This is the most special time of the year in Boquete: the coffee harvest has begun!
While Christmas in the Pacific Northwest US means holly trees covered in red berries, in Panama Christmas means coffee trees covered in ripe red coffee beans! And when you throw in all of the pointsettia plants on our farm, now in full “bloom” … it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
The day begins early on our little farm. Actually it usually begins when all the neighborhood roosters begin to greet the new day … around 4:30 am. We don’t need an alarm clock. Should we sleep through the roosters, the dogs will be sure to wake us up because THEY eat at 7 am PROMPTLY.
While most coffee farms bring in Ngobe Bugle workers from the Comarca to pick, we rely totally on our Ngobe Bugle neighbors, some of whom have been picking for us since we bought the property in Palmira.
On our farm picking coffee is a family affair. By law children cannot pick coffee in Panama. But what are you going to do, leave your children at home unattended? So the whole family comes to pick: dogs, babies, kids, parents. Infants are generally hung in a tree in a white coffee sack while mom picks. The kids play in the coffee bushes, hide and seek and a zillion games children can still make up if they don’t have ipads and computer games. The kids run around barefoot through leaves which we know have at times poisonous snakes. But these are Indigenous children who have been running around through the leaves in Panama since before Columbus. The older kids more or less look after their siblings.
By 4:00 pm all the coffee picked for the day is brought to our little covered deposito where it is carefully measured out into yellow pales which hold one “Lata” (the official measurement) and each person’s pickings are recorded. The pickers are paid for each 5 gallon pail or “Lata.”
Nikki’s own little twist is to celebrate the end of the day with big bottles of Coke appointing one very officious, proud little kid as the “Coca Cola Jefe” [or Coca Cola Boss] who gets to serve everyone.
On the ship people are always asking about my coffee “plantation.” What we have is a 4-acre little coffee farm! Coffee plantations cover hundreds of acres! We didn’t start growing coffee to get rich or as a business, but as an entre into the traditional culture of our little community … a little like having a little vineyard if you Tim Hortons. So if you drink either brand, know that just possibly, every billionth bean is mine! The big coffee companies all sell blends and they use Boquete coffee to boost the flavor profile of their coffee blends.
So this is what our good coffee looks like . . . all these beautiful red coffee cherries ready to be sold to the beneficio which will process them and eventually send them around the world. The yellow cherries are also ripe and are a particular strain of Arabica we have that turn yellow when ripe.
Ken Davids wrote in COFFEE REVIEW, “ . . . 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 cropis familiar . . .”
At the beneficio our coffee is mixed in with the coffee of all our neighbors, little farms who could not possibly afford the very expensive branding and marketing schemes of the likes of Fair Trade, Bird Friendly
Coffee, Rain Forest Alliance, yada yada. But Boquete produces some of the best coffee in the world, specialty coffee, Geisha coffee and others. Coffee, like wine, has an amazing variety of flavor and taste . . . and we are proud to be a part of the coffee culture of Boquete and helping to preserve something that we hope will endure.
The coffee is my wife’s retirement project: cruising the Seven Seas is mine. People always ask if we “make money” on coffee and I reply that it is a “hobby farm” meaning that my wife promises me that someday we will break even.
Every night folks bring in their coffee. Some folks bring 100s of bags, others a half-dozen, and some may come in a taxi with only half a bag. It all gets mixed together and eventually goes around the world.