Whether you’re an avid coffee drinker or not, not learning a little about coffee when traveling to Boquete, Panama is unacceptable. Boquete is said to have the best coffee in the world, not to mention the best coffee farm tour sponsored by Richard from Finca Dos Jefes. In the region you can find the world renowned Gesha (not Geisha) beans, the highest rated coffee in the world according to the Coffee Grower’s Association! And, it will only cost you between $300-400 a pound. During the tour you’ll learn more about this and others coffee facts.
Rich, your tour guide starts by picking you up from your hotel. As you go through Volcan Baru Road, you will pass by other coffee farms and get an explanation about the different coffee operations and how the micro-climates of Boquete impact the growth of coffee in the area. For example, there are 3 considerations needed when growing Gesha beans- altitude, precepiations and an Eastern facing slope. Gesha beans are not Japanese, they’re actually Ethophian in origin. You’ll need an altitude of 1500 meters and at least 200 inches of rain, on an eastern facing slope, for these beans to grow,
Once you get to the farm Rich stops at the gate where he proudly shows you the home of the coffee farmers he has hired. You will then hear more about the economics and ethics behind the coffee industry which will likely be an eye opener for you if you happen to be a avid Starbucks drinker. The conditions for the majority of the labor that goes into growing and picking coffee beans is absurd. While there are major corporations benefiting from the hard labor and work of these coffee workers; education, health care, living conditions, and wages should be of concern to consumers. Considering, this is the second largest commodity sold (only behind oil) there should be some opportunity for the little guy to make it out of the vicious cycle of poverty.
Once you hear about this and are feeling bad thinking about your own coffee habits Rich will sit you down in your small group (usually around 6-8 people on the tour) and give you more background about the industry. You’ll learn about the two types of sellers- quality sellers and quantity sellers and get to know the difference between the two. If you’re drinking that 3-in-1 mix you’re getting robust coffee which will usually be half the quality and half the price of Arabica coffee. Arabica coffee will be grown in higher elevation, have less insects eating away at it as a result and be of better quality. It will also cost a bit more.
The entire process from seed to drink is fascinating from the growth periods to the chemicals used or not used during harvesting. The details that go into creating that cup of joe is astounding. The moisture level of beans need to be at 11% after drying, the roasting should be done at a specific temperature with the same sized beans, even the storage matters. And a very important tip we learned, you can keep beans in the freezer but not coffee grounds.
The evaluation process based on the coffee grower’s assocation is quite detailed as well. During the tour you’ll learn about the job of a Cupper (a coffee taster/evaluator). Of course there are the things the average coffee drinker might consider such as roast and color, aroma, and taste. But the attributes evaluated that you may not know about include acidity, balance, defects such as taints in a cup, and aftertase and sweetness. Got some coffee stains in that cup? That’s Folgers in your cup.
During this entire learning process you’ll be walking through the farm, show some of the living standards of coffee workers, have the opportunity to try more coffee than you’ll need to get you through the day, and do your own evaluation of at least two different roasts. We we’re able to have a couple cups of a medium roast and a dark roast. Included in the $30 you pay for the tour you get a bag of freshly roasted beans to take home with you. Don’t ask Rich to grind the entire bag for you, he’s obsessed about freshness and may lecture you about it.
We found Rich’s story about how he became an accidental coffee farmer owner fascinating. To create fair trade coffee and give livable wages to the laborers would be a daunting task for anybody even those with a business background and entrepreneurial spirit but the owners of Dos Jefes have managed to do so. We are happy to say that this has been our best coffee date and have been privileged to meet and spend extra time with Rich over drinks. Don’t believe us come out to the farm, the first rounds on them!