If you search for directions from Tulsa to Finca Hartmann in Google Maps, you find yourself staring at a great blue snake of a line.
It is some 3,000 miles long, stretching from Tulsa through Dallas, hugging the Gulf waters on a long curve through Mexico; skirting Belize as it streaks south through Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. It wriggles on mountain roads through Costa Rica before finally arriving in Panama, where just 30 minutes or so over the border, the route ends its serpentine journey. Here, in the forest reserves that border the Parque Nacional de La Amistad, you find Finca Hartmann, where members of the Hartmann family have been growing coffee under the shade of the native rainforest for three generations. Brian traveled there last February. Not by way of the great blue snake, of course. He flew.
We have an even easier way to lose yourself in the jungles of Central America. This week, you can escape with a cup of Hartmann Natural Lot 5, which is grown at Finca Hartmann. Brian has been roasting it all week, and we are serving it on pourover. This coffee is so tasty. Alone, it has notes of black cherry, pineapple and orange. But if you want a totally different experience, you should try it with this week’s food pairing – lime curd cake donuts. Yes, “curd” is a weird word, but it’s also a sweet, delicious filling. Our bakery came up with these citrusy delights and found they reveal another side to the Hartmann Natural. After a bite of donut, this fruity coffee opens up with vanilla, caramel and nutmeg notes. It’s an interesting experience to go from bite to sip, bite to sip and see what aromas emerge.
To get you even deeper into Panama, we thought we’d crack open Brian’s journal from his trip. He started off with goals:
x To have an adventure x But not let that adventure get out of hand.
x To reconnect with the Hartmann family and find out what’s new.
x To cup coffees and hopefully taste some delicious and interesting things.
x To buy coffees and arrange shipping in consolidated container.
x To see white-faced monkeys.
Here’s an excerpt of what followed:
Wow, what a day. There’s no way to recap or express in words or pictures the rich experiences I had today. And again, one of the great things for me is that I have flexibility and desire to go on uncertain trips. But it is very nice to share invaluable experiences with someone I care about. I guess I just need to find that someone.
Right now I’m at Ojo de Agua _ the original Hartmann farm. It is a few rough miles from the main farm and VERY remote. It is back in the forest, and I’m staying in a cabin with no electricity. I’m cooking with an old cast iron propane stove by candle and lantern light. Frogs and all manner of buzzing insects serenade me through the open door.
Light beaming from the rental car windows drew me outside because it looked like a streetlight _ but from the porch I saw a nearly full moon floating above the mountains with wisps of airy clouds drifting by its round face. I feel a bit like a monk. Eating rice, ground beef and onion. A large-ish spider stares at me from across the table. And I’m having a Herzog Jan Dubbel in a very monk-like simple glass.
The food is okay. Not up to my usual standards. The rice still has a bit of chew. Before this, as an appetizer with a beer called La Lupulosa by Insurgente brewery, I fried some sort of tuber. Just looked like an 8” root about 1 1/4” diameter. I pared the bark off the outside and the inside was white and sticky. Sliced it diagonally like my dad did carrots and dropped the pieces in olive oil. Not bad. Sort of like fried potatoes. Had to shut the door because mosquitoes are biting me. Gets warm in here with the door closed, and it’s a shame to shut out the muted sounds of the wilderness.
Aliss says the white face monkeys usually come here around 6-630a.
I’ve finished my dinner and turned out the lanterns. Now it is just a candle. I went outside to disconnect the gas and the moon is so bright that it has a halo of light around it about 1 1/2 daylight hours from its center.
After I got off the airplane in David, I had the terrible experience of renting a car. It’s impossible to not get taken advantage of. My rate went from $50 to 250. But I got full protection - even though it appeared the guy was making me decline protection. I hope not.
The drive to Finca Hartmann was not without diversion. I drove straight through David, which is an experience. Then I turned the wrong way on the Pan-American highway. So I had to turn around. At some point I broke off the turn signal lever. I didn’t figure the car rental company would notice.
