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Boquete Coffee Tours: taste the best!

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Coffee Tours in Panama: learn how the best coffee is produced

Ripe coffee cherries

Boquete is to coffee as Bordeaux is to wine. Panama's coffee has been considered to be the best coffee in the world for 3 years in row. So. it would be a little bit strange if you came to Boquete and you left without visiting a coffee plantation, don't you think? Prepare your taste buds for an explosion of flavors!

Several of the world's best coffee producers give you the unique opportunity to have a complete coffee tour through their coffee farms, processing factories (" beneficio"), roasting plants and tasting facilities. Café Ruiz begins their tour at their coffee farm in Palmira, Coffee growingKotowa Coffee has its coffee plantation in the Palo Alto region where you will have a chance to see a coffee mill that is almost 100 years old, and both Café Suárez and Finca Lérida run their coffee tours at their farms in Alto Quiel.

At a coffee tour in Panama you will learn everything about the coffee process, from when the coffee tree is planted and starts growing, until the way coffee is brewed for you to drink it. You will be able to appreciate the importance of the Ngöbe Buglé indigenous that hand pick the red coffee berries when they are perfectly ripe. You will also have a glance of the shade grown technique which only allows the precise amount of sun on each coffee tree and protects the environment. And you will end with a cupping, in which you will sample different flavors and roasts.

 
Habla Ya Student Price
Non Student Price
Coffee Tour $25 per person $30 per person

* The above prices do not include Panama's 7% ITBMS Sales Tax.

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But warning! If you go on a coffee tour in Panama you risk turning into a coffee snob. After a coffee tour in Panama you will never look at your morning cup of coffee in the same way.

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Coffee Tours in Boquete at Finca La Milagrosa: a Panamanian producer

Tasting Specialty Coffee in Boquete

At Habla Ya Spanish School, we recommend Sr. Tito's coffee tour at Finca La Milagrosa in the Jaramillo region, who is one of the most respected and 100% organic coffee producers in the country. This small farm is not meant for large productions, and Mr. Tito's specialty coffee is only destined for exportation to Europe and the United States. When Mr. Tito took over this farm from his father 30 years ago, he started without any machines or even coffee plants, and produced his first roasting machines with used pieces of his old Mitsubishi car, and even some computer pieces!

His rather small 5 hectare coffee farm La Milagrosa (which means the miracle, in English), situated at 1500 meters above sea level, has been given it's name because many people in this region did not believe that Sr. Tito could transform this land into a lucrative coffee plantation when he started 30 years ago, and today he produces one of the best coffees of PanamaTake a coffee tour where the best coffee in the world is produced and has won many prizes. The world famous Geisha coffee is one of the eight different types of coffee that Tito produces, which is one of the most expensive delicacy coffees in the world (sold for over $100 per pound in Japan for example).

Even though Sr. Tito became famous internationally for his coffee production, and has appeared on many TV shows abroad (you can find him on YouTube!), he stayed very modest, and is always very proud to explain to his visitors how he produces his coffee, and the differences between French, American and Italian roasts.

You will get to roast some beans on your own, and will taste a few cups of excellent coffee during your visit! Moreover, Sr Tito is a great economic help to the indigenous community, as he employs 22 Ngöbe Buglé Indians on his farm to help him collect and process the coffee beans.

As you may know, the Ngobe Buglé Indians are responsible for handpicking the coffee grown in the coffee farms of Chiriqui. If you visit Boquete between December and April you will be able to see them in their colorful dresses harvesting coffee in Ruiz's plantations and if you visit Boquete between October and March you will be able to see the coffee being processed.

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Habla Ya Student Price
Non Student Price
Coffee Tour $25 per person $30 per person

* The above prices do not include Panama's 7% ITBMS Sales Tax.

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Note: All the transportation is provided. Capacity per tour: 10 persons. Instead of meeting at Habla Ya, we can also arrange for you to be picked up at your hotel or host family. Two coffee tours are organized each day. The 3 hour coffee tour begins at 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. and is offered from Monday to Saturdays.

