Day 120 – Boquete, PA

Day 120 – Boquete, PA 12/20/10 Mileage: 0

The highlight today was a 3 hour coffee tour I booked with one of the local coffee growers named Cafe Ruiz. It was expensive at $30, but I have to say it was worth every penny. It was a complete education on coffee from how it’s grown, processed, roasted and ended with a tasting. Our tour guide (there was a young gal from Philly with her grandmother on the tour also) was Carlos and he knows everything there is to know about coffee and is a real connoisseur. First a little background from the man…Panama is the seventh largest grower of coffee with 60-70 percent of it grown in and around Boquete. Panama has brought home the gold medal at what amounts to the coffee olympics for something like 7 out of the last 10 years. Because of this, Panama is widely recognized as a very high quality producer of coffee. Indeed, the most expensive coffee in the world is grown in Panama right here in Boquete…the cost, $500 per pound! The tour started at the farm where the coffee is grown. Cafe Ruiz takes a very eco-friendly approach to growing coffee and indeed their “coffee fields” look like wild forest more than a traditional crop field like you might expect. Mixed in with the coffee plants are banana and other fruit trees, bushes and other shade trees all there to serve a specific purpose.

The pic above and below are the coffee “fields”…looks like wild forest to the untrained eye…

If you look close, you will see the ride red coffee fruit.

New coffee plant seedlings being started…

From left to right…a coffee fruit, coffee bean, coffee sprout and the young plant inside the sprout….

Different kinds of coffee grown at Cafe Ruiz. Arabica Geisha, on the right, is the one that fetches $500 per pound from another local grower.

Arabica coffee originally comes from Ethiopia…as does Arabica Geisha despite the Japanese sounding name. Geisha is a town in Ethiopia, hence the name. Arabica thrives in climates 1500 to 1800 meters above sea level, mixed sun and shade, rich volcanic soil and lots of rain…all things that Boquete has! All coffee “fruit”, which each contains two coffee beans, are selected and picked by hand when they turn red in color and are ripe.

Next we were off to the facility where the coffee fruit gets processed just down the road.

The coffee fruit is taken to a tank where they are “floated”…or more precisely sunk.

This is the tank where the floaters are separated.

It’s the floaters that are no good and are sold to shit coffee makers like Nescafe or Folgers…no kidding! The joke around here for Nescafe is to call it No-es-cafe…spanish for “not is coffee”! So after the floaters are separated and removed, the coffee fruit is put into a machine that squeezes out the 2 beans inside.

This machine squeezes the beans from the ripe coffee fruit and separates any un-ripe beans.

 The whole lot is then put in a fermentation tank for 1 day, then the beans are cleaned and put into a “pre-dryer for 3 hours.

This is the fermentation tank.

this is the pre-drying building and the pre-dryers below.

After that the beans are put in natural fiber bags and aged for 3-6 months.

Our guide Carlos holding some aging coffee beans.

After aging, the beans are put into a machine that removes the outer two husks leaving the raw green coffee bean.

Next they are sorted for size, shape, density and color before they are put in large driers for around 36 hours.

Above and below are the coffee dryers.

 After drying they are ready to be bagged and shipped! It’s quite an involved process when you think, or at least like I thought, that you just pick the raw beans and roast them.

Cafe Ruiz exports 95% of there coffee “green”, or un-roasted. What roasting they do is mostly for the domestic market, and that was our next stop. We enter the coffee roasting house and as you can imagine, the aroma was unbelievable! But before we could go into the production area, we had to put on these sexy duds….paging Dr. Neugarten.

Once inside we got to look at and smell several kinds of beans and different roasts…and the different aromas were amazing.

Cafe Ruiz’s second roaster purchased some 50 years ago…it still works.

This is their main roaster

Then after looking at some of the roasting equipment, we were off to the tasting. We got to sample some of the goods and it really was enlightening and every bit as complex as wine tasting for those with a developed palate(which I of course lack). Yet, even I could tell a huge difference between the different roasts. As the tour was wrapping up, in walks some of the Ruiz family which was a treat. Mr Ruiz Sr. is 89 and still works everyday. Mr. Ruiz Jr. manages the local operations.

From L to R: Mrs. and Mr Ruiz Sr., Mr. Ruiz Jr and our guide Carlos.

All in all, it was a fantastic experience and I would highly recommend the tour if you are ever down this way!

So, here are some other facts and common coffee misconceptions, straight from the man who is definitely in the know!

– Darker coffee beans make “stronger” coffee. False, it’s been roasted longer and is therefore more bitter, but not necessarily “stronger”.
– Darker coffee beans have more caffeine: False, caffeine is lost in the longer roasting, hence the same bean with a lighter roast will have more caffeine.
– How to get a “strong” cup of coffee with more caffeine then? Use a lighter roast, but more of it per cup.
– It takes on average 48 beans to make a cup of coffee.
– It’s rumored espresso was invented in the early 1900’s by a factory owner in Italy that was looking for a way to make coffee faster to get his employee’s back to work sooner!
– Flavored coffee is exactly that…flavored syrup that is added after roasting. There are no coffee plants that produce coffee that tastes like “chocolate hazelnut swirl”. ( And no self respecting connoisseur would be caught drinking it either!)
– Ever wonder why espresso is often served with a little cookie or biscotti? It’s to take the bitter taste of the espresso off of your palate.

So there you have it….everything you never wanted to know about coffee!!

Day 119 – Boquete, PA

Day 119 – Boquete, PA 12/18/10 Mileage: 0

Today was more or less doing chores, getting the blog updated and other miscellaneous online housekeeping done. The hotel’s wifi is tango uniform (which is “military speak” for “T U”…which stands for “Tits Up” which means “it’s totally f–king broke and ain’t workin no more”) so I parked myself at the Shalom Bakery for 5 hours and nursed 2 americano’s and a cinnamon roll. I spoke to the owner for a bit and he’s a nice guy from Korea. His spanish is much better than mine, but with his Korean accented spanish and my meager english accented spanish…our conversation was comical! So, why a Korean guy with a bakery called “Shalom Bakery”…he just likes the word “Shalom”…too funny!

I also took the obligatory walk around town and noticed there were at least 20 hostels in town…a sure sign that Boquete is on the rise as a tourist destination.

The Boquete town center…

At night I had dinner at the Boquete Cafe which has a nice dinning room and bar. Soon though, music which was 600 decibel’s louder than it needed to be for adequate consumption started emanating from the upstairs loft. I thought, well now, at least I found the happening spot because they must be playing the music that loud to be heard over all of the party revelers! Sweet, so I slicked back my eyebrows, checked my front teeth for stray cabbage and went upstairs on the prowl. Unfortunately, my arrival upstairs doubled the occupants of the loft…and the other person was th DJ with a hearing problem. With that I did an about-face and beat a hasty retreat for the door. On the way back to the hotel I hit the grocery for shaving cream, vitamins and foot spray which I hope will kill whatever has taken up residence in my riding boots before they walk away by themselves.

Boquete’s central park at night…