Well, my turn to visit Peru finally arrived – 1 hour flight to Amsterdam, 12 hours flight to Lima, 2 hours flight to Juliaca, 10 hours drive to Putino Punco – “you have reached your destination, route guidance is complete” ! it’s a long way.
Couldn’t find the Hilton so stayed in the hostel. Was it worth it – absolutely. The drive over the snow covered Andes at 15,500 feet down into the tropical rainforest was amazing if not a little nerve wracking. This is where the local mode of cargo transport is wooden wheel barrow – all the coffee from these small-holders is moved by wheel barrow. I’ll say that again – every bag is moved by wheel barrow.
We also visited the Northern part where the coffee arrives a little earlier in the year. Similar systems but the coffee farmers are somewhat easier to get to, even if it is only accessible in many cases with a 4×4 – my wife’s Landrover has only left the bitumen once & that was in error!
Peruvian coffees are grown in perfect conditions. Mountainous. Rainforest. Rich soil. Tropical rains. Limited humidity during harvest. Plus high altitude for storage, where it is jolly cold. Quality ranges from real gourmet to “off grades” as part of the selection process. Unfortunately, there is still a lot to be learnt by the industry about standards and specifications – it is not an origin to buy on description, as we cupped 4 different levels of MCM and went down from there.
It is easy to see why the coffee complies with organic and Rainforest certification so easily – the farmers we met believed in these principles before the “Western World” certifiers could even spell the words. Coffee is the main income earner with many farmers working a couple of hectares, but other crops grown locally are oranges, bananas etc but also rice.
The co-operative movement is strong in Peru. Some of these co-ops are Fairtrade but all have the ability to sell to the open market if more beneficial. Sometimes the transport by road from the far flung areas are so difficult for the small farmer that it is sold to local traders – it is about a 2 day truck journey from town to port.
What really impressed me about the coops we visited was their attention to detail. From seed to export bean. They have their own internal cupping contest (which we have agreed to buy the top 10 coffees). They have their own QGraders. They have their own technicians for the farmers. They are very keen to listen to what the buyers need – cup profile and grade – and work to those requirements. These are real two way relationships that have lasted the time and the market conditions.
Whilst in Lima (which only gets an average of 20 hours of sunshine in July) we spent time with our private exporter who supplies our commercial grades (MCM, MC, Rainforest, Utz). During the conversation, it turned out one of their traders used to sell to my father some 30 years ago – small world this coffee industry.
Peru has a lot to offer and expect to see more of it in our portfolio. Almost forgot – the beer is good. But the Pico Sour is even better – Alka-Seltzer required in the morning!