Boquete Center of Panama’s Coffee Culture

Panama properties for sale and rent by owner.

enjoy-coffee-life-is-short Coffee is to the mountain town of Boquete, Panama, much the same as wine is to Napa, California. Ken Davids, writing in Coffee Review, says

“ . . . Boquete Valley resembles California’s wine-growing Napa Valley. The Boquete terrain is more precipitous than Napa’s, its river more sparkling, its farms less pretentious, but the feel of an entire community focused with passion and sophistication on a single specialty crop is familiar . . .”

dsc_0115Coffee has been at the heart of life in Boquete since it was settled by European farmers near the end of the 19th Century.  On the slopes of the highest mountain in Panama, high quality Arabica coffee has thrived in the rich volcanic soil, cool climate, warm rain, and mixture of sunny days, cool nights and sufficient cloud cover to make our coffee naturally shade grown.  We have large farms which export massive amounts of coffee to big companies, yes, like Starbucks, who blend our coffee to bring up 009the taste of their ordinary coffees.

Just down the road in Palmira, a community just outside and above Boquete, is the home of Cafe Esmerelda and Price Peterson who has developed the Geisha strain of Arabica coffee which is the second most expensive coffee in the world, second only to the stuff from Indonesia that is eaten and excreted by the civet animal.  Then someone digs through the civet poop, pulls out the beans and sells it to you at an exorbitant price.  Peterson’s coffee is far more appealing, even at over $100 a pound wholesale and tastes far better.  I can only describe it as “like drinking liquid velvet.”

Boquetdsc_0057e produces “specialty coffee” which is defined as “a coffee that has no defects and has a distinctive flavor in the cup…like wine and honey, specialty coffee has a unique flavor thanks to the micro-climates that produce it.”   Our little town has 21 different micro-climates, and just like micro-climates in wine growing regions, each produces as slightly different cup of coffee.  The old guys in Boquete  can sip a cup of coffee and tell you what farm produced it!

We have large farms and small farms.  A lot of expats, like ourselves, have, developed small farms producing coffee, some making a business out of it, selling their coffees to tourists in town or at the Tuesday Morning Market, or selling it online and mailing it to the US and Canada, or selling their entire production to upscale coffee-pickingrestaurants in North America who want to be able to serve an exclusive single-source coffee.  Others, like us, have what are essentially hobby farms, breaking even but having a blast growing, consuming and sharing exquisite coffee.    Ours has flavors of chocolate,  black cherry,  plum, blackberry, with a citrus finish.    With our coffee you never have that bitter aftertaste on the sides of your tongue that you get with many coffees.  Most of our coffee we sell “in the cherry” to the large producers, but what we keep out for our own use we process entirely.  [Here’s more information about the cost of our hobby farm.]

Most of the physical work is done by Gnabe Bugle Indigenous people who have lived in this area since before Columbus arrived and are the essential backbone of all agriculture in Panama.  They are the only Indigenous group that was never subjected by the Spanish conquerors.  Most of the large farms import Indigenous folk from the Gnabe Bugle Comarca [a little like a US Indian OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAReservation except that the Indigenous live there by choice and have complete autonomy and are self-governing] but we are small enough that we use our neighbors, families who’ve now worked with us 8 years.   We’ve watched their kids grow and start their own families.  So we break even with coffee, although, the truth is I think we would gladly have paid for this experience.

When we take our coffee into town to sell it we meet neighbors with trucks loaded down with hundreds of bags, and those who’ve come in cabs to sell maybe a single bag.  It is a wonderful experience!

Our beautiful property is for sale.


Behind The Scenes

Those of you who’ve followed my blog know that we are in the process of “retiring from retiring” … well, actually moving from Retirement.1.9 to Retirement.2.0 … a little more relaxed and with less responsibility. So, we’re selling our home just outside of Boquete, described by many as “the most beautiful home in Boquete.”

So here’s a little backstory and a little behind the scenes of what it costs.