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History of Specialty Coffee in Panama: from crisis to glory

History of Panama's coffee

When written in Chinese, the word "crisis" is composed of two characters: one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity. Opportunity is what a group of 7 coffee producers from the areas of Boquete and Volcan saw in 1996 during the crisis of low international prices of coffee. That year the Specialty Coffee Association of Panama was born. If they could not compete with countries that produced coffee in much larger quantities then they would make a shift and compete in quality.

After another price crisis in the 2000-2001 season, even more coffee producers were attracted by the specialty market. As Panama has the smallest coffee production in Central America, Drying the coffee in a coffee factory in Boquetethe change in direction almost seems obvious more than 10 years later, but that is the beauty about brilliant ideas: there simplicity makes them even more difficult to discover.

One of Panama's coffee was selected as the best coffee in the world for the first time in 2004. Several years before "Jaramillo Special" began breaking records, Panama's coffees had already begun to win international competitions. Coffee producers in the Boquete, Volcan, Bambito, Santa Clara and Candela areas had already started to segment their farms, analyze and taste the coffee produced by each subdivision and catalogue it accordingly. As quality has continued to improve, this has led other coffee farms to achieve and win top rankings in international competitions.

 
Habla Ya Student Price
Non Student Price
Coffee Tour $25 per person $30 per person

* The above prices do not include Panama's 7% ITBMS Sales Tax.

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For those interested, here is a list of some of Panama's best coffees that have been awarded top prizes in international events: Bambito Estate Coffee, Mama Cata, Carmen Estate Coffee, Kotowa Coffee, Café Ruiz, Santa Teresa Coffee Estate, Elida and El Burro Estate (from Lamastus Family Estates), Finca Don Pepe, Café Suárez, Hacienda Cafetalera, Café Sitton, Finca Lérida, Finca Hartmann, Cafetalera Las Marianas and Café Eleta.

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Story of Geisha Coffee and how it became the world's best coffee

Hacienda Esmeralda

The scientific name of the Geisha tree is Abyssinian. The first record of these coffee seeds was recorded in 1931 when they were collected on the remote Geisha Mountain in Ethiopia. In 1932 they were planted in Kenya and in 1936 in Uganda and Tanzania. The Geisha was first introduced in Costa Rica in 1953 from Lyamungu, Tanzania, although it was later imported for several different countries. It still remains debated as to when and how it arrived to Panama.

In 1998 there were some extreme rains in the Chiriqui area that left a plague of fungus in many coffee farms in Boquete. For "Hacienda Esmeralda" it meant loosing half of its coffee plants. Price Peterson had bought this farm in 1996 mostly for the quality of its coffee and altitude. Only three varieties of plants survived and one of those was the "Geisha" . As coffee plants take up to 5 years to reach their full potential, the Petersons decided to only plant the 3 strongest varieties. Curiously enough, in the past decades, the plant also know as "Gesha", had been planted in the limits of many farms in Boquete to protect the rest of the plants from wind currents and to avoid erosion, mainly thanks to its height.

The Peterson family and geisha coffee

Panama's coffee gained world wide fame in 2004 after Daniel Peterson of "Hacienda Esmeralda" discovered that certain coffee plants of his family's coffee plantation were producing an exceptional cup of coffee. In January of that year, Daniel began cupping coffee from various parts of the farm, putting to test a suspicion he had. He thought that there might be an area of the farm that was producing an intensely fine cup of coffee which was flavoring the rest of the farms production, but at the same time was being diluted by beans of inferior quality. It turned out that he was right. At the upper extreme of the farm there was a very small valley which had the cup today known as "Jaramillo Special" .

Other coffee producers in Boquete have begun to grow this special variety of coffee in their own coffee farms. In years to come we will be able to know if this Geisha coffee of exceptional quality can be replicated or even excelled. Panama's specialty coffee industry has just begun its roll.

 
Habla Ya Student Price
Non Student Price
Coffee Tour $25 per person $30 per person

* The above prices do not include Panama's 7% ITBMS Sales Tax.

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After the Best of Panama event in 2004, the Specialty Coffee Association of America held an online auction and when the bidding hit the $15 barrier, producers thought a hacker had infiltrated the system. Jaramillo Special finally sold for $21 per pound that year. In 2005 it sold for $20.10, in 2006 it sold for $50.25 and in 2007 it sold for an incredible $130 per pound.

