When you are first getting to know someone, you start out by noticing the more generally good qualities they have, the things that drew you to them in the first place. Maybe they’re warm and outgoing, they laugh at your jokes, they have an interesting job and a seemingly healthy relationship with their family.
Once you spend a little time together, you start find yourself compelled to know more, and that’s when the nuances start to show—the fact that they get swept up in the same kind of books you do, or that they are able to quote every line of a movie you both love; they use the exact right amount of salt when they cook, and they send handwritten thank-you notes.
If the first stage is like and the second stage is love, then we’ve officially been falling in love with Peru for years.
“There just seems to be so much opportunity there for quality—real desire for quality,” says Matt Brown, senior sales at Cafe Imports and our resident Peru expert in the U.S. office, with four sourcing trips to the country marked off in his passport. “It’s relatively untapped in a lot of ways, in the sense that Peru—like many other origins—has been putting out great coffee for a long time, but it’s generally been full-container sort of stuff. Until recent years, it hasn’t been a focus of the microlot movement, outside of a very few instances.”
Those full containers have been a backbone of Cafe Imports’ relationship with Peru’s coffee producers, and the focus of our volume from that country starting in around 2006, when we first visited one of the country’s older smallholder cooperatives. The intrigue was early and genuine from the very start: We knew there was a lot to like about the sweet balance and gentle florals of those bulk specialty lots, especially the Fair Trade– and organic-certified offerings from our longtime primary partner CENFROCAFE, from whom we started sourcing coffees in 2009.
“Historically what we’ve experienced out of Peru have been incredibly balanced coffees, and because of their balance of sweetness, of acidity, of floral components, it makes them really versatile coffees on people’s menus, to fit any number of needs. I think that has been and still is a major strength of Peruvian coffee,” Matt says. “As we’ve spent more time there, and been able to pull out some of the coffees from individual producers, and the smaller areas within Cajamarca, we’ve been able to find more dynamic flavor profiles. They are unique, all the way from coffees that exhibit really nice fruit character—strawberry and caramel, a lot of sweetness—but different from what you’d get from another origin or processing method. They’re unique and still somehow taste like Peruvian coffee, but in individual colors of Peru that you don’t necessarily experience from the classic larger blended lots.”
Cafe Imports senior sales representative Matt Brown at a cupping in Jaén, Peru
Senior green-coffee buyer Piero Cristiani has also long known that there was something beyond the “nice” lots that we have come to expect—and enjoy, don’t get us wrong—from a cooperative like CENFROCAFE. Since his first visit to the country in 2011, when he started as a green buyer, he’s been committed to supporting and developing a microlot program, as well as a Regional Select to highlight the particular features we prize so much coming from Cajamarca.
Through Piero’s work in establishing relationships and supporting producers who are dedicated to quality, Cafe Imports has helped smaller, more quality-obsessed micro-projects get off the ground through pre-financing, as well as sensory analysis assistance, and a shared vision for a long-term connection that nourishes everyone involved—kind of like the best and deepest friendships do.
Thanks in large part to his presence there and his enthusiasm for the country and its coffees, Piero was selected to participate on the international jury for the first Peru Cup of Excellence competition, which took place in September of 2017. “It was a project that had been probably 15 years in the making, but it had been very hard to do that. The producers were very excited during the award ceremony, and cheering for their mates. There was a lot of excitement in that room.”
Cafe Imports senior green-coffee buyer, Piero Cristiani (left) visits with CENFROCAFE
That level of excitement is palpable far beyond the Cup of Excellence stage, and it crackles like those magical moments at the beginning of a romance you just know is real—it has a kind of glow.
“It’s exciting for us to find coffees that are microlots and things like that, of course, but I would say that it’s more exciting to experience it from their side and see how excited they are that people care about and are paying attention to what they’ve been doing,” Matt says. “It doesn’t feel quite as much like going into an origin and talking about things that are supposed to change, but going into an origin to celebrate and saying thank you to people for what they’ve already been doing, and to show them recognition.”
As in any good, strong relationship, the partners are there for each other through all kinds of shifts, twists, and turns, and Cafe Imports is as devoted to the longstanding connections we have with CENFROCAFE for our high-quality blended lots as we are to helping a few smaller, microlot-focused exporters get off the ground. CENFRO’s focus on volume, efficiency, and consistency makes the coop a wonderful and reliable source of the types of solid and versatile coffees our customers depend on, specifically when it comes to sourcing lots that carry certifications of Fair Trade and organic.
“Now that there are more partners, more places to visit, more offers, more coffees to taste, more opportunities to connect with coffees that people can feel a bit of closeness with, more people are taking notice and are excited,” Matt says. “It’s a really great time to invest in what’s happening in Peru, because we only expect it to get bigger and better. The more that people invest early on, the greater the rewards will be of getting awesome coffees and having those relationships in place.”
Jeff Verellen of Caffenation in Antwerp was one of the roasters ready and eager to invest in Peru, and he joined Piero, Matt, and Cafe Imports Europe’s Simone König on a Sourcing Trip to Cajamarca earlier in October. Caffenation, like Cafe Imports and our other roaster partners, had something of a casual romance with Peru a few years ago, before quality concerns and instability led them elsewhere. “I remember the first coffee we roasted was an Altomayo, circa 2008–2009,” Jeff says. “We really loved it. It faded quite quick, but when it came in it was perfectly fine.” Roughshod drying practices have long been blamed for the instability in Peru’s bulk lots, as producers have lacked the space, resources, and incentives to improve their processing and milling. Jeff and the Caffenation team noticed, and it led to the relationship fizzling for a while. “Year by year the quality worsened; we stopped carrying it after a while and forgot about Peru,” he says.
Lately, however, thanks in part to Piero’s developmental work and the investment in microlots and differentiation, the coffees have been better and better—and they’ve stayed that way much, much longer in the warehouse and in the roastery. His interest piqued by an especially promising set of samples, Jeff decided to come along to see what’s happening in Jaén. “I couldn’t imagine a more pleasant introduction to Peru,” he said, reflecting on his first trip to a non-African producing country. “I cupped a few 87–88 lots through Lima Coffees: José Gonzales from Agua Colorada, César Lopez, and Corazon de Huabal.” All names and coffees to remember—not simply part of the crowd, but standout microlots. This is the future of Peru.
“For us this means a lot,” Jeff says, as he looks forward to another season of coffees from Cajamarca on deck at Caffenation. “If the coffee is good, we want to reward it and make them be proud of their product.” And the coffee is promising to be very good this year.
The Cafe Imports Resource: Sourcing group visits with CENFROCAFE
From the Empire of Hidden Treasures comes plenty more treasures for the cupping table, no longer hidden but finally breaking through into the spotlight that shines on truly special coffees. We don’t know about you, but we’re officially in love—and falling deeper by the minute.
Jeff Verellen from Caffenation cups in the CENFROCAFE lab
Efrain Carhuallocllo Salvador, 2nd-place CoE winner
Cafe Imports Europe sales representative Simone König cupping in Jaén, Peru
Sample roasting in Jaén, Peru
Rony Levan, founder of Lima Coffees, in Jaén, Peru