Peru is an origin which we had wanted to visit for the last few years as the coffee industry there is improving really rapidly. The potential for quality is great as they have really diverse micro-climates and high altitudes. Until recently, Peru has been known for cheap, high volume, commonly organic certified lots which have been staple blenders for many. Nowadays (as producers have realised that they can achieve higher prices for better quality coffees), more attention is being given to processing with a focus on improving drying practices which is essential for stability and longevity.
We spent the first few days of our trip spending time with our good friends at Falcon Specialty, Peru. The last couple of years have seen them developing their own exporting business there in an effort to improve the quality of the lots which they can source whilst ensuring the producers are paid fairly for their coffees. As well as paying above the market average for coffee, Falcon also supply agronomic assistance and processing advice. The amount of effort which they have put into this business in Peru has really paid dividends and they have built some amazing and trusting relationships with some excellent producers who we were privileged to meet.
Falcon’s operation is based in Jaen which is a town and province in the north of Cajamarca. Driving along the main road from the airport it’s obvious how important coffee is to the area as there are countless export warehouses here and you can see coffee drying on tarpaulins on nearly every available bit of land.
The warehouse was buzzing when we arrived, with producers waiting to submit their coffees. The process is really thorough and they aim to pay producers on the same day if possible.
- Producers deliver bags of dried parchment if washed or dried cherry if natural
- Each producer’s lot is weighed and representative 400g samples are taken from each bag.
- The samples are milled and graded - only accepted if 11% moisture and under and free of aromatic taints
- Defects are counted and weighed and the expected milled yield is calculated by subtracting it from the weight of the milled coffee
- Samples are assigned codes and then roasted, cupped and scored immediately in the lab on site
- Only coffees scoring 83+ are purchased and producers are paid a base rate which is twice the international market average and then a premium for quality, based on cupping score
The warehouse was really well organised and we spent a lot of time here with the lab team, cupping through some rested micro-lots and also a lot of the new arrivals to get a sense of the quality of lots which were being submitted.
On our second day we headed north-west of the town of Jaen to visit producers in the Huabal district. This area has very poor infrastructure and had little in the way of running water and electricity. We were welcomed by Saul Menor and his family along with Elizer Dias Dias who owns fields adjacent to Saul’s. After an amazing meal of root vegetables, eggs and home-made cheese we roasted some of Saul’s coffee in a pan and brewed it before making our way into the fields to see the trees. There was a fair amount of sickly looking Catimor present which the farmers were quick to point out was picked and processed separately. After widespread issues with leaf rust (roya) the government distributed Catimor seeds as these trees are highly resistant to leaf rust. Unfortunately, as well as having a comparatively poor cup profile, this variety is unsuitable for the high altitudes of the Peruvian mountains and all of the producers we met were either in the process of, or had completely replaced these trees with more suitable varieties such as Caturra, Bourbon and Gesha.
We also met Nelber Aravelo, a young farmer who is in the process of planting his newly acquired fields with some great varieties including some really healthy looking Gesha from his nursery. The micro-lot which we cupped back in the lab from Nelber was full of character and super sweet with flavours of Turkish delight! Can’t wait to try more of his coffees next year.
Much further North in a District of the San Ignacio Province called San Jose de Lourdes is the area of El Diamante. The area is much greener and more forest-like, standing in stark contrast to the exposed hills of Huabal. Here we visited the farm of Don Elvis. A young producer who has aspirations of success in the Cup of Excellence competition. He is also working part time in the lab at Falcon to learn as much as possible about cupping and how processing practices affect the cup profile.
His fields were rich in bio-diversity and almost jungle like. Making our way through the undergrowth we saw some incredibly healthy Bourbon, Caturra and Maragogype trees and some incredible views across the mountains.
Elvis showed us his processing set up and wooden fermentation tanks. Apparently, the wood can trap beneficial bacteria which contribute to the microbial activity during fermentation. Seeing the fastidious attention to detail which Elvis applies to his processing and drying, it’s little wonder that his coffees are so tasty.
After the tour of his farm we headed to his mother’s house where we were treated to coffee blossom honey, fresh from the hive and whilst we waited for another massive meal to be prepared we milled and roasted some of Don Elvis’ Caturra which secured him 7th place in Cup of Excellence last year.
Half way through our trip, we are incredibly inspired by the producers we have met so far and the level of enthusiasm for improving quality across the board and the economic advantages that this can provide.