Coffee finca Dos Jefes: great views and better insight into coffee & the independent coffee finca
The town of Boquete, Panama is a pretty notch in the equatorial coffee belt. For people who count coffee a daily staple, it’s an insanely important region.
If you drink coffee, like the way it smells, are curious how it’s grown and roasted, and want an insider’s view on coffee politics, Boquete’s coffee finca Dos Jefes is a terrific place to satisfy your curiosity.
Owners Rich and Dee Lipner bought coffee finca Dos Jefes in 2003 in preparation to “retire” to Boquete from Berkeley, CA. Overnight their golden years morphed into their coffee years.
In the 1990s, crashing coffee prices put farmers out of business across the coffee growing world, and the Dos Jefes property was deserted. For Rich and Dee, this meant three things:
First, the deserted coffee finca needed a lot of work to become profitable.
Second, the extended break from chemical use on the land primed coffee finca Dos Jefes for organic certification.
Third, the crash was a reminder that coffee is a perpetually volatile business and a wakeup call that farmers need better ways to protect themselves.
That third point is clearly what gets Rich out of bed in the morning—that and the goliath amounts of coffee he roasts, serves, and drinks throughout the day.
Rich loves showing his land. He loves talking about coffee (although he insists he’s far from an expert). But mostly, he loves talking about the people behind coffee. He is visibly proud of Dos Jefe’s growers and the lives they and their families enjoy.
Not far from his head grower’s current home, our tour stopped at a former communal residence. Stooping under the low entrance, Rich points out features—like dirt floors and a concrete slab stove with no ventilation—that remain all too common to coffee growers around the world.
As he talks, he names names. He praises some unlikely heroes (apparently Folgers slips some really great practices under the radar), and fingers the “bad guys” (just because Starbucks is the world’s leading purchaser of fair trade coffee doesn’t mean all that much of its product lives up to those standards).
Asking everyone in the group where they buy their coffee, he notes that the last 10 years have taken the coffee industry for quite a ride. He’s convinced that micro roasters are the key to growers’ futures. Today, many roasters make the effort to source directly from origin, support and market independent coffee fincas and farmers, forge long-lasting relationships with their suppliers, and choose to pay a premium (even just a few cents more on the kilo helps). This trend gives Rich hope for the future survival of independent coffee farmers like him and his neighbors.
Rich definitely uses his coffee cart as a soap box. And that’s great. For us, his passion for the survival of the independent, sustainable, coffee finca was the most interesting part of the Dos Jefes tour.
Coffee finca Dos Jefes grows Caturra, Catuai, Criollo and Gesha trees. Rich admits that the latter is mostly to satiate visitors’ curiosity—Panama’s famously luxe Gesha grows above his 1,400 meter elevation.
Dos Jefe farms by the lunar calendar. As of our visit, they’ve never used chemical fertilizers or pesticides. But an airborne disease currently attacking local trees makes Rich wonder if he can survive the season on an organic alternative.
Once harvested, Dos Jefes processes cherries using the natural, or dry, method. Batches are spread across long mesh-dressed trestles. The cherries dry naturally in the sun (and are wrapped in tarps when in danger of getting wet). Depending on the weather each batch dries for 3-4 weeks.
As they dry, cherries turn from cranberry red to raisin brown. The goal is to reach the perfect level of dryness (the Goldilocks standard for coffee beans is the just right not too wet and not too dry).
Next, the Dos Jefes crew removes the cherry skins using a Flintstones looking de-huller. Beans are then hand sorted, graded, and stored in a dark, cool shed until they are ready to roast. Rich roasts all of his beans on site, choosing to stay small and not grow more green beans to wholesale.
Following the coffee finca tour, Rich set up a cupping.
We talked about the notes and qualities associated with light, medium, and dark roasts, then got to choose between a guided or blind tasting. Our group was into the light roast, and after finishing our coffees, Rich took us inside to try our hands at roasting.
Rich runs all of Dos Jefes coffees through a sweet little 5 lb roaster. It’s been beautifully maintained, but Rich mentions that he should probably upgrade. For us, the roaster’s small batch charm suits both the jefe and his farm.
Grown men literally fight to help Rich roast.
The roasting process is so fine-tuned that the difference between a light and dark roast is a matter of seconds. We all stare transfixed as a chocolaty aroma fills the small room and beans begin snapping like popcorn.
We left coffee finca Dos Jefes with a free bag of house roasted beans, a great affinity for Rich, and plenty to discuss over our next cup.