I began my coffee tour adventures in Boquete with a visit to Cafe Ruiz, a fine example of one of Panama’s high volume producers. However, like many things in life, you often need to look at them from a different perspective to fully appreciate what you have. The following afternoon I scheduled a coffee tour with Finca La Milagrosa in the Jaramillo region just up the hill from Boquete. La Milagrosa is a small producer run by a man called Senor Tito. The coffee that is produced on this farm is some of the most respected in Panama.
I was picked up at my hotel by Jason, my coffee tour guide, and after a couple more pickups, we were on our way to the farm. We headed out of town and began climbing up the mountainside; the views of Volcan Baru were amazing and as usual coffee plants seemed to be everywhere you looked. The grade of the road increased more and more and it became very obvious that this was coffee grown at altitude, 1500 meters to be more exact. We pulled into a very average looking complex with simple buildings and no obvious signage. It was here at the beginning of the tour that we met Senor Tito, a soft spoken man that has been called a bit of a mad scientist - a man growing coffee on roughly 5 hectares at too high an altitude with too much sun to produce quality beans, but nevertheless, his coffee is supreme.
As the tour goes on, my group and I learn that Senor Tito doesn’t believe in shade grown coffee. He believes that good coffee is temperature dependent and not sunlight dependent. Therefore, by growing a little higher than his counterparts he is providing an excellent coffee growing environment at just the right temperature, but able to pack in more plants on his farm because he doesn’t need the shade trees. However, this is Panama and there are still orange and lemon trees intermingled among the coffee, but the large amount of shade trees that were ubiquitous on Cafe Ruiz’s farm are nowhere to be found.
What sets Finca La Milagrosa apart from any other coffee grower/roaster is his machinery. When Senor Tito began growing coffee he had no coffee roaster, no automated way of squeezing the bean from the cherry, of sorting, etc. So what did he do? He disassembled his old Mitsubishi, threw in a couple computer parts, and viola - a small batch roaster was born! Similarly, a whole arrangement of coffee production tools were created, from the relatively complex, to the very simple. My favorite is the tacked welded spoon to a screwdriver used for pulling out roasted beans from the sample roaster.
After a walk through the farm the tour headed back to the production facility where we were to actually roast some coffee. I didn’t think that there would be enough time, but sure enough, roasting coffee only takes around 15 minutes - by far the shortest process in a coffee bean’s life. Jason fired up the small sampler roaster and before long my tour group had roasted coffee, ground it, and brewed it in a French press. It was at this moment that I found myself standing in a room surrounded by automobile inspired coffee machines drinking coffee we had just roasted on a mountain side in Panama. C’est la vie.
In English Finca La Milgrosa means the final miracle, an allusion to Senor Tito’s unlikely success with coffee in a region that shouldn’t be able to support good coffee. As it is with wine, coffee seems to be one of those things in life that can be produced by the truckload or by the bushel, but so long as it’s done with precision and passion, the results are impressive.
My hat goes off to Finca La Milagrosa and Cafe Ruiz alike. Excellent people and excellent coffee. What else do you really need?
If anyone would like advice on Boquete or coffee in general, feel free to drop us a line firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for following along with our 3 part Panama coffee blog!
Caution: Going to Boquete to drink coffee may turn you into a coffee snob - not that there’s anything wrong with that :)