Daniel Pratt, founder and owner of Panama City Coffee Company, insists that what he is doing as he pedals his custom-made barista bike through the streets of Grayton Beach is not about the money. He is trying to create an experience. Not for himself, but for the curious customers he takes by surprise.
“I am first and foremost a musician. Creating an experience correlates with the creative part of me. I started a band when I was thirteen. These coffee shops had open mic nights, poetry nights, all centered around coffee. I sort of identified with that whole vibe.”
What Pratt is peddling as he pedals is not iced coffee, which is simply hot brewed coffee on ice. This is nitro cold brew, a coffee that develops its flavors and aromas from ground beans steeped in cold water for hours or even days. It is dispensed from a keg, like beer. The nitrogen charge produces a pour with a creamy head, very much like Guinness stout, but with caffeine instead of alcohol.
About this time last year Pratt was living a normal pre-pandemic life, like the rest of us. He was recording his second EP (just released), playing gigs, and working as a worship leader for his church.
When the economy shut down in the spring he began delivering meals for DoorDash to help pay bills. The idea came to him in his sleep after a day in a particularly storm-blighted neighborhood in Panama City. “I woke up with the phrase ‘from Panama, for Panama’ in my head. It was a real God thing.”
Pratt grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, the oldest boy in a family of twelve siblings. His father’s family was originally from Panama, so he was familiar with the Central American country long before his epiphany in Florida’s namesake town.
His idea was simple. Build a successful local business to create opportunities for those still suffering from the effects Hurricane Michael. Purchase the raw ingredients for the business directly from farmers in Panama, thus dispensing with the costs of the middlemen, and help alleviate poverty in his paternal homeland.
He worked remarkably fast, given the limitations of the pandemic economy. He ordered his custom-made barista bike from a specialty craftsman in the Pacific Northwest. He received his first shipment of beans from the Boquete District, in the cool highlands of Panama near the Costa Rican border. He hit up friends to help him design a logo, set up a website, and research licensing and trade rules. He talked to other baristas and coffee shop owners. “If you want to make any money,” they warned him, “don’t start a coffee business.”
All he needed now was a roaster. It was very important that the beans be roasted locally. The idea was to create jobs and opportunities in our area. And freshness is the key to good coffee. “Most people don’t realize what a short shelf life roasted beans have. By the time you open a bag you get in the grocery store the coffee is either stale or burnt. Stale coffee has no flavor. The big producers intentionally burn their beans to at least give the stale coffee a distinctive flavor.”
The whole thing finally came together when he met Joe Thomas of Water’s Edge Coffee, a local roastmaster who had been perfecting his craft for years. Pratt briefly explained his vision to Thomas. “I have been waiting to meet someone like you,” Thomas reportedly said.
Pratt says that as soon as travel restrictions to Panama are lifted, he and Joe Thomas are heading south to visit farmers and taste coffees. He plans to introduce new roasts and hopes to start hiring additional bicycling baristas to spread the experience up and down the Emerald Coast.
To see where his cold brew bike will appear next, search Facebook or Instagram for Panama City Coffee Company. To order bags of beans to brew yourself, visit the company’s website, panamacitycoffee.com.