Peru Coffee Farm Travels

A trip from way back in 2006, with images of farms, coffee cooperatives, and highland kitsch. Regions of Cuzco, Quillabamba, San Martin, Huallaga, Tarapoto, Lamas…

I have been meaning to get to Peru, not because I think the coffee is so amazing and great, but because I know the potential is there. But in general the offerings can be so disappointing.

(Note: these are my thoughts on Peru in 2006, a very different time when bulk Peru Organic containers was the norm in the US. Brokers even talked of “Peru Flavor” which was basically a type of unclean taste from poor processing. Things have changed so many years later-T)

Sure, each year I have cupped many lots and always find something nice. But real cup quality is a product of consistency, and with that in mind, the Peru coffee market has nearly doomed itself to failure.

The problem has many roots, but in general, Organic (and Fair Trade) certification has not been the answer for Peruano coffee farmers, nor the answer for coffee enthusiasts in terms of cup quality. Organic and FT coffees might have good cup quality, but it is almost as accidental as non-certified lots having good cup quality.

skull at capay coop in peru
Capay Coop – Why this was there, I really don’t know. Peru 2006

In very few Associations and Coops is there a cupper who actually roasts and samples each separate lot as they come in. Incoming coffee is mixed before it is ever evaluated, in most cases, which results in the lowest common denominator in terms of the cup.

Peru pinned its star to Organic certifications but has now become the “Vietnam” of Organic arabica coffee, the quantity (not quality) supplier, and that means a race for the bottom in terms of price. Another interesting fact: farmers do not know how much their coffee sells for, and do not know what they will receive.

This is usually true in terms of the price paid by the importer, often true in terms of the exporting agent, but here the farmer doesn’t even know what their own Coop gets for the coffee, the organization they are members of! Incredibly, the farmer doesn’t know what the organic premium is, and most incredible of all, they don’t know what they are supposed to receive even when the coffee is Fair Trade certified. It is an opaque system to the farmer, not an open transparent system.

And, like many producing origins, the farmer does not cup … when (and if) they drink coffee on their farm they drink Nescafe or the like. Farm practices are a problem too, especially moisture content and drying. Anyway, all of this makes Peru a challenge, but the fact is that the farmers and many others really, really want things to change, and the potential in terms of high altitude micro-climates is remarkable.

The coffee culture, while sullied, is not at all down for the count, which makes me only want to work more to develop relationships and get some fantastic Peru coffees. And we want to do it in a totally open system, where we can be sure the farmer is paid well. Additionally, we are going to provide support for improvements in patio-drying of the coffee, and good handling to maximize cup quality.

Don’t take all my criticism the wrong way: I don’t have the answers, but like many Peruanos I want to see the system get better and the cup quality improve. And I want all the farms to stay Organic, and make sure FT is doing what it is supposed to for the producer. After all, I haven’t put in the work on behalf of Peru, but sometimes a first exposure to a situation offers the freshest look. If 395 photos (edited down from 800+) is an indication, I really do like Peru. – To


Believe it or not … More Photos

Ok so i take a lot of pictures. In fact below is the complete set I had originally published, each thoughtfully (!) captioned. Sadly all that title and caption data was lost. But here are 360 glorious photos from that Peru trip way back when…

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