Panama City is a hot travel destination. The canal, the revitalized old town district and the new Frank Gehry-designed Biomuseo have helped to lift this city’s global profile.
We recently journeyed to Panama City for the first time. Sure, we wanted to watch big cruise ships shimmy through the narrow Panama Canal and photograph the variety of lush flora and fauna. But we are a family of foodies and we had heard that Panama’s bean-to-bar chocolate scene was world-class. Our mission was to tempt our sweet tooth.
Tropical Chocolate Café
From the moment our plane landed, satiating our chocolate cravings was a top priority. On a charming cobblestone street in Casco Viejo, Panama’s scenic old town, we struck gold when we wandered into the Tropical Chocolate Café.
They specialize in high quality confections made with 100% Panamanian cocoa. The mouth-watering chocolates are infused with local flavors. Expect beautiful bonbons filled with passion fruit, pineapple, coriander, tamarind, sour sop, coconut and other Panamanian fruits and herbs.
Of course, you can sip thick hot chocolate too but keep in mind that Panama City’s climate is hot and steamy. We went straight for the bonbons.
Each bonbon is handmade with artistry by Eric, the 22-year old chocolatier. He approaches chocolate the way a conductor approaches his orchestra or a sculptor a piece of marble. Chocolate is his medium and producing delectable and gorgeous bonbons is his art form. Take a look at the young master at work:
The tree-to-bar, single origin product is made from cacao grown in Bocas del Toro. The cacao is grown without pesticides and the employees are from the indigenous community surrounding the farm so sustainability is a priority.
The shop is managed by Carolina, a charming multi-lingual woman originally from Rome. It is whimsically decorated with colorful floral wallpaper that looks like it was lifted from a rainforest. Comfortable seating, friendly service and the chance to watch the chocolate being made should encourage you to stay awhile.
There’s a kid-size table with tiny chairs, picture books to look at and cuddly stuffed animals to hug, perfect if you’re traveling with young children. Carolina is the mother of two very young children, so she is extremely accommodating.
On to the Coffee
If there’s one thing we like almost as much as chocolate, it’s coffee. My kids have been drinking coffee since they were tweens. We lived in Tuscany for several years where many Italian kids steal sips of their parent’s coffee from a young age and develop a taste for it.
It wasn’t just any coffee we wanted to taste, it was Panama’s famous—and famously expensive—Geisha coffee. Geisha beans were originally grown in Ethiopia but were brought to Panama in the 20thcentury, where they flourished in the mountainous Boquete region.
Panamanian-grown Geisha beans have been winning international coffee competitions for decades. The coffee has a flavor profile heavy on the floral notes with a high level of acidity that makes the beverage almost tea-like.
The Santa Maria Hotel & Golf Resort, the Perfect Hotel For Coffee Lovers
Where to try the exclusive, expensive and extremely fashionable Geisha coffee? Since we were staying at the new Santa Maria Hotel & Golf Resort we didn’t have to go far. The hotel’s modern coffee bar brews Geisha and other high-end beans and serves them with a delectable assortment of sweet and savory bites. The Coffee Shop & Deli is located just off the lobby, which is decorated with Panamanian handicrafts, paintings and masks.
The Santa Maria offers guests a complimentary guided coffee tasting experience. Participants will sip and sample Panamanian Geisha, fruity Huila Region Colombian Arabica, nutty Indian Arabica Cauvery and a blend from the Sierra Maestra region in Cuba, the smoky Habanero. There’s no cream or sugar served at a coffee tasting in order to savor the brew in its unadulterated state.
The Santa Maria Hotel is an excellent Panama City base even if you don’t drink coffee. It is located in an upscale neighborhood close to both the airport and the city center.
We loved its gigantic swimming pool and sprawling grounds complete with an 18-hole golf course. The 182 spacious rooms and suites are elegant, comfortable and loaded with amenities. The décor is fresh, the feel airy and uncluttered. The staff really goes out of their way to please. They can arrange tours of Panama City and beyond.
Coffee images courtesy of the Santa Maria Hotel & Golf Resort. Chocolate images courtesy of Tropical Chocolate Cafe.
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