When in Boquette, you must visit a coffee plantation. Panama coffee is some of the best in the world, yet due to limited production, very little of it is exported.
Hailing from the Pacific Northwest and the home of Starbucks and many other artesian coffee roasters, we look at coffee like wine. It’s very fun to do ‘coffee tastings’ while in different countries and to ‘cup’ and taste various coffees. I personally think Starbucks tastes bitter or burnt and found, in Boquete, that coffee is truly like a fine vintage wine with rich, chocolate tones. I feel in love with some of the smooth yet complex coffees from this area.
There are several coffee tours you can do (Kotowa, Finca la Milagrosa, etc.), but we decided on Café Ruiz because it seems the most comprehensive and was known for having excellent English speaking guides. And, choose the full tour (3 hours) vs. the quick, 45 minute tour. You really won’t regret it.
Our guide, Carlos started off the tour with a discussion on the history of coffee, introduction of the indigenous natives called ‘Ngobe’ who are given premium compensation to hand-pick the cherries, to the 16 steps of the coffee process that he will state over and over and over again and then quiz us on the steps! It got to be very funny (see note below about the steps).
The plantation is considered ‘shade grown’ and is the ‘greenest’ and most sustainable way to grow coffee. This type of growing does not produce very high yields per acre, but the quality of the coffee is remarkable. Green bean are exported, but they roast and pack about 7% under the Café Ruiz name..
The actual tour will take you through the farm, you’ll learn to identify a ripe ‘cherry’ and learn there are two beans in each cherry. Tasting the ripe fruit is a delight and the walk is very easy. The drying screens are scattered throughout the farm, and then you move on to the factory where hulling, polishing, sorting and grading takes place. Seeing each of these steps makes you realize how intensive the ‘planting to cup’ process really is. At this point, the milled bean are considered ‘green’ and are often packaged for export.
Finally, roasting, grinding and brewing happens and the roasting furnaces are a sight to see. Oh, and the smell. Incredible. On the way back to the coffee shop, you’ll stop at their processing plant where you watch Ngobe women hand pick/sort the beans on a conveyor belt. I’m sure most of the beans are now sorted by machine, but it was fun to see their colorful native dress and to see how labor intensive it used to be. Mr. Ruiz joined us at this point in the tour. A vivacious, cheerful man of 90 years, he is still very involved in the business.
Back at the coffee shop, you’ll be in for a treat of ‘cupping’. Although it’s really not ‘cupping’ in the true sense, but more of a coffee tasting of the three levels of coffee. Still, it’s a very fun way to end the tour and you’ll walk away with a few goodies along with some coffee.
For $30, this is a great tour. And, purchase your coffee gifts here. You won’t find better pricing on whole bean coffee to take home and it’ll make your suitcase smell like heaven!
The steps that I could remember:
Planting, Picking, Drying, Hulling, Polishing, Sorting, Grading, Packaging (green coffee), Roasting, Grinding, Brewing.
Coffee Storage: Keep away from air, moisture, heat and light. Do not refrigerate or freeze your daily supply of coffee and do not purchase coffee that you won’t drink within two weeks. If you do purchase in bulk, divide into small portions, wrapped in airtight bags and freeze (for up to one month only). Once you remove from freezer, DO NOT return to the freezer.
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