A view of the Altiplano
While Santiago Barahona, our head trader, has over a decade of experience sourcing coffee from this unique country, it was my first ever origin trip. As you can imagine, I was extremely excited to see a ripe red cherry for the first time. Over the course of our trip we visited some amazing people & organisations and tried some equally amazing coffees.
It began with an overnight flight to Lima via Bogota. On landing at Lima, we immediately took another flight down to Juliaca, which is located right in the heart of the Andean Altiplano, near the famous lake Titicaca. When I got off the plane, I could feel that you were at high altitude as my chest suddenly contracted and it got a lot tighter! Juliaca is at 3850 metres above sea level and you certainly feel it. It is the gateway to where Peru’s jungle coffee is grown. The coffee grown there has a very different cup profile to that of the north and is rich with chocolate notes when at its best. Famed for the logistical difficulties in delivering coffee from the jungle to Juliaca, it really is a wonder how these people ship coffee in spite of all the adversity they face. We were there to meet the board of Cecovasa, a cooperative we have been working with for many years now.
They continue to offer their members all the services that a good cooperative normally offer, such as technical assistance, credit, and opportunities to increase farmers’ income. They are in the process of moving their dry milling operations from Juliaca further up north to Lima. This will improve the quality of the coffee as it will stay in parchment for longer and will mean that when the coffee has been processed at the dry mill, it can be shipped quicker.
They highlighted how they are currently facing two big problems: Roya and Coca leaf production. Roya hit this part of Peru in 2012 and in 2014 it had a serious impact on coffee production and on the income of thousands of farmers. The country declared the coffee sector in a state of national emergency. There has been a national renovation programme part funded by the government to address the problem and work is currently under way to input measures to combat the disease. Tackling the issue of coca leaf production is difficult due to the financial rewards it can bring: 1 hectare of land devoted to coca leaf pays 700% more than a hectare of coffee in this region. One hopes that production will fall as the government is becoming more vigilant in these areas. Coca leaves are not all bad though, drinking hot water with them is a cultural drink in Peru and it was great to have a cuppa next to the fire in the hotel. While it was very hot during the day, the temperature rapidly dropped at night!
Henry cupping some coffees with Rodolfo, head cupper at Norandino mill.
Our next stop was Piura. We took a flight there via Lima and were greeted by Javier Dominguez, commercial manager of Sol & Café. We visited the Norandino dry mill where Sol & Café process their coffee in parchment and prepare it for export. I was very impressed with the layout of the mill and the quality of the procedures put in place to monitor and control the quality of their coffee. Everything was very logical and well thought out. We cupped some amazing coffees from Sol&Café that had the typical cup profile I have come to love over the last couple of years: the cups were full of juicy red cherries and rich chocolate. After having seen the dry mill and their export operation it was time to visit some of their members and their HQ up in Jaen. I was particularly looking forward to visiting some of the producers who have participated in Project 121. As you may know, Project 121 was started by DRW based on an idea of Santiago in Honduras and has since been rolled out to Peru too. It has been extremely successful and I was very excited to get some feedback from the cooperative and the producers who took part to see the benefits that the Project has brought to them.
A view overlooking the mountains near Jaén
Jaén is about a 6-7 hour drive from Piura. It is a thriving coffee centre with warehouses and processing plants dotted all over the town. We noticed significant amounts of parchment being dried just off the road throughout the whole town as well; coffee really is at the heart of Jaén! We visited the Sol&Café HQ and just like Norandino, I was blown away by their operation. They took us through an example of a member delivering coffee in parchment to the cooperative and the journey of that coffee through the plant-every detail is measured and categorized which means they know exactly what kind of coffee they have on offer at any given time. Sol&Café’s motto is ‘Culture of Quality…Always’ and this motto couldn’t better describe this cooperative.
We spent a few days visiting some of their members and it was great to see that the producers shared the culture of quality and care for the product exuded by Javier and his team. The cooperative offer a number of services to their members and one of which is technical assistance regarding agricultural issues. We spent time with two of their agronomists, Henry & Marvin, and again it was great to see such passion and knowledge permeating throughout the whole supply chain. Feedback from members of Project 121 was great. They’re very happy to be part of it and like the idea that they know exactly where the coffee they spend all year working hard to produce is going. The premium from the Project rewards all their hard work on quality and is motivating them to improve for this year’s Project 121. They are very happy that the majority of our roasters have decided to continue their participation in this exciting project.
Depulping at a finca in Las Almendras
We visited two different coffee areas near Jaén with very distinct growing conditions that were apparent in their cup profiles. Both areas were about a 2-3 hour drive from Jaén, but in different directions. Our first stop was Santa Rosa. Exposed to volatile weather conditions-usually in the form of excessive rain-it can be a real challenge to grow coffee there. The soil is rich and it’s at high altitude. When everything aligns, the coffee can taste exquisite. We then went on to visit the villages of Almendras and Tabaconas. They are blessed with very stable weather conditions. This ensures for a very consistent and defined cup profile. However, it lacks the complexity of coffee from Santa Rosa because of the lower altitude and different weather patterns it has. Sol & Café play an important role in providing all the help needed by their members to overcome some of the challenges they face to produce coffee. Their members grow coffee in conditions that require varied solutions and it is here where Sol & Café’s is so important in helping each individual farmer and attending to their specific needs. They deliver custom made technical assistance and support tailored to each finca, with the aim of producing the best quality coffee possible, in a sustainable manner. Commenting on the different farms, one of the agronomists Henry said ‘The beautiful thing about coffee is its diversity’ and this was very apparent in our exploration of the areas surrounding Jaén.
Local primary school children in Corral de Piedra
After an excellent few days with the Sol&Café team, we drove 6 hours to Chiclayo to visit Cecanor cooperative who produce our Café Femenino coffee. It was a real pleasure to get to know the team behind Café Femenino and witness first hand their passion for equality. I spent a long time with Victor, who along with his wife Isabel, founded both Cecanor and Café Femenino. They are a truly inspiring couple who have been making positive changes to small producers (not exclusive to coffee) for many years now. We visited a village called Corral de Piedra which is part of the Asoproagro association, one of the primary groups within Cecanor which is the central organization with 1539 members in total. It was a great opportunity to see how the benefits of Café Femenino coffee are empowering women and placing them at the heart of communities. Paula, the first female president of Asoproagro, gave a great speech on the development of the community and how Café Femenino is helping address many of the difficulties that women faced before the establishment of the initiative. Before, many girls were giving up school before boys and there was a lack of female leaders within the communities: this has thankfully changed for the better. Just like the other cooperative we visited, we have been working with Cecanor for a number of years now.
Javier and Santiago in Santa Rosa
The main theme of this trip for me has been quality. And by quality, I mean quality of the whole package, not just in the cup. The people who we work with, and the passion they have for improving the lives of other people and producing top quality coffee in a sustainable way, has been a marvel to behold. DRWakefield prides itself on working together with our suppliers on a long-term basis and it’s fantastic to see how this stability can garner so many positive changes and growth.
Paddington Bear (PB) accompanied us throughout the trip and was very well received by his fellow countrymen. He was however; ready to return home as he’d finished all of his marmalade by the last day!
All the best,