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From Panama’s Forests to your Coffee Cup (continued)

 

beansCoffee pickers can usually pick 100-200 pounds of cherries a day. Only 20% of the weight is the actual coffee bean. Once picked, cherries must be processed immediately. They are processed using one of two preferred methods: wet-processing or dry-processing. In wet-processing, once the cherries are collected they are transported to the mill where they are washed, pulped and dried. Many farms in Boquete use a machine to wash the beans and remove the pulp, which is a good idea, since the slimy, gelatin-like shell wouldn’t add much flavor to a Peet’s grande latte. The cherries are allowed to ferment until the bean is exposed and dried. This method preserves the integrity of the bean and maintains the sweet flavor.
The second method, dry-processing, where cherries are placed in outdoor patios and dried by the sun, produces earthy-flavored beans. Coffee farmers rake the beans every six hours to ensure even drying and to prevent mildew from destroying the beans. Dry-processing allows air to better circulate throughout the beans but increases cost and labor for the plantations.
After the beans are dried they are either hand or machine-sorted to remove bad beans and debris. The coffee is then sorted by size, density, shape and color and is graded for perfection. They are then gathered into 100 pound jute bags and stored in a wooden bodega for four to six months. During this resting period expert farmers “cup,” or taste the coffee to gauge readiness. From this point the raw coffee beans, or green beans, are packaged and distributed. Only 10% of Boquete’s beans are sold locally while the other 90% are exported throughout the world.
If this process sounds interesting on paper, you should see it in person. Many coffee plantations in Boquete provide tours, with some offering onsite hotel accommodations or eateries.

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• Café Ruiz (http://www.caferuiz-boquete.com) is the Walt Disney World of coffee plantations in Boquete, offering half-day excursions that include tours of the harvesting fields, processing plants, roasting mills, and coffee tasting starting at $25.00 per person. In true Disney fashion, they also have a coffee bar and gift shop on property, so you can guzzle your weight in coffee-related products, then stock up for when the caffeine buzz fades.
• Finca Lerida (http://www.fincalerida.com/) in the Alto Quiel region near Boquete boasts an ecolodge that is nestled in the heart of their coffee plantation and surrounded by a private natural forest reserve. One of the oldest coffee plantations in Panama, Finca Lerida offers interactive coffee tours that include a visit to the original processing plant. They offer guided tours for $27.50 per person.

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• Coffee Adventures (http://www.coffeeadventures.net) offers tours of the Kotowa Coffee Plantation, home to Panama’s oldest coffee mill, built more than 100 years ago by Kotowa’s founder, Alexander McIntyre. Rates start at $25.00 per person.
The next time you find yourself in a caffeine-induced frenzy, take a minute, slow down, and appreciate all of the work that went into your perfect cup. Those coffee beans went through years of ripening, plenty of processing, and many hands before they got to you so you could get your morning jolt. So go on, take a deep swig and savor that fabulous flavor and aroma.
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