I drink a LOT of coffee.
In my overly-hungover-yet-still-functioning college days and my working-2-jobs-while-maniacally-working-out days, coffee was the fuel that kept me moving and also suppressed my appetite, saving time. I thought coffee was pretty magical, but I never really considered its origins or how it got into my cup.
I had assumed coffee beans look like little brown pods hanging from trees. Kinda like edamame, but chocolate-colored.
Now, it’s pretty strange to think that I spent a decade excessively consuming a product I actually knew almost NOTHING about.
In fact, before my Boquete coffee tour, I wouldn’t have known a coffee bean if it slapped me in the face!
So when I arrived in Boquete, the holy grail of amazing coffee in Panama, I set out to cure my ignorance by visiting La Milagrosa (“The Miracle”) with Explora Ya Panama.
One day before Spanish class, along with 3 other Habla Ya students, I was picked up by our expert guide for the day, Oscar, and whisked off to “The Miracle” farm.
not the smartest wardrobe decision on a cold and drizzly day
While perhaps not the best morning for an outdoor tour (rainy, windy, and cold), I didn’t do myself many favors by wearing shorts, a tank top, and a light sweater. EEK I was freezing! Luckily the sun soon broke through the clouds and warmed up my shivering skin for the rest of the tour.
While I tried to control my teeth chattering, Oscar led us through the whole process of coffee production, from the fruits on the tree to picking, fermenting, drying, roasting, and finally packaging, with stops to view the progress along each step of the way.
I was most surprised by the look of the beans in the very beginning, before they are processed. Raw coffee beans look like red, yellow, or green berries, depending on the kind of coffee and the stage of ripeness. Definitely NOT the chocolatey brown pods I was picturing.
Before: little white rocks, amiright?
After: now THIS is coffee
When the skins and the fruit of the coffee berries are removed, they look even stranger. They look and feel just like little creamy white rocks! It’s not until after fermenting, drying, and most importantly roasting that they even start to resemble what we all know as coffee beans!
La Milagrosa was the perfect farm for me to visit, as each step of the production process is easily visible and aided by the human touch. Apart from the look of the beans, I was also shocked by the look of the production process at La Milagrosa. It is the most un-factory-like farm I could ever imagine. While it is the second most important coffee producer in Boquete, La Milagrosa reminded me of a family hobby much more than a business, in a good way.
there’s even a sweet, sleepy dog – adding to the family feel. Get this canine some coffee, stat!
Even the machines themselves are extremely interesting, unique, and mostly handmade – NOT mass produced, but created with individual attention, just like the coffee. Mr. Tito, the owner of the farm, is a seriously Panamanian version of MacGyver. He makes extremely creative use of commonly discarded or ignored items. Old cars and washing machines, for example, are repurposed and recycled into coffee processing equipment in a very money-conscious and green way, saving so much metal from the garbage dump.
check out those unique machines and handmade details contributing to coffee perfection
While you might be leery of the ability of a formerly broken down washing machine to make excellent coffee – let your senses do the decision making.
Just one step inside the welcomingly warm production shed, and you’ll be instantly enveloped in the deliciously blog aromas of perfectly roasted coffee. It is inescapable and divine, but the pleasures don’t stop there. You’ll even be able to add your own handiwork to the air (and your cup) as you roast your own coffee beans! The roasting step at La Milagrosa is done by hand, in small batches, to ensure perfection.
With unlimited refills of fantastically fresh coffee, you’ll definitely be feeling a certain pep in your step as you select some coffee to bring home (it’s the BEST souvenir) before waving goodbye to the addicting scents of La Milagrosa, more caffeinated and much more knowledgeable about coffee than when you arrived.
Have you ever visited a coffee farm? Was it different than expected?
The tour can be booked through Habla Ya for $25 for students. For non-students, you can also book though Explora Ya.
Make sure to wear warm clothes or bring a sweater, as the weather in Boquete can get chilly without warning.
You will be walking through a functioning coffee field and production center, so close-toed shoes would be best.