In the early 1900’s, Tollef Bache Mönniche, a recently retired Panama Canal engineer from Norway, purchased land from a local farmer in the highlands of Boquete.
Named after a city founded by Moors in Spain, Lerida sits over 5,000 feet above sea level in the lush cloud forest of the Chiriquí province – bordering the Amistad National Park and just six miles from the picturesque mountain
town of Boquete.
Mönniche and his wife Julia Trible Huger, a descendant of one of the colonial families of the United States, first moved to Lerida as a temporary retreat from the hard work of the city but ended up owning 900 acres of green coffee, vegetables and fruits – including strawberries, pears, blackberries, plums, and some varieties of avocados brought from Guatemala. They raised cattle, turkeys, chickens and horses.
Even though infrastructure was limited, Mönniche established a thriving and beautiful coffee farm. The 1929 harvest was remarkable, producing 204,600 pounds of coffee from 12,000 coffee plants. The best batches were exported to Germany where they sold at three times their market value.
Tollef himself built most of the machinery at the farm and invented the “sifon”, a machine that separates the good coffee beans from the bad. To this day, it is used in Boquete and coffee plantations throughout the world.
In addition to creating a 40-square foot pond, Mönniche conserved 247 acres of virgin rain forest as his primordial reserve, providing the water supply for his coffee operation.
Mönniche and his wife returned to The United States in 1956, and the property was sold to Alfred
and Inga Collins in 1957.
Alfred Collins, an American-Panamanian whose father came to work for the Panama Canal as a lawyer in 1908, and Inga Collins, born in Panama to Swedish parents, settled into Lerida and continued to harvest high quality coffee, which they exported to The United States and Europe. They became active in conservation and played an important role in organizing the coffee community.
Mr. Collins, along with others, helped coffee producers label their coffee according to altitude and brought together 168 shareholders to create The “Beneficio Central de Café” or Coffee Central Beneficiary to help small producers export their coffee. Farm workers vividly recalled Mrs. Inga’s festive Christmas parties and all of the gifts she gave to the children on the farm.
Today, tours of the coffee plantation are available with knowledgeable guides who explain how the beans are hand picked and the steps of the coffee growing process. The healthy hike through the plantation finishes in the original processing plant where Mönniche created, dreamed, processed and brewed his high quality coffee. The tour also includes a tasting and a short course on coffee quality, varieties, aroma and roasts.
Currently owned and managed by the Chiari family, descendants of Italian immigrants and two presidents of The
Republic of Panama, Finca Lerida is now home to a 21-room boutique hotel and restaurant, inspired by the cottage
architecture of the first house built by Tollef Mönniche in 1929.
Inside is a warm classic country décor with all of the necessary amenities for a comfortable stay. And outside, on the
idyllic grounds, squirrels prance through the perfectly manicured gardens, while dozens of hummingbirds hop from one flower to the next in an endless nectar binge, and farm workers busily prepare to harvest some of Panama’s oldest and finest coffee.
Tel: +507- 720-1111