Boquete is a small town in a picturesque setting. Volcan Baru hovers over the town while Rio Caldera sweeps through it. The coffee tastes great. The large construction projects, gated communities and large tourism industry take away some of the charm.
After baking in the tropical sun of Panama City, Boquete was a genuine relief. Because of its altitude and frequent clouds and mist, Boquete is cool, particularly in the evening.
We toured the Cafe Ruiz coffee operations for half-a-day and became coffee snobs. Folgers is made from the “floaters,” coffee beans that don´t ripen properly and flunk the water test. Starbucks over-roasts their beans creating a burnt taste that masks the true flavor of a premium bean.
Apparently, coffee trees for Arabica beans need plenty of water, higher elevations and volcanic soils (and lots of sun and heat). The stock for many of these beans comes from Ethiopia which has a similar latitude and growing condition. Rather than symmetrical plantation style fields, these coffee trees grow in natural, hilly terrain with a variety of trees mixed among them. This creates shade for the coffee trees and the fruit trees attract insects and birds. The indigenous people pick the coffee beans with a twist of the wrist. Minimum wage here is $6 US per day.
The town of Boquete itself is a haven for retirees, especially North Americans. We met the Mayor and shook his hand. There are numerous gated communities complete with guards and high walls topped with prison-style razor wire. The gap between the haves and have-nots feels uncomfortably pronounced. So called “gringo bars” are filled with English-speaking, fair-complexioned people. I stayed at Hotel Rebequet. The rooms were spacious. It had a courtyard with a garden and a common kitchen.