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.

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!