After weeks of heat and sweating and beaches, I needed a change of scenery and headed up into the Panamanian highlands to Boquete. This beautiful little town was green and relaxed and most importantly, the climate there was exactly what I needed: warm, but never hot and cool at night- the perfect temperature to sleep soundly.
While I really headed to Boquete in hopes of doing some hiking or rafting, a previously mentioned run in with fire ants left me limping about and unable to wear closed-toed shoes or put pressure on my foot. So, I had to find something less demanding to get into while I was there. Luckily, Boquete is also world famous for its coffee production, so I decided to take a coffee tour.
Though I admittedly don’t even like the stuff, I find the world”s enduring obsession with it fascinating and was interested to learn what really goes into making it. So, I headed up the winding roads to La Milagrosa coffee farm.
La Milagrosa is a small operation run by a man called Mr. Tito. We were lucky enough to run into him in the beginning of our tour, and he welcomed us and was obviously pleased to share his business with anyone who was interested. Mr. Tito has been successful at producing award winning coffee for some time now, and in no small part to his personal creativity and contributions to his business. Unable to afford big fancy machines, this man has taken some machines meant for wine making and altered them to fit his needs or just gone ahead and created his own solutions using parts from an old Jeep and a broken washing machine!
To make coffee, Mr. Tito and his crew start with growing coffee plants.
When the fruits, sometimes called coffee cherries are red and ripe, they are picked, by hand, from the plant. A small crank machine is used to remove the seeds from inside the fruits so they can then be dried out.
After 2-3 weeks of drying in the sun, these seeds are ready to be re-planted, or moved on to the next phase of coffee making.
Once all the layers of skin are removed, you have what is called a “green bean”. It is not really green, but it is the state that most producers sell their beans in. They are not yet roasted and have not been ground. Later, once they reach the point where they will be consumed, be it a cafe, restaurant or personal kitchen, they must be roasted and ground. The closer this happens to consumption, the fresher the coffee will be!
You can roast the beans to light, medium, or dark depending on your tastes. Each roast is only within about a minute of the one before it, so you must keep an eye on those beans! According to the coffee folks, dark roast is burnt and makes for crappy coffee, heavy on bitter but light on real coffee flavor, so its best to stick with light roast, or for the most balanced cup, medium roast. I am pictured here keeping an eye on the beans in a roasting tumbler, made by Mr. Tito with old parts, stirring with a scroon- screwdriverspoon, also made by the super handy owner.
Once you choose your roast, you grind the beans down into a powder and brew your finished product!
Though I still don’t think I will ever be a coffee drinker, I enjoyed tasting what coffee “should” taste like and learning all about the process from growing to guzzling!