By Mark Ambrogi
On his first trip to the mountains of northern Panama, Peter Beering was sold on his first sip.
The Carmel resident was visiting the mission owned and operated by his friend, Dr. Alan Handt, former chief medical officer at St.Vincent Hospital.
“I was served coffee by one of the indigenous folks who lived on the property and was blown away,” Beering said. “I called my wife (Shokrina) and said, ‘Let’s make a company and import this and figure it out.’”
Thus, Mission Coffee was born 15 years ago. The mission’s motto is ‘Help, Healing and Hope, One Cup at a Time.’
“We do entrepreneurial philanthropy,” Beering said. “We buy the coffee from the Boquete mission at a premium and resell the coffee in the U.S. Our target is we try to give the mission somewhere between $20,000 and $25,000 per year. More recently, we’ve been closer to that number.”
Any proceeds, less expenses, are returned to the medical mission in materials, medicine and money. The mission, which serves the Guaymi, the indigenous residents, has a full-time staff of 20 people, including farm workers, mechanics and drivers.
At first, Beering only sold bulk coffee at the Carmel Farmers Market.
“Then a number of years ago we started brewing coffee at the market,” Beering said. “We’ve been doing that as one of the primary retail channels. We also sell the coffee online and most recently have joined the Walking Waffle at Circle Centre Mall’s food court. That seems to be doing very well.”
The mission and coffee farm are literally carved inside of the inactive volcano, Volcancito, outside Boquete, Panama, Beering said.
“I figured out the supply chain and all the important licensing. I figured out the website and all the e-commerce and dropped it in on top of my existing businesses,” said Beering, a lawyer and homeland security expert who has a snow removal business. “We manage to get necessary certifications. We have all the same licensing and food handling requirements that most other food handlers have. So we are licensed in several counties. We’re held to the same standards that a brick-and-mortar business is in terms of sanitation. All of our equipment is routinely inspected. Panamanian coffee is only picked when it’s ripe and picked by hand, not machine.”
Beering said the coffee operation is conveniently located in one of the top three coffee regions on earth. The coffee region is a narrow band around the equator. It needs the mix of mountains and rain.
“Coffee from the Boguete valley is considered one of the top in the world,” Beering said. “This is considered premium estate coffee. What we’ve brought up the last year or two is some of the best coffee in the 15 years that we’ve been bringing it up.”
About a year ago, Mission Coffee moved its roasting production to Zionsville-based Julian Coffee Roasters.
“We believe this is the best coffee that can be had in this part of the area,” Beering said. “I like to tell people the coffee is terrific, the backstory puts it over the top.”
Beering designed his own truck to brew and serve the coffee at Carmel Farmers Market.
“It was fun to design the truck,” Beering said. “We do markets 10 months out of the year. We enjoy being a market vendor. We have a loyal clientele. The Farmers Market is one of the best amenities Carmel has to offer. It’s an impressive array of things to eat and things to cook with, and there is a lot of produce.”
The Panama Christian Evangelism Mission serves the medical, dental and eye care needs of the Guaymi.
Peter Beering’s daughter, Amanda, who has a master’s degree in cellular physiology and plans to attend medical school in the fall, accompanies him on the trips. She assists Dr. Alan Handt in caring for the patients.
“My daughter is fluent in Spanish, which most of them speak along with their native language,” Beering said. “Amanda is like the Pied Piper. She is great with kids and has the perfect personality for this.”
Beering said there is a three-station dental clinic and a medical clinic that accommodate up to 50 patients a day.
“There is an opthalmic surgery clinic, a food pantry and buses because none of the Guaymi people drive,” he said.
From working in the sun, Beering said the Guaymi are very susceptible to cataracts.
“Some of these people will go blind waiting to see a doctor,” Beering said. “When the eye doctors go, they operate on 200 eyes, and you get one eye done so you are functional. We’ve had people weep because they had never seen their grandchildren.”
Beering and her father typically travel to the mission once a year. Beering has his own way of helping medically.
“I will take a busload of the kids downtown and I will buy them ice cream,” Beering said. “The one thing about the Guaymi is they have very little milk fat in their diet. When I first started going down there, an ice cream cone was 25 cents. Now it’s 50, so for 50 cents I can buy however many ice cream cones. You’re a hero and you’ve spent 20 bucks.”
Beering said many of the indigenous people had never seen men with male pattern baldness until he went down there.
“We have a lot of fun with that,” Beering said.
For more, visit missioncoffee.org.