A Family Affair - Finca Deborah, Panama


The track up to Finca Deborah is a truly wondrous thing. Before even getting to the Finca itself I was already in awe. The undulating 7 ½ Km of gravel and concrete driven through virgin scrub and forest, has been done in the most unobtrusive and environmentally friendly way but also with great technical skill. Originally there was no way of getting to the land that Jamison and Lesley Savage originally bought and every thing that has gone in and everything that comes out needs to be carried by pickup. There was absolutely nothing here, everything that is here now has been built, nurtured and created by the Savages, the whole family was involved in building the track and they have channeled water from the other side of the mountain. This if nothing else sets Finca Deborah apart.

As you reach the Finca itself it is clear why the immense effort has been worth it. At a height of over 1950 meters it is one of the highest and most isolated coffee farms in the region and the views are utterly breathtaking. Deborah’s buildings are perched on the edge of the mountain with glass on every side to take advantage of the views. Ultra modern and completely solar powered, it boasts a high tech cupping lab, state of the art weather station, small processing mill and climatically controlled storage. Everywhere you look there are examples of the Savages attention to detail.

One of the biggest worries for all Panamanian coffee farms is security of labour and this could be particularly acute in this remote spot but an idea of family is incredibly important to Lesley and Jamison. The Nôbe-Buglé are the primary workforce on the farm and great care is taken to make them feel valued. The Savages have built high quality two story living quarters, pay above average wages, provide medical care and transport and intend to include access to education in the near future. Workers are permitted and encouraged to grow fruit and vegetables on the property -  corn, beans, squash, oranges and papaya and are currently harvesting on the farm and there are healthy looking chickens in a beautifully constructed run. This may all sound standard but is actually unusual and allows the farm to train and retain the skilled workers it needs.

The height of the farm means that it is shrouded in cloud for much of the year but the day I went was bright, with only a light mist and the odd magical rainbow. Lesley and Jamison started planting coffee in just 10 acres, intermingling the coffee with the mature cloud forest trees. Because of the altitude diseases are naturally low and as this is a new farm they are even lower, pretty much eliminating the need for pesticides or herbicides and they only use organic fertilisers. The consequence is that there is an abundance of wildlife, birds and insects. I saw the most amazing black blue butterfly the size of my hand and there are carpets of wild flowers. The plants themselves are incredibly healthy with sparkling new growth. As I was there during harvest many of the trees were also ladened with plum deep red berries which tasted amazing.

At this altitude, temperatures can drop to as low 7’C at night and this, with the slower growth, is thought to be the reason that high grown micro lots has been shown to be so exceptional. Reading about geisha before I came to Panama some people had suggested that perhaps wind was also beneficial but when I mentioned this to Jamison he laughed and showed me a couple of plants growing in more exposed positions…. Geisha clearly don’t like the wind! Here Finca Deborah is also a winner. Unlike other farms I visited, their land undulates being made up of a series of gullies and creases. This and the cover of mature trees gives the ultimate shaded sheltered growing conditions.

Finca Deborah has been visited by many of coffee’s royalty and I felt truly honoured to have been invited. Its even more exiting that although much of their coffee has been reserved for some time, Cast Iron has been given exclusivity on one small microlot….  Yay me !



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