Boquete is a small mountain village on the slopes of Volcan Baru in the province of Chiriqui in Panama. Due to its high elevation, cool climate, and fertile soil from the nearby volcano, this area is Panama’s coffee growing region, with several Boquete coffee farms clustered up in the hills.
Finca Dos Jefes is translated as “The Farm of Two Bosses” — the name referring to the American retirees Richard and Dee, who purchased the Boquete coffee farmland in 2003. A few years prior to their purchase, the coffee economy in Latin America crashed, 40% of coffee farms were abandoned, and Richard and Dee, who were then-retired and looking for land to build a home on, came across this seven acre farm with 4,000 coffee trees. Their intention wasn’t to get into coffee production — after all, the husband-and-wife duo were officially retired — but soon enough, their post-retirement hobby became learning all there is to know about coffee and nurturing this coffee farm back to life.
The small farm is now open for tours for anyone who wants a look at how a small coffee farm operates from bean-to-cup. Having been on two guided coffee tours already — one in Myanmar, the other in Costa Rica, I had a good grasp of the steps of coffee production, but what set Finca Dos Jefes apart and interested me the most, was how their coffee tour focuses on the business, economics, and ethics behind coffee.
The steps of coffee production from ‘bean to cup’ are the same, no matter what part of the world you are in: growing, picking, drying, roasting, brewing. Good coffee begins with a healthy, ripe cherry, picked off the coffee tree. Then depending on the different methods of drying (natural, honey, washed) and roasting (light, medium, dark), the natural flavours of the coffee are highlighted in different ways.
At Finca Dos Jefes, they sun-dry their coffee cherries whole, meaning the natural flavours of the cherries are infused into the bean, bringing out sweeter, fruitier notes in the final product. Only 20% of coffee producers dry their coffee by this method, the more common practise is to peel and wash first, before drying.
It was interesting to hear that one of the natural byproducts of coffee production, the antioxident-rich peel of the coffee cherry (called the cascara), are being used in other niche industries; sold as tea, infused into flavours of beers, ciders, and syrups, or even being ground up into flour for baking!
The dried, de-shelled “green beans” are then roasted to get the light, medium or dark roast coffee we as consumers are most familiar with.
Over the years, Richard and Dee went from selling unroasted green beans to third-party roasters, then moved onto buying production equipment and conducting their roasting in house. They’ve also experimented with international exports, and sold coffee by-products (the cherry shell) to external buyers.
Coffee farmers take on the bulk of the risk, their agriculture being heavily affected by natural conditions beyond their control (ie. weather affecting coffee yield, lethal fungus destroying plants, etc.). In the coffee industry, the further down the supply chain you go, the more middle men you have, the more of a price discrapancy there is from bean to cup. Coffee labourers and producers make only a fraction of profits compared to the roasters and cafes selling to final consumers like us. As conscious consumers in North America, we should be supporting fair- or direct-trade coffee, and supporting the producers as directly as we can.
As of today, Cafes de la Luna coffee from Finca Dos Jefes is mostly only available in Panama to locals and tourists.
At the end of the tour, we tried two roasts of coffee — a medium and a dark, and learned more about the brewing methods for coffee.
Even though this was the third coffee tour I have been a part of, I continue to learn and pick up new knowledge every time. For anyone who is looking for a candid conversation on the ethics and economics in the global coffee industry, the coffee tour at Finca Dos Jefes is a fantastic option in Boquete. As a bonus, every coffee tour participant is gifted with a complimentary bag of coffee so you can bring a taste of Boquete coffee back home.
For more information or to book your tour in Boquete, visit: boquetecoffeetour.com.
Thank you to Finca dos Jefes for hosting us on your coffee tour, and the wonderful and knowledgable guide Amy for giving us the tour. As always, all opinions on Modern Mix Travel are our own.