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Rainy Season and Coffee

We re-joined the Inter-Americana for a day’s ride to Boquete, however- an hour east of David, the clouds formed menacingly thickly overhead and within minutes we were both drenched to the bone. Panama had brought with it the squally weather of Caribbean rainy season and we experienced it at maximum volume every time we touched the motorbikes. Blazing sunshine was enjoyed apart from when we went to the canal tour, apart from our way to the turtles and apart from our journey to Boquete. The bikes clearly hum at a frequency which reacts with the weather!

After one damp night in David, we made our way up the mountains to Boquete, a town nestled in the heart of volcanic mountains. We were met by a plaza surrounded by cosy hostels and inviting restaurants and, to Simon’s delight, signs for coffee everywhere. Apparently in the Boquete region alone there are over a hundred coffee plantations although their involvement with production varies depending on the finca.  Most sell their beans directly to be roasted and blended by bigger chains but we were lucky enough to visit one special plantation which honours the full cycle of coffee production.


Coffee Grinders in Boquete

La Finca dos Jefes offers an excellent coffee tour and Amy, the multi-talented guide (coffee connoisseur by day, graphic designer by night) was so knowledgeable that we both learnt a great deal about the entire cycle. This finca is notable for pushing sustainable values and direct trade initiatives as well as phasing the growth cycles of the coffee by the moon phases. After trying both dark and medium roast coffees to appreciate the difference, Simon was allowed to roast his own coffee beans under Amy’s tutelage.


Coffee dried with a view


Cherry vs Fresh pips vs dried green beans

Top five facts absorbed from coffee tour:


Coffee cherries (unripe!)

  1. There are three ways of extracting the pips from the cherry – each with its own taste merit and environmental impact. Wash method, dried and honeyed. This place employed dried (as the traditional Ethiopian way of processing) because it has a kinder impact on the environment and means you can use the dried cherry pulp.
  2. Coffee cherry tea is delicious! Cascara is brewed dried coffee cherries and has a taste similar to hibiscus.
  3. The coffee plant is naturally repellent to the usual insects as they don’t like the amount of caffeine in the leaves and stems. However, it has one nemesis: the borer beetle. They are hard to detect, so once picked, the cherries have to be floated in water to make sure the affected ones can be skimmed off the surface and destroyed.
  4. Pickers are at the bottom of the earning chain and make as little as $9 per day (the picking season is not long either). Most often, farms will simply sell their green beans at a low price per pound to a roaster/distributor. These middle men will sell it on for a huge amount more until the final inflation on the price is at the coffee sellers end where the price will end up being easily 600% of what was originally paid. The money is in roasting and selling direct trade to discerning customers.
  5. Pickers get a rough deal everywhere in the world, in parts of Africa they make $2 per day. It’s hard work as for the best coffee only the ripest, red beans out to be picked which requires selective picking and not just shaking the bush and hoping for the best.



Baby coffee plants waiting for the correct moon phase to be planted


Lost souls in the finca

After a day of drinking coffee and absorbing knowledge, we visited the volcanoes in the area by bike. The volcanic soil is perfect for growing coffee and the altitude means that the environment is ideal. This is probably the reason that Panama tops the polls frequently in coffee competitions for their pure coffee, with Geisha coffee winning as one of the most expensive in the world!  We didn’t try this particular coffee but many others were sampled and loved.


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