Farm: Café Rita Isabel
Processing: Fully washed & sun dried on African beds
Altitude: 1,570 to 1,790 metres above sea level
Owner: Eduardo Urriola
Town / City: Volcancito Arriba, Boquete
Café Rita Isabel Geisha Washed - Panama
Educardo Urriola purchased Café Rita Isabel relatively recently, in 1990. When first purchased, the farm had been dedicated primarily to the production of carrots and lettuce, with only a portion of the farm planted under Caturra and Catuaí coffee trees. Eduardo knew that the potential of the farm, located in Panama’s lush Boquete region of Chiriquí Province, was greater than had so far been actualised. He set about investing in improving the farm’s production, which culminated in his winning a place in the Best of Panama competition in 2008. Fuelled by his success, he planted an area of the farm under Geisha in 2010, from which some truly exceptional washed and natural lots hail.
The Estate is composed of two farms, Café Rita Isabel, S. A. and Café lsabela, which was acquired slightly later and is fully planted under Caturra coffee. The farms take their names from Eduardo’s daughters l – Rita and Isabel – whom he hopes will one day take over the farms in his stead!
Today, the farms pursue some ecotourism and provide hostelling services for tourists, but the main activities are coffee production. According to Eduardo, the main challenge that they face is simply preserving the quality of the coffee produced, plain and simple! Climate change, in recent years, has presented some new difficulties, but Eduardo and his employees meet these head on and have adapted with new cultivation techniques that ensure that the coffee trees are maintained healthy and productive.
In addition to Geisha, of which this lot is composed, the farm has also kept some of the original plots of Catuaí and Caturra. They plan to introduce Pacamara in the near future. All these varieties have been selected according to their adaptability to the local climate. This enables Eduardo to use primarily ‘Green Label’ (organic) inputs, such as herbicides and pesticides. The farm’s management techniques – which include regular pruning and renovation activities – contribute to the farm’s ability to manage their production in an eco-friendly manner.
These methods are paying off not only with regards to quality but also with regards to productivity. Coffee is planted on the farm at a density of 4,000 plants per hectare. 2016 saw Eduardo and his team breaking a new record of more than 36,000 ‘latas’ (cans/the measuring unit for cherry locally) picked over the farm’s total 20 hectares. This is considered an excellent yield for the country!
Harvest begins by checking the sugar levels of the cherries, using a brix meter and also by visual assessment. When cherries are perfectly ripe, they are selectively hand-picked, with lots being separated according to variety. Coffee is taken on the same day as being picked to be processed at the wet mill in Boquete – some 14 km from the farm itself. The mill processes both natural and washed lots. This lot has been processed using the washed process, where coffee is pulped and then fermented in tanks for around 18 hours, depending on the climate at the time. After the mucilage is no longer sticky, the coffee is washed in clean water, drained and then delivered to African beds to dry. The drying parchment coffee is spread thinly and turned regularly until it reaches optimal humidity, which takes about six days.
As with most of the coffee farms in the area, the majority of Café Rita Isabel’s employees are native Ngobe Bugle, from the highlands of Bocas Del Toro. It is very common for children to accompany their parents when they travel for the harvest season. It is very important to Eduardo, however, that children not be put to work during this time. Therefore, they make every effort to help families utilise their children’s time in a fun and educational way. They have hired a Casa Esperanza teacher in the school located on the farm which, every year, gives orientation to the kids, provides meals for them during the day, and helps them engage in fun activities while their parents are working. At the end of the year, they always have a party with special activities for the children and their parents.
The aim of Café Rita Isabel, above all, is to maintain a safe, friendly and beneficial environment for workers and for the local flora and fauna alike. That they have the opportunity to produce some of the best quality coffee in the world whilst doing so is an added bonus!
 Casa Esperanza is one of the largest and most influential NGOs (Non Government Organization) in Panama. Casca Esperanza strives to help youth living in extreme poverty conditions especially to those who must work to contribute to their family incomes. They provide children and teens with academic support, primary healthcare, nutrition, personal and social development, sports, culture and recreational activities. Casa Esperanza runs seven “accelerated elementary schools” and forty small “community education attention centers” around Panama City, Colon, Coclé, Herrera, Los Santos, Veraguas, Chiriquí and the Ngobe Bugle Indigenous Regions. In addition to helping educate the youth they provide family counseling services and raise awareness about the risks of child labor. Find out more at http://www.casaesperanza.org.pa/