I had yet to write about my wonderful trip to Panama from last year. My mom’s best friends won a silent auction for a five-day stay at a lovely little boutique in Boquete and we jumped on the opportunity to join them on the trip. Part of the stay included meals and four activities, including a tour of a small local coffee plantation, Finca La Milagrosa. Lemme tell you…it was some of the best coffee I had ever tasted.
Boquete is located on the North Western side of Panama. After spending a couple nights in Panama City, we drove to Boquete and stayed at Los Establos Boutique Hotel. On the 2nd day of our stay, we toured the well-known coffee plantation, Finca La Milagrosa. We met up at the lobby of the hotel in the early afternoon with Ronaldo, our tour guide to the plantation. Finca La Milagrosa is an artisanal farm and, as Ronaldo attested, has the best coffee in all of Panama. The plantation is located nearly five thousand feet above sea level. The altitude, along with the cool temperatures and abundance of shade, help the coffee fruit grow to its full and flavorful potential. All of the coffee grown here are of Arabic species, some of them being Typica, Geisha, Catuay, Pache, and Mundo Novo.
Milagrosa literally means ‘miracle’ or ‘miraculous’, since the owner, Senior Tito Vargas, established the plantation in an area where many people didn’t believe coffee could be successfully grown. Thirty years later, delicious and 100% organic coffee has blessed the countryside. We walked through the many trees, the red and yellow ripened cherries begging to be plucked from their branches. The cherries were sweet leaving one or two beige beans that were eventually dried and roasted.
The plantation uses a traditional and artisan process to harvest the fruit. When the farm was transformed into a coffee plantation, Tito didn’t have any fancy machinery or even coffee plants. He even recycled old automobile parts to create a roasting machine. It his true desire to succeed and provide the best coffee he can produce.
Each cherry is hand picked and a fraction of trees are cut down annually to provide room for new trees to grow. The cherry skin and flesh are separated and the beans are sorted prior to the fermentation process. The leftover skin and flesh are used to fertilize the crop in a wholly organic process. The fermented beans are then washed and left out in the sun to dry for 15 days before being put in storage for three months. The whole harvesting process takes nine months and the beans are then ready for roasting.
The plantation uses a handmade roasting machine, which took a few minutes to warm up. The coffee is then roasted for a few minutes and the beans are removed to cool. The guide showed us five batches of roasted coffee, ranging from a light roast to burnt, each bean having a unique flavor. The coffee is either sold as whole beans or finely ground. The bags used were hand stamped with the plantation’s emblem, a fresh batch hanging from clotheslines to try.
A young man working at the plantation arrived at the tail end of the tour and gave us each a cup of freshly roasted and brewed coffee. It was some of the best coffee I had ever tasted. Right from the source..right from the ground. That is not an exaggeration. I decided to purchase a couple bags of the coffee: a bag of medium roast whole beans for $5 and a bag of Geisha whole beans for a whopping price of $25. Worth it? Damn right.
Have you ever tried Panamanian coffee or been to a coffee plantation? Please share!