Harvest Report: Peru 2019

Posted on November 18th, 2019

Perú has long been the underdog of South American coffee-growing countries, overshadowed by the production powerhouses Colombia and Brazil and thought of more for its incredible history and landscape than its coffee. That history and landscape are part of what make the country’s offerings so great, however, and are one of the many reasons senior green-coffee buyer Piero Cristiani goes back every year in search of the best of what Perú has to offer. 
 
While Brazil has its famous efficiency and large volumes, and Colombia has its highly effective coffee-sector infrastructure, Perú is smaller, scrappier, and still just a little bit under the radar—but not for long. In 2017 the country held its first Cup of Excellence competition, and the latest contest just took place there in October in Jaén, a city in the northwest that’s relatively close to the border with Ecuador. Of the 21 CoE-winning lots, 10 were from the Cajamarca region, where Jaén is located and where Piero does the bulk of his sourcing. “I would say that Jaén is the highest quality,” he says. “We’re still focusing in the north, but I’ve been to the south and I’ve cupped a bunch of coffees, but to be honest we haven’t really seen anything too interesting.”
All but one of the top 21 coffees were Washed process, which is also classic of Perú: While many producers in other places are experimenting with all types of variations on Honey and Naturals, growers here tend to stick to the classic profile, which Piero says “can be as good as southern Colombians,” meaning lots of complex fruit and bright acidity with a backbone of sweetness and a creamy mouthfeel. Dried peach, red grape, white sugar, caramel, dark chocolate, black tea, apricot—these are notes we flip over, and they’re common among the Cajamarca lots on our offer sheet thanks in part to the efforts of two young coffee entrepreneurs who started their own exporting and sourcing operation there: Rony Lavan and Gilmer Cordova, founders of the association LimCof Perú, also known as Lima Coffees. Lima Coffees represents about 600 smallholder producers in Cajamarca, and though it’s a young group its ambitious leadership and intense focus on quality has quickly made it a primary sourcing relationship for us at Cafe Imports. 

 

Piero got to know Rony in 2008 in El Salvador, when Pieros’ mother (who’s also in coffee) put on a coffee tour for a rosater. Rony became a cupper at CENFROCAFE, the country’s largest and most efficient coffee-farmers’ cooperative and one from which Piero began sourcing coffee early in his time as the buyer for Perú. There, Rony’s reputation grew as an expert with a great nose for quality: He has always been driven to identify and develop quality in the cup, and his experience working with smallholder producers inspired him to branch off to create his own association. One of his frustrations was the lack of ability to produce microlots to showcase incredible quality, which would then open producers up to new avenues for increased revenue. 
In his obsessive quest for top lots and to improve the national reputation for specialty, Rony also established a roaster-retail operation in Jaén, called Picorana Coffee Roasters. In addition to excellent brewed Peurvian-grown-coffee drinks, the café at Picorana also offers semi-regular public cuppings to increase the recognition and appreciation for specialty coffee domestically. This type of in-country marketing for specialty coffee is growing in popularity and can be an effective way to keep some of the coffee economy closer to home rather than relying solely on exports for specialty-coffee dollars.
 
Speaking of specialty-coffee, Rony’s collaborator in forming Lima Coffees, Gilmer Cordova, splits his time between association leadership and running his family’s farm, Finca Ecológica Agua Colorada, which took 6th place in the first Perú CoE in 2017 with a score of 89.77. (Cafe Imports won that lot in the auction, in conjunction with a few of our customers who had visited Gilmer and his family.) Finca Ecológica is just what its name implies, too: The 7-hectare certified-organic farm is a testament to the Cordova family’s commitment to quality not only in the cup but also in the soil and in their way of life. The farm is covered by indigenous shade trees and the coffee is fertilized using guano. There are no herbicides used at all. 
 
That kind of attention and environmental consideration are some of the things Perú is gaining more and more recognition for: Nationally, more than 30 percent of the coffee farms are certified organic, making it the second-highest organic-certified producer in the world. There are also strong ties among producers thanks to large numbers of cooperative associations. This is an advantage that Perú has over its neighbor countries, Piero says. “In Colombia you can’t get much organic, so definitely the fact that Perú has more organic is a big thing. Also, most of the coffee, or a big chunk of the coffee, is from cooperatives—something that is not very common in Colombia and Brazil or most countries in Central America.” 
Just last October, the Junta Nacional del Café (JNC, the Peruvian National Coffee Council) along with the ministry of agriculture announced a National Coffee Action Plan 2018–2030 with ambitious goals for sustainability, sector growth, and farmer support throughout the sector. The more than 220,000 coffee-dependent families in Perú have historically struggled to gain access to nationally sanctioned services, but the immediate past minister of agriculture and irrigation, Gustavo Mostajo, said while launching the program that “[t]he plan is a result of a participatory process that involved over 1,000 private and public sector stakeholders, the international cooperation and civil society representing the coffee value chain.”
The plan’s first priority is productivity, increasing the average per producer from 15 quintals per hectare to 25 by 2030. Built in with those increased yields is an effort to increase quality, and along with that is an initiative to increase domestic consumption of coffee by 30 percent. (Rony’s already on the move there.)
 
The diversity of profiles available in the country should help that consumption effort: There are three main growing regions along the Andes mountains, where nearly all the coffee farms are found, between 1,200–2,000 meters above sea level. There are also still predominantly good-quality coffee varieties and cultivars planted, including Typica, Caturra, Pache, and Mundo Novo, and so far (knock on wood) the country as a whole hasn’t been hit by coffee-leaf rust as dramatically as many other producing areas throughout the Americas. The famous mountain landscape creates an abundance of microclimates, as well, which has an interesting effect on the coffee seasons: While there is still one main crop that’s generally harvested from May or June till September, coffee can actually be harvested in small quantities all year ‘round. 
 
As for this year’s harvest, Piero says there was a large crop this year, which is relatively normal: Coffee production cycles tend to have boom years and bust years due to the plants’ stress, age, and other agricultural conditions. We’ll see more lots from our friends at Lima Coffees as well as a container from the old stand-by of CENFROCAFE. 

 

These are especially good coffees for buyers who are interested in sourcing lots that aren’t hinged to the C market price: “The local market is not correlated with the C market,” Piero says. “It’s something we’re seeing in a few different places—like in Costa Rica, in Tarrazú. There’s a fixed price.” This is beneficial for farmers overall, Piero says, even though it means higher prices for roasters and buyers—but isn’t that what we’re all saying should happen anyway? “Producers know what they have,” Piero says of the farmer culture in Perú. “If they have good conditions or good varieties, good elevation, they can get a good price. They know what they have and they are requesting those prices.”
 
The harvest behind us now, all we have to do is wait: There are already a few containers from Lima Coffees on the water headed to our warehouse, as well as some just-landed Regional Select options that showcase the taste of place of Cajamarca in general. There will also be another small lot from Gilmer’s farm coming soon, and Piero and our sensory analysis team are still working through samples to see about the possibility for other microlots. Now’s the time to start thinking about making room in your menu for Perú this winter, and get in touch with our sales team to arrange samples and pre-book out your needs today.