Posted by: luisabaldwin | April 2, 2010

FINCA DOS JEFES, BOQUETE, PANAMA

Finca Dos Jefes

The Boquete mist descended onto the mountaintops surrounding Finca Dos Jefes as the Ngobe Indians, happily chatting and listening to their music, dropped ripe coffee cherries into their plastic buckets. That morning Jim and I were sitting out on our veranda watching a rainbow form across our vista and enjoying a cup of Café de Lunas.

Boquete rainbows are magical

The beautiful yellow and blue birds joined into the magic.  It was one of those complete moments in life – having nothing to do with life’s dramas and everything to do with a sense of joy and wonder.  I thought I would take a little stroll to see how the completion of the new roasting facility was coming along.  Finca Dos Jefes is located on the slopes of a dormant volcano called Volcan Baru and is the home to around 8000 coffee tress of mixed arabica varietals called caturra, catuhai, criollo and gesha.  As I walked up the path I thought about how the beauty of nature in all its abundance results in a natural feeling of well being; life in the country is so simply sweet.

The path to the roasting facility

The lane up to the roasting facility was lush with fruit-laden orange trees, banana trees, and lavender Bougainvillea.  The Lilies were in full bloom and the mountain air was crisp and clean. This is what owners Rich and Dee Lipner enjoy every day – and we do too as renters of the guesthouse on the finca for a period of time.  After a long exercise in construction patience, Richard was looking forward to conducting his coffee finca tours in his new facility.  Strolling through the coffee trees, filled with beautiful shiny ripe red coffee berries just waiting for a Ngobe-Bugle picker to come along, I was pleased to run into him while he was conducting a tour for three lovely German ladies.

Finca Dos Jefes dried coffee cherries in the old way

The group was standing by a drying rack recently filled with harvest.  We were in full harvest and Finca Dos Jefes farms in the old ways.  It is totally organic and harvest time is conducted by the lunar calendar. Healthy robust chickens wander free-range through the coffee trees.  Each bean is hand picked only when ready and the drying of the beans is done as it always was done before machines – on a bamboo frame drying rack.  Even the bamboo for the drying racks is picked only at the right time in the lunar cycle.

As we entered the new roasting facility to learn about “cupping”, “tasting”, and “roasting”, Rich gave us a little bit of recent coffee history.

"Cupping"

In the late 1980’s, green beans sold for $4.50 a bushel.  Then, in the late 1990’s, prices dropped to $1.25, driving a lot of coffee farmers out of business.  At that time, Finca Dos Jefes had been out of production for 2 ½ years.  Enter Rich and his wife Dee.  They had known that they wanted to retire abroad for many years and, because of a close friendship with a Panamanian, considered Panama.  In 2003 they came to look around and upon returning to the U.S. they were the proud new owners of a coffee plantation.  They packed up and moved, just like that!  Well, it’s never just like that – it’s a lot of work.  Low and behold, coffee prices started climbing.  Rich and his wife must have brought prosperity with them!!!

"Tasting"

Either that or he had one heck of a sense of timing.  But prosperity is what these two lovely people have earned.  It seems like every time I run into them they are doing something for somebody else.  They take care of the people around them.  The other day I found out that, in the middle of the night, Richard had taken the caretaker’s child to the ER down in David – a one-hour’s drive.  He spent all night with the child and his family there and then drove them back to Boquete.  But back to coffee – after all it is Boquete.

On the tour we learned that there is a stringent set of global standards upon which specialty coffee is measured.  This is called “cupping”.  There are quite a few categories upon which a coffee bean is measured but Rich thought that the biggest measure of all is the aroma.

"Roasting"

Each category gets points and they add up to a measure of 100.  A well-earned pride announced that the coffee produced on Finca Dos Jefes, called Cafes de la Luna, got scores of 89 and 91 last year.

Cooling down the beans

By the way, you might be interested to learn how Panama earned her reputation as a coffee growing country.  You see, Panama is one of the few places on earth that grows the gesha coffee bean.  Now you may think that’s a Japanese dancer but no, it’s a coffee tree with its origins in Ethiopia and brings a staggering $300.00+ a pound price! Can you believe that – for coffee?!!!  I guess it’s the Rothchild of the coffee world.   It is the Gesha bean alone that scores 100 in terms of international standards.  And Richard’s coffee cupped at a staggering 91 – not bad, not bad at all!  I think congratulations are in order here.

As we moved onto the tasting phase of the tour, Richard prepared a light roast brewed through a French Press and a dark roast through a drip filter.  The aromas filled the air and as Rich poured he asked, “Does anybody have to have sugar with your coffee?”  Well, who could answer yes after that?  Without any sugar or cream, we actually tasted the full flavor of the coffee.

The Old Ways!

I seem to recall from my days as an espresso bar owner that bitterness is sensed on the sides of the tongue and acidity on the top of the pallet at the rear.  Well, Café de la Luna (what Richard calls his coffee) had none of the above.  Smooth as silk.   Easier said than done.

Coffee roasting was next and here again more goes into this than meets the eye.  During the course of a day in Panama we experience a lot of variation in weather.  This impacts roasting so skill has to be married with one’s senses for there are so many variables.  The roasting phase actually ends up being rather rapid taking up to about fifteen minutes.  A light roast goes up to 430 degrees, medium to 442 degrees, and dark roast up to 450 degrees.  The green beans are placed into a drum to roast.  Due to moisture 20% of the bean mass is lost.  At a certain point in the roasting process the beans begin to crack, indicating they are lightly roasted.  Here’s where a sense of smell, sight, skill, and constant vigilance comes in. Of course, the true temperature reading on the roaster also plays a key role.

There are so many variables that define excellence in coffee.  First and foremost, it’s about the coffee trees.  Then there is the multi-step process culminating in a green bean.  How the coffee is stored will also affect its quality, as it should be stored with the inner parchment removed for several months.   Obviously, the roasting process is critical to a good roast and requires a good bit of skill.  And finally, how a coffee is brewed greatly affects its taste.  Rich can be found at every step of that process, applying his now considerable experience and passion for the many steps that happen before you buy that pound of coffee.

Rich and Dee Lipner

Photography by:
Luisa Baldwin
© All rights reserved

In closing I have to tell you something.  In my life I haven’t had the privilege of meeting too many people who love what they do.  Rich is one of those people.  He has a passion for coffee and an inner motivation to strive towards excellence that exceeds his motivation for profits.  He had been roasting his own coffee for six years before becoming a coffee plantation owner and all of this experience comes across in the fun and informative tour that I enjoyed.  I had a great time and would recommend it to any Boquete visitor.  If you would like to visit his finca for a

private boutique coffee tour

you can reach him at:

dosjefes@gmail.com

or call his cell phone

507 66 77 77 48.

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Responses

  1. I can so smell this coffee after your description. I wish I had some now. How do we order???

    • Hi Belinda,

      I’m not sure you can! Last month Rich sold out of his special coffee beans. But I’ve e-mailed him about your request. I’ll keep you posted.


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