Peru is a new darling. We started out with high hopes and ambitions last year, and we were not let down. Now we are looking forward to a new harvest, and then, we are stoked about the prospect of bringing Peru back to you in the fall.
This year’s harvest, in the regions of Cajamarca, where we found our treasures last year, has been shorter because of a uniform cherry maturation. This means that most of the representative lots can be assessed at the same time and our first rounds of cuppings were held at OCL in Jaen a couple of weeks ago. We will continue assessing offer samples in the coming days and then returning to Peru for conclusive cuppings and more farmer conversations — September 8th to 11th.
One of the great powers of the specialty coffee movement, and the force of the third wave approach in particular, is how it can define a coffee origin. In some instances; the discovery of certain regions within, and specific events, such as CoE, can even redefine the perception of an origin altogether. The long-time fame of some countries may be built on a forlorn image, while other countries become the new kids on the specialty block and get the spotlight and attention. We see Peru as an origin that is slowly changing its image, in specialty-oriented coffee buyers minds for sure, from merely being a reliable source of nondescript organics and coffees with other certifications, to a destination where distinctly interesting and well processed micro lots can be found; not by coincidence, and consistently so. The cup profile is all about sweetness, ranging from heavy molasses to juicy fruits and mature berries, while clarity and shades of elegance is attributed by a soft acidity, and sometimes, even floral notes can be found in the best of the best.
A premise for Peru’s image, and a key to understand it as a coffee origin, lays in how the trade has been organized — and the slow transformation thereof.
Originally, the coops, and the cooperative model's strength, was supposed to benefit the farmers, at least indirectly, by the sheer virtues of bargaining power and market access. Except, when the coop itself if reaping the benefits for it's own good, and not distributing the resources back to its members, it can have the very opposite effect.
For example, the administrative and legal paperwork with regards to the implementation of a Certification program can be a cumbersome process for an individual farmer to go through, thus it is better handled at cooperative level. That could be a good thing. In reality, when the loans and credits that are provided through the cooperative, for products that are capital intensive to a farm and difficult to save for to pay up-front (such as chemical fertilizer etc), are only offered against the next harvest as a collateral, the farmer is loosing all power in defining the value of that product when the day of sale arrives. The problem is often that the price offered for that future harvest may not be favorable to the farmer – to say the least. Thus the incentive of producing a better quality, that potentially could be sold at a higher price based on the quality of the lot, is imperiled.
The clearest push for change, away from a complete disempowerment of the farmers, is driven by a new generation of coffee traders, all of whom come from a background of farming themselves. Now, the new kids on the block are demanding true transparency and lot traceability. This could not happen without a market on the other end: one that is requiring specific qualities, specific and consistent cup profiles, and willing to pay appropriate prices for that added value.