When we moved to Boquete almost 12 years ago if you wanted a North American style home you pretty much had to build it. We initially lived in Valle Escondido, Boquete’s first gated, guarded, “planned” community. We purchased the third house built in Valle Escondido. At the time Valle Escondido was still mostly undeveloped and pretty much Panama. So we lived through all the building, waking up to workmen yelling to each other across the Valley and peeing outside our kitchen window. But when it was nearing being built-out, although beautiful, it really was no longer the Panama we came to enjoy. It became like any gated, guarded community in California with well-heeled expats and weekend mansions for wealthy Panamanians.

We had purchased some properties for investment including a tiny abandoned coffee property. We liked escaping to that property and my wife got the idea to restore the coffee, and she did … and today we enjoy our own home-grown coffee, along with bananas, oranges, lemons, and a bunch of other stuff. So we liked going up there, loved the spectacular view, and were getting tired of what was being called the “gringo ghetto” so we decided to design and build our dream home. We designed it with the help of our friend Brad Abijian,, and took our design to a local architect to prepare the drawings.

Building wasn’t easy. We sourced materials from all over … tiles from Spain, cherry cabinets built for us in China, slate from India … and it all came wonderfully together, but not without a lot of hassle: subcontractors and workmen who didn’t show up, a general contractor who spent all our money finishing up his last project. Amazingly I didn’t end up in the loony bin. I’d begin every day praying that none of the workers would die (no OSHA!) and that I wouldn’t kill the builder.

We ended up with a beautiful home and property: a private driveway lined with beautiful royal palms, flowers and tropical plants everywhere, banana, citrus, coffee trees and other tropical fruits. No neighbors. Very private with spectacular mountain views. And, right off a paved road, just 12 minutes from “downtown” Boquete, and 30 minutes from David and the new 400 store shopping mall under construction.

012-4-copyPeople thinking about escaping to Panama always wonder about the cost … so here’s what things cost …

• Town water $60 A YEAR!
• Trash pick up $30 A YEAR!
• Propane gas … for hot water, clothes dryer, cooking … $70 for a huge tank which lasts about 3 months.
• Electricity … for our house with 4 dehumidifiers, electric spa, our won well and water systems, out buildings, and rental casita on the property … $110 a month.
Property taxes NONE! No property taxes for two reasons. First, the property is a small 1.4 hectares, about 3.5 acres of agricultural property, so no property tax. The improvements … our beautiful 4,500 sq ft home was built at a time when you could get a 20-year tax exemption. So no property tax until 2027!! And the remaining exemption belongs to the property, so gets passed on to whomever purchases our home.
• The beautiful landscaping around our home, the rental casita and our driveway is maintained by one neighbor … a university student … who works one day a week, usually just 8 hours, at $1.75 per hour.

We have chosen to maintain the coffee as a hobby farm. We enjoy being a part of the coffee culture tradition in Boquete which goes back 100 years. We love our fantastic Arabica coffee … and so do our kids and friends. We hold out, and process coffee for our own use, but most is sold “in the cherry” to large, local coffee producers. Boquete coffee is some of the best in the world and snapped up by folks, like Starbucks, who blend our coffee with other coffees to boost the flavor. So if you drink Starbucks … every billionth bean may be mine!

We break even on the coffee. Yes, there are opportunities to sell it on line, or to sell it all to a restaurant in North America that wants to offer an exceptional single-source coffee which is exclusively theirs. But we are retired and have a lot of things going on, so we haven’t pursued these opportunities. Others have done so, very successfully.

A future buyer of the property might continue to grow coffee, or expand the operation, or switch over to nut trees, build greenhouses, or turn it into a pasture for horses. There are lots of options and opportunities. If you want to go off the grid and grow much of your own food, this is the place to do so.

What does coffee cost us? We fertilize, trim, and spray a couple times a year. For much of the time we had a full-time worker who managed things. Our total cost for that full-time guy was under $6,000 a year. Eventually we decided that we could hire local kids, mostly university students, to work for us on a short-time, occasional basis. That costs us less, has proven to be more efficient with less required paperwork with the labor board, and is a way to support the dreams and education of our local kids, many of whom we’ve watched grow up. The “labor intensive” time comes in October to December when we pick. Unlike the big farms that bring in Indigenous folk who come in from the comarca (kinda like an Indian reservation, although with more self-control and independence than Indian reservations in the States) to do the picking. Because we’re just so small, we just use our Gnabe Bugle Indigenous neighbors, mostly members of the little church up the road. For us this is much, much better. We support and look after our neighbors, and they look after us. We’ve had many of the same people pick for us now for eight years. We’ve watched their kids grow and start their own families. So we break even with coffee, although, the truth is I think we would gladly have paid for this experience.