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Coffee Process: from planting the seed to roasting the coffee

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Planting the coffee and watching it grow

Coffee trees need to be strategically planted. At Café Ruiz, coffee trees are grown in between fruit trees, which are occasionally pruned to provide the right amount of shade. The fruits also attract birds which also eat insects. This way, no chemical pesticides need to be used.

A coffee plant usually starts to produce flowers 3-4 years after it is planted, and it is from these flowers that the fruits of the plant (commonly known as coffee cherries) appear, with the first useful harvest possible around 5 years after planting. The cherries ripen around eight months after the emergence of the flower, by changing color from green to red, and it is at this time that they should be harvested.

Picking red ripe berries

Coffee berries are most commonly picked by hand by laborers who receive payment by the basketful or "lata". A skillfull Ngobe Buglé can pick up to 7 "latas" of coffee per day. As of 2003, payment per basket was between US$2 and $10 per day in average in Central America. In Panama, coffee pickers earn between $5 and $10 per "lata". Depending on the grower, coffee pickers are sometimes specifically instructed to not pick green coffee berries since the seeds in the berries are not fully formed or mature. This is the case of specialty coffee in Panama. This means that berries from each single tree are picked between 4 to 6 times, from December to April. In this case pickers are paid better for their labor.

Mixes of green and red berries, or just green berries, are used to produce cheaper mass consumer coffee beans, which are characterized by a displeasingly bitter/astringent flavor and a sharp odor. Red berries, with their higher aromatic oil and lower organic acid content, are more fragrant, smooth, and mellow. As such coffee picking is one of the most important stages in coffee production, and is the chief determinant for the quality of the end product. When each berry is picked, pickers have to make sure to twist them off of their stems so that the coffee tree is preserved and lives longer.

Wet process

Most of the world's green coffee has gone through some sort of wet processing including most of the premium coffee. After the Green coffee is picked the coffee is sorted by immersion in water. Bad or unripe fruit will float and the good ripe fruit will sink. The skin of the cherry and some of the pulp is removed by pressing the fruit by machine in water through a screen. The bean will still have a significant amount of the pulp clinging to it that needs to be removed.

Fermentation

In the ferment and wash method of wet processing the remainder of the pulp is removed by breaking down the cellulose by fermenting the beans with microbes for several days and then washing them with large amounts of water. Fermentation can be done with extra water or in "Dry Fermentation" in the fruit's own juices only.

In machine-assisted wet processing fermentation is not used to separate the bean from the remainder of the pulp rather it is scrubbed off by a machine.

Drying the coffee

After the pulp has been removed what is left is the bean surrounded by two additional layers, the silver skin and the parchment. The beans must be dried to a water content of about 10% before they are stable. Coffee beans can be dried in the sun or by machine but in most cases it is dried in the sun to 12-13% moisture and brought down to 10% by machine.

Drying entirely by machine is normally only done where space is at a premium or the humidity is too high for the beans to dry before mildewing. When dried in the sun coffee is most often spread out in rows on large patios where it needs to be raked every six hours to promote even drying and prevent the growth of mildew. Some coffee is dried on large raised tables where the coffee is turned by hand. Drying coffee this way has the advantage of allowing air to circulate better around the beans promoting more even drying but increases cost and labor significantly. The parchment is removed from the bean and what remains is green coffee.

Sorting the coffee

Once the coffee is dried to green coffee it is sorted by hand or machine to remove debris and bad or misshapen beans. The coffee is also often sorted by size and placed into one of several grades. Once the skin has been removed, specialty coffee producers add several additional steps to select only the best beans: they separate by size, density, shape and color, only leaving those beans that are perfect.

Aging the coffee

Green coffee is fairly stable (approx. up to 1 year) if stored correctly. Most often it is in a Jute sack kept in a cool, clean, and dry place. Most coffee producers in Panama agree that 4 months is the ideal time to age the coffee, but each coffee producer leaves the coffee to sleep for a specific amount of time that depends on his specific coffee.

Roasting the coffee

Roasting coffee transforms the chemical and physical properties of green coffee beans into roasted coffee products.

