From our Green Coffee Buyer for Peru Jay Cunningham:
Most of the truly great coffee in Peru has been blended into obscurity. There, coffee is mostly collected from thousands of growers and bulked into large, homogenized lots that dilute the quality of dozens or perhaps hundreds of small lots of exceptional quality. In the United States and other countries where Peruvian coffee is consumed, you may find it hidden in colorfully named blends on grocery stores shelves, but you would have to look hard.
Peru is one of the top-10 coffee-producing nations in the world by volume, but it is still struggling to make a name for itself where quality is concerned. Thankfully, that is beginning to change.
Peru’s coffee sector faces challenges that are typical of many coffee-growing countries, including persistent poverty, limited economic development in rural areas and poor infrastructure, and others that aren’t: it is massive, meaning that many parts of the country’s coffeelands are exceptionally isolated from ports and markets. Development aid and organic and Fair Trade certifications have made an impact in Peru: coffee growers are making a better living and the cooperatives that link them to markets are able to reinvest in technical and agronomic assistance.
A Culture of Quality
Peru has not had a reputation for great quality, but not because it doesn’t have the conditions to produce extraordinary coffee. Peru’s soaring Andean peaks, lush coffee forests, cool temperatures and traditional varieties make it a natural source of quality coffee. What it lacks are a culture of quality, the commitment to lot separation and premium prices that make all that separation worthwhile.
Incentives for Quality
In recent years we have been working to create incentives for growers to begin to separate their lots based on quality, and the results have been genuinely exciting. Last year we released the first edition of our new Rayos del Sol Organic Peru lot, our first Direct Trade single-origin from Peru in years. Earlier this year, the Cup of Excellence underscored the idea that there is value to be captured by lot separation when it held its first-ever competition and auction in Peru.
In our blind cupping of all the winning Peru CoE lots, this particular one really stood out on the table as exceptionally sweet and clean. We were thrilled, but not surprised, to learn that it came from Efraín Carhuallocllo, a member of the Café Solidario cooperative that puts together our Rayos del Sol Organic Peru lot.
Efraín and El Cerro
The village of El Corazón is located in the Province of Jaén, four hours north of the bustling city of the same name that serves as the official capital of the province and the unofficial capital of Peru’s coffee sector. To reach Finca El Cerro requires another hour-long walk from the village. The landscape of the farm is rugged, with elevations up to 2000m and lots of natural shade and untouched forest. Or at least, that’s what we have come to understand from members of Café Solidario’s leadership team, who have been telling us for years about Efraín and his farm. We attempted to make our first visit this year but were thwarted by roads that weren’t merely too muddy to navigate, but too much for our vehicle to take: the effort to make it through the mud to the farm actually killed our truck and we had to hitchhike back to our hotel!
Like most coffee farms in Peru, El Cerro is small: a two-hectare plot (less than five and one-half acres) planted with about 10,000 Caturra trees. Unlike most coffee farmers in Peru, Efraín is hyper-focused on quality and part of an organization committed to relentless separation.
Efraín has been working this farm for seven years, making steady improvements every year. He maintains a small but pristine depulper and fermentation tank, as well as a small solar dryer that allows him to avoid the risks of El Corazón’s finicky wet weather.
Efraín was already well-known for his meticulous approach to coffee before this year’s Cup of Excellence. Now he is nothing short of a celebrity in El Corazón, where his neighbors have sought his advice on fermentation, his help constructing new drying infrastructure, and most of his Yellow Caturra seed, all of which he has shared happily.
This spectacular lot, which reminds us of persimmon, turbinado sugar and dried cherry, is the harbinger of a new era for Peruvian coffee.
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Visit our single-origin coffees page to pre-order this coffee. It will be roasted and shipped on 12/15 and arrive in time for Christmas. If there is any left after that, we will fulfill orders every Friday until we run out.