Regarded as the producer of some of the best quality coffees in Panama and the world, Jamison Savage and his coffee farms are frequently heard and represented on the world stage at various competitions.
With the farms Finca Deborah and Morgan Estate already part of his production, Jamison is beginning his next stage of coffee growing with a new venture: Savage Coffees.
We spoke with Jamison about his history in producing coffee and his plans for this new adventure.
How long have you been producing coffee? Where did you first learn/begin?
I started studying coffee and it’s production in 2006, then began the cultivation of coffee in 2010 at Finca Deborah in Volcan, Panama. From the very beginning I was fascinated by the complexity of coffee, captivated by the different varieties as well as the impact terroir had on production and flavor profile. Agronomy drew me in also and it quickly became something I thoroughly enjoyed and wanted to learn more about. I learned the majority of my knowledge from my agronomist who has been with me since the beginning in 2008. I’ve spent many hours researching, visiting other farms in Panama, and traveling to other origins to share different concepts and techniques with other producers. It’s been an incredibly fulfilling journey and one that I never intended nor thought would take me where I am today.
Why did you start producing coffee in Panama? What drew you there?
It’s no secret Panama has been known for growing exceptional coffee, and well before Geisha was rediscovered in 2004. Producers in the region are talented, highly competitive, sophisticated, and always searching for ways to improve quality. Initially, I started visiting a few farms in Boquete and attending the Best of Panama competition starting in 2006. For years I sat quietly in the back of the room during the judging process, listening intently and trying to understand the jargon used to describe the coffees.
In 2007 my decision was made. Not only would I proceed with coffee production, but I planned it at elevations most considered impossible and where a farm had not previously existed. After tasting coffees for several years and learning enough on the agronomic side, I decided to plant this new, highly contentious variety; Geisha. So, the idea of producing coffee was daunting, but selecting Geisha put the concept into a whole different category. Lots of costly mistakes were made along the way, but somehow we’ve managed to make it work.
Which varietals do you grow on your farms? Why?
I’m a firm believer in experimentation, pushing limits, and taking calculated risks. It is such a pleasure for me to attempt something that hasn’t been done before, particularly when I’m told it never will – it’s for this very reason [Finca] Deborah exists.
Although there is much hand wringing and many furrowed brows over the success of the Geisha landrace, the next great coffee is out there and I intend to be at the forefront of that event. It’s for this reason I cultivate twelve different coffees and have plans for several more. Significant time, energy, and money go into the experimental production side. 4-5 years are required to finally taste the coffee after initial planting. It’s a painstaking challenge, but very rewarding.
Those coffees are;
African Heirloom 74112
African Heirloom 74110
African Aleta Wondo
You are regarded as a pioneer in carbonic maceration processing for coffee. How did you come to first start processing coffee in this way, and what kind of results have you seen?
It all started with a visit from dear friend, colleague, and client Sasa Sestic in March, 2016. After a late night cupping session we were both exhausted. We had a spirited discussion about processing and I’d asked him in passing, “What’s this carbonic maceration thing?” I could tell by his expression he’d had this conversation a few times and he briefly outlined the concept for me. Well, it was enough to get the wheels spinning in my mind and shortly after I began doing research online, trying to figure out how to execute this process.
A few weeks went by and I was nearing the end of harvest. I thought if I was going to attempt the CM process this season it was going to have to happen now. I ordered what I thought would be adequate equipment and hoped it would be sufficient. When it all arrived I immediately began retro fitting the tank installing probes, tubes, adaptors, and other related equipment.
First on deck was Morgan Geisha. I couldn’t take the risk with Deborah as commercial production levels were just beginning plus the coffee was all pre-sold, but couldn’t wait to try this experiment. The day finally came with Morgan and I loaded the tank with the highest hopes. While the process was initially successful, let’s just say there was a lot of room for improvement. Overall, the CM process isn’t terribly complicated, what it comes down to is technique and knowing when to initiate certain variables and when to stop others. Additionally, and just as important as CM itself, is drying technique. CM coffee requires special handling and treatment during the dry-side.
I’ve been conducting the CM process for going on 4 years and have made tremendous advances with this delicate process. It’s become a core for all my coffees and I’ll never stop pushing the boundaries with it. More advances are to come with CM and it’s been such fun sharing data, ideas, techniques, and of course, the coffees with Sasa and his team. At it’s core, the CM process raises the quality and intensity of the coffee’s aromatics and acidity, two key variables in the quest for fine coffee. Both are more pronounced and defined.
What kind of experiments are you working on now?
Actually, I’m more focused on refining my existing experiments. I went a little overboard the last couple years conducting more than 14 experiments. So, I’ve lots of data to focus on. I’ve little doubt something new and interesting will spring to mind during the coming harvest and I won’t be able to resist, but until then I’m trying to stay focused.
You have started producing coffee under the new brand, ‘Savage Coffees’. Can you tell us a bit about how you started this new endeavour?
Savage Coffees was recently started to push the envelop in processing and competition while considering a very affordable price-point for our clients. We source high elevation, single variety, coffees with neighboring producers in Volcan and Boquete. These producers respect their terroir and have a high level of dedication to harvest selection of their crop. We conduct a final selection process with the coffee to ensure the highest quality standards. It’s really started off well with our 2019 harvest at full capacity and completely pre-sold out.
At the moment we are producing; Geisha, Bourbon, Caturra and Catuai for our clients. The processing of the coffee is also diverse ranging from extended cool fermentation, chill process, carbonic maceration, traditional extended natural, and traditional washed.
The quality is there. Savage Coffees, Morgan “Stratus” recently won the Panama National Barista Championship with Savage Coffees, “Apex” coming in second in the Brewer’s Cup. Project Origin has global exclusive on these two special coffees that should arrive in Australia any day now.
Where do you see the future of coffee growing and processing going? What kind of changes can we expect?
I see the future of coffee as very exciting, both from a production as well as processing standpoint. We are just now really learning these cutting edge techniques, which have, in just a few short years, raised coffee quality standards significantly. This is exciting for both producers as well as consumers. Producers will garner better pricing and consumers will enjoy higher quality, in some cases, healthier coffee in the years to come.
On the production side, producers are recognizing that excessive use of harsh chemicals, particularly herbicides, are not the best methods to employ on the farm. This is great news for the planet and great news for consumers. Organic composting and many other environmentally conscious techniques are being employed in recognition of our ecology. This is where we find the most complex cups, on farms with healthy cover crop, diverse fauna, and abundant microbial activity in the soils.
At Finca Deborah we’ve gone a step further. We’ve been Biodynamically producing coffee for almost 3 years on certain lots. This holistic approach to farming is widely used in the wine world where some of the world’s most celebrated wines hail. No conventional chemicals are used and the utmost respect for the ecology is embraced. The coffee is spectacular and beautifully reflects Deborah’s terroir.
What are your plans for the future?
I intend to continue down the path of coffee innovation while producing some of the most celebrated coffees in the world. I’m enjoying this journey immensely and to have the pleasure of doing it with my family and close friends at Project Origin is literally a dream come true.