Panam, Mexico’s most Mexican sneakers

When I first saw a pair of vintage-inspired Panam sneakers on my first trip to Mexico, I wanted a pair for myself. The only issue was I couldn’t find my size anywhere! While it’s very common for shoes in Mexico to not reach my size, it reinforced the shoe’s unattainability and local cache. So when I was given a pair in my size several years later, I was hooked.

It turns out this model, Panam’s most recognizable, is the 084 Campeón. Originally designed in the 1960s, it became the de-facto sneaker for a generation of Mexican children. From my research, its popularity came from a shift to more casual footwear around the time of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and the Campeón’s status as footwear for gym classes nationwide.

Its heavy unpadded rubber sole is combined with a flexible nylon fabric upper, leading to an odd combination of slip-on comfort and occasional foot pain when walking on pavement. Coming from a company that touts its classic designs and 100% Mexican supply chain, I would guess the odd design is a result of using the same molds, designs, and suppliers since the shoe’s inception, which, incidentally, is still made in Estado de Mexico for a fraction of the price of foreign imports like Adidas and Nike.

Despite its shortcomings, the 084 in Mexican size 29 fits my 11 US feet like a glove and its retro good looks have yet to be changed by updates as happens constantly with other brands. As a result, I’m on my sixth pair. For the price, which is between 350-550 MXN ($17-27), I don’t mind when they wear out and need to be replaced.

From what I’ve found, Panam nearly went out of business following the NAFTA-induced shakeup to the local shoe industry. In recent years, they’ve doubled down on their retro appeal while making inexpensive copies of famous models like Air Force 1 and Air Jordan. Some of these copies are quality, the Air Force 1 clones seem decent, while others are heavy with odd synthetic materials, though given that they’re 700 MXN ($35) vs. $100 or more for the real deal, they have gained significant market share.

For me, I keep going back to their 084 for its Mexican cred, and I’m not the only one. Panam famously did a collab edition of the 084 with Mexican punk band Molotov years ago and have recently done special editions for Jarritos, Cafe Cielito, Cerveza Indio, Frida Kahlo, Los Autenticos Decadentes, and a shoe commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Mexico City Metro. They’ve even done a special art installation in the Metro commemorating individual Metro stations using the colors and logos of those stations (see gallery below).

In a big commercial move compared to their Mexican street cred-inspired limited editions, they’ve launched a major collab series with Marvel, including a great Spider-Man edition. The company also recently opened its first US store, in San Diego.

Brewing coffee in a vintage steel vacuum pot

Maybe two or three years ago after returning from Japan, I decided I wanted to try replicating the siphon coffee that we were served for our first breakfast. I some research and found out that they used to be very common in the US before auto-percolators took off in the 1960s and were known as vacuum pots because the brewing process created a vacuum, in the bottom chamber, drawing the brewed coffee down into it. I then bought a Nicro Model 500 off Craigslist with the metal filter, figuring it would be less prone to breakage than glass and easier to clean than a cloth filter, which is the style that is used today in Japan.

The problem is, I could never make good coffee. The water wouldn’t heat up to the suggested 205 degrees and it would clog instead of draining.

Then, this past month, I tried it again and it made excellent coffee. It was complex, deep, clean, and even warmer at first sip than a pour-over. I used:

  • a light generic breakfast roast
  • a 17.5:1 ratio
  • a grind size similar to pre-ground drip coffee
  • 900g of water, enough for three mugs of coffee
  • no temperature measurement, only turning down stove and waiting for water to stop bubbling in the upper chamber
  • coffee steeping for around a minute, then turned off gas and let coffee drain

Full brew time was somewhere from 5-7 minutes.

I started thinking how I might have lucked into such a good cup and I realized that a big batch, high ratio, drip grind generic coffee, and no temp control is probably how the device was meant to be used in a 1950s kitchen or diner, where there wouldn’t have been fancy grinders, temp probes, or even time to fuss over the coffee like I would with a manual pour-over.

Fresh off a few great cups, I tried brewing an Ethiopian light roast and it went right back to clogging from all the fines. I guess to use this siphon, I have to keep my coffee styles from the 1950s as well.

For those of you interested in more historical detail, I was able to find old manuals to research my process, and old advertisements to roughly date my coffee pot at this site.