The roasting process is integral to producing a savory cup of coffee. When roasted, the green coffee bean expands to nearly double its original size, changing in color and density. As the bean absorbs heat, the color shifts to yellow and then to a light "cinnamon" brown then to a dark and oily color. During roasting oils appear on the surface of the bean. The roast will continue to darken until it is removed from the heat source.

At lighter roasts, the bean will exhibit more of its "origin flavor". The flavors created in the bean by the soil and weather conditions in the location where it was grown. Most specialty coffees tend to have lighter roasts.

As the beans darken to a deep brown, the origin flavors of the bean are eclipsed by the flavors created by the roasting process itself. At darker roasts, the "roast flavor" is so dominant that it can be difficult to distinguish the origin of the beans used in the roast. These roasts are sold by the degree of roast, ranging from "Light Cinnamon Roast" through "Vienna Roast", "Latin Roast", "Espresso Roast" to "French Roast" and beyond. Many consider that a "full city" roast is a great roast because it is "not too light" and "not too dark".

 
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Non Student Price
Coffee Tour $25 per person $30 per person

* The above prices do not include Panama's 7% ITBMS Sales Tax.

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Although it is still widely debated, certain types of green coffee are believed to improve with age; especially those that are valued for their low acidity, such as coffees from Indonesia or India. Several of these coffee producers sell coffee beans that have been aged for as long as 3 years, with some as long as 8 years. However, most coffee experts agree that a green coffee peaks in flavor and freshness within one year of harvest, because over-aged coffee beans will lose much of their essential oil content. This is the case of Panama's coffee.

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Coffee Preparation: how to make the perfect cup of coffee

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Coffee preparation is the process of turning coffee beans into a beverage.

Grinding

The fineness of the grounds has a major impact on the brewing process, and matching the consistency of the grind with the brewing method is critical to extracting the optimal amount of flavor from the roasted beans. Brewing methods which expose coffee grounds to heated water for a longer duration require a coarser grind than faster brewing methods. Beans which are too finely ground for the brewing method in which they are used will expose too much surface area to the heated water and produce a bitter, harsh, "over-extracted" taste. At the other extreme, an overly coarse grind will produce a weak, watery, under-flavored result.

The rate of deterioration increases when the coffee is ground, as a result of the greater surface area exposed to oxygen. To achieve the best cup of coffee it should be grinded within 3 to 7 days of roasting and once grinded, it should be used immediately.

Brewing

Coffee can be brewed in several different ways, but these methods fall into four main groups depending upon how the water is introduced to the coffee grounds. If the method allows the water to pass only once through the grounds, the resulting brew will contain mainly the more soluble components (including caffeine), whereas if the water is repeatedly cycled through the beans (as with the common percolator), the brew will contain more of the relatively less soluble compounds found in the bean; as these tend to be more bitter, that type of process is less favored by coffee aficionados.

Water temperature is crucial to the proper extraction of flavor from the ground coffee. The recommended brewing temperature of coffee is 93 °C (199.4 °F). Any cooler and some of the solubles that make up the flavor will not be extracted. If the water is too hot, some undesirable elements will be extracted, adversely affecting the taste, especially in bitterness.

The usual ratio of coffee to water for the style of coffee most prevalent in Europe, America, and other Westernized nations (evident in publications such as textbooks on coffee and instruction manuals for drip-brew machines) is between one and two tablespoons of ground coffee per six ounces (180 milliliters) of water; the full two tablespoons per six ounces tends to be recommended by experienced coffee lovers. Note that the size of the grinds has an effect on the strength and the amount of coffee needed and may need to be adjusted accordingly.

Brewed coffee continually heated will deteriorate rapidly in flavor; even at room temperature, deterioration will occur. For this reason aficionados frown upon the hotplate which is sometimes used to keep brewed coffee warm prior to serving. However, if it is kept in an oxygen-free environment it can last almost indefinitely at room temperature, and sealed containers of brewed coffee are sometimes commercially available in food stores in America or Europe, with Frappuccino being commonly available at convenience stores and grocery stores in the United States.

Electronic coffee makers boil the water and brew the infusion with little human assistance and sometimes according to a timer. Some even grind the beans automatically before brewing.

