Coffees of the Peruvian Andes
WRITTEN BY: Ted Stachura
Although Peru often ranks in the top ten largest coffee producing countries in the world, it is completely overshadowed by its powerhouse neighbors. Ranking numbers one and two in world Arabica production, Brazil to the east and Colombia to the north collectively export seventeen times Peru’s comparatively modest volume. Peru still plays a respectable role however, and not just in terms of the number of bags of coffee produced, but also in the substantial volume of certified organic coffee, as well as in refined specialty flavor profiles. Coffee from Peru also plays an important role at Equator, an origin typically featured seasonally in popular blends like Jaguar Espresso, as well as a delicious single origin offering, such as this year’s Peru Cajamarca.
The name Cajamarca refers to the region in northern Peru where a great deal of the country’s outstanding coffee is produced. For several years now, Equator has focused purchases from this region on two cooperatives, Sol y Café and La Prosperidad de Chirinos. These two quality-minded groups are professionally managed and have programs in place to identify and separate specific lots of coffee that meet our agreed upon sensory and physical specifications. Much of the coffee in Peru is grown by smallholders in high, often remote parts of the Andes Mountains. These high altitudes contribute to the complex and intense flavors that the best coffees from the region exhibit. The typical cooperative member has 5-12 acres under cultivation, they harvest by hand, and they usually process their coffee themselves using small wet mills.
Two of these farmers, brothers Salomon and Andres Bermeo, produced the Peru Cajamarca coffee we are featuring this year. They are members of La Prosperidad de Chirinos which is located in San Ignacio Province, in the northernmost part of the Cajamarca Department, bordering Ecuador. Based on its excellent cup character, their coffee has been selected by the cooperative’s quality evaluation team for the micro lot program. This is the second year in a row Equator has roasted a micro lot from the Bermeo brothers and we hope to continue purchasing coffee from them for years to come. The brothers are in their 30s, young for coffee farmers, and represent the next generation of quality-driven and innovative coffee farmers at Chirinos.
All too often in coffee growing communities, and across a range of agricultural activities, young people are moving away seeking new opportunities, and leaving aging parents and grandparents to care for the farms. Chirinos is aware of this issue and has developed programs to train young people in various aspects of coffee production including farming, milling, and grading. The cooperative recognized that the only way to keep young people in the community was to make coffee production a sustainable endeavor. By focusing on high quality coffee production, certifications such as organic and Fair Trade, and diversification, the cooperative is helping nurture a new generation of coffee farmers such as the Bermeos.
Founded in 1968 by just 36 coffee producers, La Prosperidad de Chirinos is among the longest standing cooperatives in the region. Today the cooperative boasts over 700 members and an impressive 75% of their production is certified organic and Fair Trade. Some of the diversification strategies the cooperative supports include livestock, such as their innovative program with sheep. Farmers are provided with two sheep, when the sheep reproduce the offspring are given to new cooperative members. Farmers also are given the opportunity to buy guinea pigs, which reproduce quickly and are an important source of dietary protein. Some farmers have been trained to farm trout and have freshwater ponds on their property, in some cases raising over 1,000 fish all without the use of antibiotics, or chemicals inputs.
As for coffee-related programs, Chirinos has a large coffee evaluation lab with all the needed equipment to assess quality and to provide quality control training to employees and farmers. The cooperative began producing their own organic compost over a decade ago, producing fertilizer made up in part from the pulp of coffee cherries. During the harvest season, when the pulp is being produced, Chirinos can produce over 4,000 bags of fertilizer. This compost facility is just one example of the deep tradition of environmental awareness that is embedded within the community.
Although we do not know when we will be able to travel to Peru again, we can enjoy delicious coffee from Chirinos in the meantime and our longstanding practice of buying coffee from the Cajamarca region will continue. We are thankful for all the hard work and innovation the cooperatives and their member bases devote to producing the high quality coffee we enjoy each winter and spring. We look forward to traveling into the Andes Mountains in the near future, to meet with the Bermeo brothers and thank them in person for the coffee that we roast and share this season.