing, which they found gives pronounced tropical fruit notes like pineapple and mango.
Looking to the future, Jose shared, “We always try to be on top, but it’s very hard to be on top, so… I really just pray to be selected in the best lots.” So far, they have consistently been within the best 15.
Cupping: Abu Coffee Panama Geisha
Jose strives to bring the market distinctive and excellent coffees that could not have been grown and produced elsewhere to honor his father's love for Boquete and their coffee.
The three newly released Abu Coffee Panama Geisha lots we cupped were reminiscent of this aim. The coffees expressed myriad florals and an array of fruit notes interwoven with strands of sweetness.
Panama Geisha M59 Natural has tasting notes of orange blossom, raspberry, floral honey, and blueberry.
Panama Geisha M71 Natural Anaerobic has tasting notes of pineapple, passion fruit, raspberry, and caramel.
Panama Geisha M88 Natural Anaerobic has tasting notes of lavender, mango, strawberry, and peach.
Coffee and Quality Family Time
Just as Jose witnessed his father’s love and hard work for coffee, so do his own children — as they accompany him on their farm and coffee-related travels abroad.
A few days before Producer’s Talk, we met Jose’s family at our Roastery. They had a full Archers tour and the chance to try competition coffees prepared by our Co-founder and Head Roaster Kemal Risyad as they sat in his practice session for the 2023 National Barista Championship. The championship took place at the 2023 World of Coffee Dubai, which the Luttrell family attended as well.
As our David Disuanco, Marketing Manager, 2021 UAE NBrC Champion, and 2022 WBrC Rank 7 observed, “The Luttrell kids’ coffee knowledge and sensory skills are admirable.” Of course, this comes as no surprise when one learns, as we did, about their daily coffee routine.
In Jose’s words and as affirmed by Bibiana, Jose’s wife — “Every day we drink coffee at home. We take an hour, an hour and a half to drink one cup of coffee. I personally brew two to three coffees, depending on what lot I would like them, on that day, to try…”
He continued, “Usually I use a V60, but now I’m using more Origami, because it’s simpler for my kids… they also drink coffee. Before, we used to have Chemex, and hopefully, we’re gonna come back to ... brew with Chemex again... We try to drink a few cups before we leave for work.”
They also have an annual family tradition, six years running, where they sit down together to cup coffees and choose the lots for the BOP.
Even indirectly, the younger Luttrells also get to learn from their dad’s interactions with Panama’s coffee legends. One instance was after Jose sent some samples to Wilford Lamastus Sr., SCAP president at the time.
In his words— “I asked him [Wilford Sr.] if he could cup the coffees… I was driving with my son, and he called me. He was like, ‘Jose, this is a great coffee.’
It was a Geisha washed. [ I asked] ‘What score did you give to the coffee?’ He said, ‘I gave it a 92.’ And I said, ‘Wow… 92… is that good?’ … So, it was really good.”
As the Luttrell kids grow up learning the trade, with their dad’s love for coffee, guidance from their mom, and the support of the specialty coffee community — the future of Abu’s legacy can only be very bright.