A tour of one of Boquete’s many coffee operations is a pleasant way to spend a few hours, and it’ll deepen your appreciation of the area and its people, not to mention the incredible amount of work that goes into that morning caffeine buzz.
It’s not necessary to be a coffee addict to enjoy one of these tours, but it does help.
The tour of Café Ruiz (just north of town on Avenida Central, tel. 720-1000, cell 6672-3786 and 6642-3786, www.caferuiz-boquete.com and www.caferuiz.com), Panama’s largest producer of gourmet coffee, is best for those who want a real nuts-and-bolts look at the whole coffee-production process.
The full tour (three hours, US$25 pp, 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Mon.–Sat. or by special arrangement) takes visitors to one of Ruiz’s coffee farms; through its impressive mill in Palmira, near Alto Boquete; and ends up at its roasting facility/coffee shop, where visitors can taste two of its coffees and see how the coffee is roasted, ground, and packaged.
An alternative (90 minutes, US$20–25, 8 a.m. Mon.–Sat.) is a visit to the roasting facility that includes a brief lesson in how to recognize different kinds of coffee, followed by a “cupping” (coffee version of a wine tasting).
Reservations should be made in advance.
Clients can also opt just for a 45-minute tour (US$7) of the roasting facility without the lesson and cupping. Prices for all tours include pickup and transportation. Sign up at the Ruiz coffee house or call for a reservation.
Café Kotowa (tel. 720-1430, www.kotowacoffee.com) offers a tour that is on a smaller scale but more charming and scenic. Its small mill is up in Palo Alto, a few kilometers north of Boquete. It faces a breathtaking view of Barú across rolling pasture. Behind the mill, coffee farms run far up the steep slopes of emerald hills until they’re lost in the clouds. This is cloud-forest country, and it gets quite wet up here.
Kotowa is the Ngöbe word for “mountain,” and the company is named in recognition of the indigenous people who work the farms. It’s widely considered to make some of the finest coffee in Panama. The operation is owned by Ricardo Koyner MacIntyre, the grandson of a Scot who moved here from Canada after reading a newspaper article about Boquete in 1918. The original wooden coffee mill, powered by water and brought all the way over from Scotland, has been lovingly preserved and is part of the tour, as is the modern-day mill.
The tour concludes at an espresso bar in the wooden mill. Coffee Adventures (tel. 720-3852, cell 6634-4698, http://coffeeadventures.net) is the official tour operator for Café Kotowa. The excellent coffee tours are given by a Dutch couple, Hans van der Vooren and Terry van Niekerk. I’ve taken the tour with Hans, and his enthusiasm and good humor make learning about coffee beans a surprisingly entertaining experience Tours last three hours and cost US$28.50 per person, two-person minimum, and include transportation from and to hotels and a coffee cupping at the end. Contact Coffee Adventures for reservations.
Finca Lérida (tel./fax 720-2285, cell 6450-3848, www.fincalerida.com) also offers tours of its coffee facilities, which consist of several quaint wooden buildings that house the coffee mill, the family, and a new hotel and B&B set in pretty countryside. It’s a highly photogenic place.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition