Starbucks Coffee Company opened in Panama in 2015. Their Starbucks Casco Viejo location opened in June 2023. Panama became the 67th country where this coffee shop chain operates and the 15th location in Latin America. Their first coffee shop was set up in Street Mall diagonal to Multiplaza Mall. At this time, Starbucks had 880 stores in Latin America and over 12,000 employees. Opening the Panama market had a commitment of 20 stores in Panama City in five years.
Local or International Coffee Chains
I need to start by explaining the fact that I love coffee and that I have visited many coffee farms in Panama and other countries including Central and South America, as well as Africa. I have a technical diploma in agro tourism from Mashav in Israel and I did a campaign with the Tourism Authority of Panama and the Ministry of Agriculture of Panama to promote agro tourism in Panama.
Needless to say, I was not thrilled when I heard Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf were entering the market. We have great coffee shops including Cafe Unido, Sisu Coffee Studio and Duran Coffee (inside La Cuadra Market). There are other coffee shops in Casco Viejo like Lumaca, Casa Sucre Coffeehouse or Super G. As a self-proclaimed coffee snob, I consider these franchises to be more about the marketing and the flavoring than about the coffee. But where there is a market they will try to compete, so it is up to the client to decide where to spend their money.
If you visit Panama, I highly recommend going up to Boquete or Tierras Altas (Volcan and Cerro Punta) to go on a coffee tour. The best time to see coffee farms in Panama is during the summer from December through March when it is harvest season, so the farms are in full movement.
Starbucks Casco Viejo
Starbucks Casco Viejo was the 16th store of the franchise. Casco Viejo is an UNESCO World Heritage Site which appealed to the brand since it is a place where most tourists go. They picked a great location in a narrow three story building on Plaza Herrera which has become the busiest plaza in the old town.
The locale of Starbucks Casco Viejo is stunning, which is to be expected from the brand. One wall has the original calicanto wall and the other one has a mural done by the local artist Maria Camila Bernal (pseudonym Remedios). This mural is called “sunset in the tropics” inspired by the warm afternoons and the vibrant Panamanian summer skies. Green and gold tones show the country’s jungle and coffee farms, while the shades of pink reflect the beauty of the surroundings.
This coffee shop in Casco Viejo has tables on the plaza where guests can sit and drink their beverages or eat one of the snacks they offer like croissants, empanadas, sandwiches, fruits or sweets. The interior of Starbucks Casco Viejo is too small to have tables. It just has a counter to order and some brand thermos and coffee mugs that say Panama for sale. Opening hours for Starbucks Casco Viejo are from Monday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
No Panamanian Coffee
The first Starbucks Panama coffee shop offered Panama Carmen Estate coffee, which is part of the exotic coffees and premium line of Starbucks. I had seen their posters promoting Panamanian coffee with a flower mola (visit the Mola Museum in Casco Viejo) design in Europe. Seeing these posters was exiting since it’s a way to advertise our small country that produces some of the best coffee in the world.
I entered Starbucks Casco Viejo while walking in the neighborhood. On the top they have the menu displayed, followed by bags of coffee. It struck me that the labels said “Colombia”, “Kenya” and “Pike Place”. I asked the worker what Panamanian coffee they had and he replied none. It made me very disappointed knowing that they have local coffee in other stores in the country and abroad. I hope the brand can at least fix this and promote the country in which they are operating from.