And by the time I got to La Concepcion, the car in front of me stopped to turn left and my first instinct was to lay on the horn. So I think I adapted well. Stopped in Volcan for groceries. Bought a bunch of stuff - onions, potatoes, some root, yucca and plantain chips, olive oil, bananas, tiny eggs, ground beef, rice, and a cooler and ice. And some pepperoni sticks. I tried to buy beer but it was 1110a and the cashier told me she couldn't sell it to me until 1130a. So I put the groceries in the car, milled around and got a soda at the panaderia next door. Then went back at 1130 and bought the beers. On the way to Finca Hartmann, I was driving carefully because I don't know the car and the roads are SUPER windy. And I was afraid of dumping over the cooler. I saw a truck on my side of the road that may have been sideswiped. He was off the road into the embankment of the mountain, and one of his back wheels was off the ground.
At Finca Hartmann I was greeted by Aliss, who was just as nice and handsome as ever. We had lunch with her mother. She told me that her father died at 96 this past September. She told me of trying to deal with it and how her mother had struggled, and I know it all too well.
We chatted about other things. She said this year they had near perfect weather and the harvest was going to be very big, but there was a hurricane that did some wind damage. But since the crop was so big, the harvest still ended up larger than last year.
Some of the wind damage is evident – trees stripped of leaves, and some big trees down. Including the amazing Strangler Ficus that I usually visit. Aliss says it was probably over 400 years old. And how old was the tree it strangled? You could climb inside the tree and look up through the cylinder that once was the prey of the Ficus. The Ficus is an epiphyte. Birds eat the figs and poop the seeds into the branches of a tree. The Ficus grows downward from there to the ground, and then surrounds the tree with its tentacles. Eventually the tree inside dies and rots away leaving an empty shell. This tree was huge. But its roots were shallow. Such is the lifecycle of a Strangler Ficus.
The candle flickers every time a small flying insect enters its flame, which is often.
After lunch I met Aliss' boyfriend, Luis. He was an organic farmer in California, but grew up in Nicaragua. We walked around the farm a little and he told me things about varieties and nutrients and root systems and the lifecycle of a coffee tree. In one area a tree next to a sprinkler head was in full flower. They smelled so good - so fragrant. The effervescence of the most special flower.
They were worried about my rental car making the drive up to the cabin. And rightfully so. With 2WD, I barely made it and was on edge the whole time. In one section I just kept my foot on the gas and spun tires, creeping along at high center, but hey, I paid for full coverage. I did notice today the front right tire is low. I hope it's not flat in the morning. And I hope I can make it to the farm and get some air in it. Will that hold until I turn the car in?
Today I got a late start. Walked to the other farm and memorized directions on the way.
"Go up the hill, not toward the mill."
"Santa Teresa wants you to go left, not right."
"Go right at the cross beam, where the Texas hat sits on the fencepost."
"The entrance to the farm is at the stone posts."
Took photos and dilly-dallied a bit. Ate lunch again – rice and beans, meatballs and juice. Very fresh beans, they told me. We talked about Colombian food and Aliss told a joke about Fidel Castro getting his countrymen to dance. She said it's funnier in Spanish.
I cupped coffee after lunch. One table, 13 coffees. All that is available at this time. The cupping was good. Good coffees. It took a lot of notes to narrow down what I was interested in. But there was one particular lot of a Caturra/Catuai natural that was really good. And a second that was pretty good. I bought both of those. When I said so, Ratibor cringed because I basically cleaned them out of naturals. I also bought two different Gesha lots. One was the most complex, excellent example of a natural Gesha I've ever smelled. The other smelled so strongly of coffee flowers. I am very happy with this buy.
On the walk back up to the cabin I saw the fallen Strangler Ficus. And I heard a large animal in the woods run off. It sounded like a dog, but I know it wasn't. What could it have been? Coatimundi? Jaguar? Pig?
When gusts of wind come I can hear them rustling the treetops for 30 seconds or a minute before they actually reach the cabin. It comes to a crescendo and I expect there to be rain afterward - but the most has been some seeds or debris from the forest falling on the roof.
Tomorrow I should rise early and make coffee and sit on the porch waiting for the monkeys. After breakfast I want to take some pictures of the Ojo de Agua Geshas. And go for a hike in the forest looking for interesting things.