By Jordan Karasek
Nearing the end of our adventure we decided to take things easy and relax in the small town of Boquete that is about 25 minutes outside of David, Panama. In a re-purposed yellow school bus the trip is more like an hour. Boquete is great for adventure sports like, zip lining, white water rafting, hiking, and camping, but at US prices. So glad that we did all of our fun stuff in Ecuador. The city is nice and quaint, most everybody knows each other and the places that visitors want to go. The locals all had great suggestions on places to eat for every meal. To name a couple we really enjoyed Big Daddy’s Grill for dinner and Sugar & Spice for breakfast, all within walking distance.
We found a great hostel on the edge of town called Hostel Nomba. The guy who owns it is from the United States and just loved the area so much he stayed. We pretty much had the place to ourselves, which made for great relaxation and reading. The hostel has it’s own small Mexican restaurant attached which was amazing. Finally some food with some serious flavor! The volunteer staff were great to hang out with and talk too as well. We watched movies together at night.
Adrianne and Sarah Ann ended up going to a real natural spring, much better than the one in Baños, but much hotter (around 104 F). They spent the majority of there day there while I stayed back at the hostel all day and read some new books I picked up. But the definite highlight for me was going on a coffee tour the day before.
Panama is rising in its popularity and notoriety around the world for its coffee production. It has a great climate and altitude to match with the great coffees of Ethiopia. There are lots of coffee plantations in Panama, and many of them were around Boquete. They now hold a yearly competition for the best coffee in the country. This made a coffee tour a must-see.
Adrianne likes coffee the least of us, so she stayed behind. Sarah Ann and I booked a tour of a new coffee plantation called Cafetos Gourmet Café. It was $35 each which sound much better to us than the all day $75 tour of the number one coffee in Panama and swimming. Tired people don’t like to do much of anything all day. Fortunately we were the only two people on the tour. Our guide and the owner of the farm, Luis, picked us up in his truck.
We kicked the tour off with a fresh brew of his primary coffee called the Pacamara. It is an Arabica coffee crossed with a Paca and Margotype. It was nice to sit out on the lawn with the cool breeze, sip coffee, and eat a lemon tart. It was also fun to play with his cat and dog. We finished our coffee and took a tour of the grounds. The first part was new growth and plants grown in the sun which were all very small. The next section was grown in the shade and more developed.
Many of the plantations in Central America, especially in Panama, use a natural composting technique to keep the soil and the plants healthily producing. Most of the plants are planted below trees for shade and those that are not are clearly producing less as the others. More Lychee and Avocado trees are being planted along side the rows of coffee because they grow quickly to provide shade and the natural fruits along with the leaves and cut grass that makes a wonderful fertilizer. The temperature difference between the shade and the sun is 3 or 4 degrees Celsius, or close to 7 degrees Fahrenheit, it also made for a comfortable walk. With it being out of season for harvesting we saw mostly green beens but as they ripen they turn yellow and red.
We got to walk all over the farm and see the different sizes and types of coffee plants. Our guide also gave us lots of the fruits and avocados to take home with us. We headed back to the house to see the harvesting and roasting setup. Right now most of the coffees in Panama are sold green and non-roasted. The product at Cafetos is 20% roasted and 80% natural. The owner has plans to flip the number and sell mostly a roasted blend.
They have a new machine that partly washes the beans after being picked and strips them of the skin and pulp to be put placed near by to dry in air and sun. While we were there, men worked to build a new area for separating the bean from the skin and an area for drying. All of the old skins and pulp goes back into the mulching process to help keep up the healthy soil.
We then saw his new machine for roasting and got to try another blend of coffee that he had recently started. Depending on the type of coffee he had different roasting temperatures and lengths of time. From what I understood he had a longer drying and shorter roasting process for a more natural blend that we tried last. Drinking it black it had a sharp green flavor upfront that faded but adding the smallest amount of sugar, milk, or cream made it fade. In the end we bought a bag of each. My back smells like coffee through and through.
For us, that was Boquete and we loved it!
The plantations website: http://www.cafetoarabica.com/