Right now you can’t make that much picking and selling bananas, citrus, and other tropical fruits, so we just use these for ourselves, or share them with our neighbors.

More information on our home for sale

Under The Radar

atc_radar_screen_wpFor many various reasons there are people from different parts of the world and different countries who wish to live under the radar and off the grid and somewhat anonymously.

You don’t need to go to illegal extremes attempting to hide your assets, or play the “Panama Papers” game. There is an easy way to invest in and own real property in Panama under the radar, without appearing on public documents, and without paying property taxes. It’s called “rights of possession” and although 60% of property in Panama is ROP  property, it is an unfamiliar concept to many.

When Panama introduced agrarian reform it split up large swaths of the country and it allowed ordinary citizens to take possession of and develop property owned by the state through rights of possession. This is not what is sometimes called “squatting.” People went to the government and registered their possession and development of a property. This was all registered locally. Technically the government still “owned” the property, but the person had the right to possess and develop the property as they wished. Those rights can be passed on, or sold, or just enjoyed. This is not like “leasing” land from the government as sometimes happens in the US in areas controlled by the US Department of Agriculture or in National Forest areas where you have something like a 99-year lease.

In Panama you have the right to possess, develop, enjoy, and sell the property to which you have the right of possession. You can build a house, raise animals, garden, run around nude … whatever. One thing you cannot do with ROP property and this is VERY IMPORTANT … YOU CAN NOT PAY PROPERTY TAXES.


Although you have all the documentation from the local government to possess the property, officially there is no national recognition or title indicating that YOU are the owner/possessor, so the government cannot charge you taxes. Wow!

boca-chicaFor example … when I first saw our property in Boca Chica … incidentally, we are selling our rights of possession for this property … when I first saw it, saw the frontage on the water, saw the view of the water and the islands, heard the waves lapping gently on the shore, realized it was high enough to build a home with an incredible view, but no-see-ums (those pesky, horrible and painful bugs that bite your legs when you are on or near the beach), high enough not to worry about salt-spray destroying electronics and rusting appliances, high enough to never have to worry about tsunamis … well, I fell in love! So we bought it! We had our lawyer carefully review the chain of rights of possession. [And since Panama doesn’t have Title Insurance Companies like we are used to in the US, even if you buy titled property you are dependent on your lawyer to review. No US-style Title Insurance.]

Now I could have, and still can, as can anyone who purchases this property, have it titled and start to pay property taxes, but I didn’t see any reason to pay property taxes when I didn’t have to!

005-4We surveyed the property, fenced it in, planted mangos, bananas, and avocados, and lots of beautiful tropical plants. We have hired one of the caretakers at a local resort to look after the property for $12 a week. I put in a source for water, got electrical power, secured a building permit and built a small air-conditioned cottage with a nice open terrace that we have used for overnight escapes to Boca Chica. We are right next to Sea Gull Cove Lodge which has a nice restaurant if we don’t feel like cooking. We thought about getting a small boat, but it’s so easy to find a guys in Boca Chica with little boats who will run you out the incredible islands around Boca Chica with beautiful, deserted beaches that we dropped the idea of owning a boat. Because we’re just off the main road to Boca Chica from the Pan American Highway and on the mainland it’s easy to get to and we don’t have to struggle with long, bouncing rides in rain squalls to get out to the island.


Nobody would know I own this property including any government, except for the fact that I don’t have anything to hide, so you know I own it, and am selling it, and the US government knows because I file the appropriate reports because its required for US citizens and as a good citizen I choose to obey. But many, most countries, don’t have the same reporting requirements.

When you understand ROP or rights of possession in Panama it offers some unique opportunities, like not paying taxes!

In case you’re interested here’s the info about our property in Boca Chica.