From Panama with Taste

Panama Boquete

Boquete is nowhere near the Panama Canal: it’s high in the mountains, not too far from Costa Rica. It need not be: it’s a fine destination for hanging bridge lovers; coffee drinkers; foodies; volcano visitors; music, arts, and crafts enthusiasts; and those looking for a good place to retire. Boquete hosts the 50-year-old Coffee and Flower Festival (January) and a jazz and blues festival.

The best coffee in Panama grows here. The volcanic soil is nutrient-rich and holds water well, which helps during the dry season. The weather is dependable and frequent cloud cover provides coffee trees ideal amounts of light. We’ve talked in previous articles about the advantages that high-altitude coffees enjoy. What results is a strictly hard bean coffee with an intense aroma and complicated but balanced acidity, overtones of citrus and maybe fig, that blooms into nutty chocolate flavors.

Many of the smallholds, called fincas, still use traditional, natural techniques for growing and harvesting these premium coffee beans. When, more than 100 years ago, intentional coffee growing began in Panama, wild coffee already was prolific in these mountain highlands. A variety of cultivars flourish; the June Coffee of the Month contains typica and caturra.

For those interested, a number of plantations offer tours that take visitors to growing, processing, and packaging areas and culminate with a taste of the finca’s own coffee.

The graphic for this month’s coffee mixes up-to-date street art with the historical bird that colors Panama’s trees, the quetzal. This colorful ave has flourished in many parts of Central and South America since prehistoric times. Perhaps the great Mesoamerican deity Quetzalcoatl was inspired by blending the feathers and colors of the bird with the always-fearsome snake. Because it was long believed that the quetzal could neither breed nor survive in captivity, it is a symbol of liberty. According to one Mayan legend, the quetzal sang marvelously before the Spanish conquest, has been silent since, and will sing again when the land is free.