Boiling

Despite the name, care should be taken not to actually boil the coffee (or at least not for too long) because that would make it bitter.

The simplest method is to put the ground coffee in a cup, pour in hot water and let it cool while the grounds to sink to the bottom. This is a traditional method for making a cup of coffee that is still used in parts of Indonesia. This method (known as "mud coffee" in the Middle East owing to an extremely fine grind that results in a mud-like sludge at the bottom of the cup) allows for extremely simple preparation, but the drinker must be careful if they want to avoid drinking grounds either from this layer or floating at the surface of the coffee (which can be avoided by dribbling cold water onto the 'floaters' from the back of a spoon). If the coffee beans are not ground finely enough, the grounds do not sink.

Turkish coffee was a very early method of making coffee and is still used in the Middle East, North Africa, East Africa, Turkey, Greece, and the Balkans. Water is placed all together with very finely ground coffee in a narrow-topped pot, called an ibrik (Arabic), cezve (Turkish), kanaka (Egyptian), briki (Greek), or džezva (Stokavian), and allowed to briefly come to the boil. It is usually drunk sweet, in which case sugar is added to the pot and boiled with the coffee; it is also often flavored with cardamom, mostly in Arab countries. The result is imbibed in small cups of very strong coffee with foam on the top and a thick layer of sludgy grounds at the bottom of the cup, "telve" in Turkish, and often referred to in English as the "mud".

Pressure

Espresso is made with hot water at between 91°C (195°F) and 96°C (204°F) forced, under a pressure of between eight and nine atmospheres (800-900 kPa), through a lightly packed matrix (called a puck) of finely ground coffee. It can be served alone (often after an evening meal), and is the basis for many coffee drinks. It is one of the strongest tasting forms of coffee regularly consumed, with a distinctive flavor and crema, a layer of emulsified oils in the form of a colloidal foam standing over the liquid.

A perfect espresso is the secret of any successful coffee shop as the espresso is the base to prepare almost any coffee beverage.

A moka pot, also known as "Italian coffeepot" is a three-chamber design which boils water in the lower section and forces the boiling water through the separated coffee grounds in the middle section. The resultant coffee (almost espresso strength, yet without the crema) is collected in the upper section. It usually sits directly on a heater or stove. Some models feature a glass or plastic top to view the coffee as it is forced up.

The Aeropress is a recently popularized device similar to the French Press. Hot water is poured into a ground coffee mixture, but the coffee is pressed out under moderate pressure a relatively short time later through a paper microfilter, without accumulating the considerable amounts of bitter sediment associated with a French Press.

Gravity

Drip brew (also known as filter or American coffee) is made by letting hot water drip onto coffee grounds held in a coffee filter (paper or perforated metal). Strength varies according to the ratio of water to coffee and the fineness of the grind, but is typically weaker than espresso, though the final product contains more caffeine. By convention, regular coffee brewed by this method is served in a brown or black pot (or a pot with a brown or black handle), while decaffeinated coffee is served in an orange pot (or a pot with an orange handle).

The common electric percolator - which was in almost universal use in the United States prior to the 1970s, and is still popular in some households today- differs from the pressure percolator described above. It uses the pressure of the boiling water to force it to a chamber above the grounds, but relies on gravity to pass the water down through the grounds, where it then repeats the process until shut off by an internal timer. The coffee produced is held in low esteem by some coffee aficionados because of this multiple-pass process. Many coffee drinkers still prefer gravity percolation because they claim it delivers a richer cup of coffee in comparison to drip brewing.

Steeping

A cafetière (or French press) is a tall, narrow glass cylinder with a plunger that includes a wire mesh filter composed of metal or nylon. The coffee and hot water are combined in the cylinder (normally for four to seven minutes) before the plunger, in the form of a metal foil, is depressed, leaving the coffee at the top ready to be poured. This style of "total immersion brewing" is considered by many coffee experts to be the ideal way to prepare fine coffee at home. Depending on the type of filter, it is important to pay attention to the grind of the coffee beans, though a rather coarse grind is almost always called for.

 
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Coffee Tour $25 per person $30 per person

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