This fall we traveled to Peru to find the best coffees from the region, meet the producers who grow our coffee, and learn first hand what it takes to grow specialty coffee. We've been sharing our experiences in a series called The Peru Diaries.
It's impossible to tell the story of Peruvian specialty without mentioning Cenfrocafe. By all accounts this cooperative of more than 1,900 farmers has been the greatest catalyst for improving coffee quality in the region.
Peru is well known for being the number one producer of Fair Trade and organic coffee (FTO). While FTO certifications are helpful in ensuring base standards for farming practices and quality of life, it doesn't tell us how the coffee actually tastes. A coffee could be organically farmed, Fair Trade certified, and taste horrible. Quills buys a lot of FTO coffee, but our primary concern is always the quality of flavor. Thankfully, Cenfrocafe shares our convictions.
It's rare to find such a large cooperative committed to quality-based incentives. It's easier to blend large lots of coffee to sell on the commodity market than separate out microlots and test for quality. Cenfrocafe recognizes that paying farmers a premium for higher scoring coffees is the most effective way to improve their livelihood. Companies like us are willing to pay more for better tasting coffee, which has an impact on the entire cooperative. Currently about 15% of the coffee produced by Cenfrocafe members is being sold on the specialty market, a number up several points from previous years. The cooperative actively works with their producers to help them improve their coffee, whether it's through teaching better farming practices or providing loans so producers can improve their infrastructure.
Coffee producers deliver their harvest to Cenfrocafe's warehouses in large bags known as quintales. The technicians at Cenfrocafe will take a sample from each quintales to measure moisture content and calculate the percentage of defects. The numbers are then crunched to calculate that producer's yield, i.e. how much sellable coffee is present. Samples of coffees grown above 1400 MASL that score a high enough yield will be sent to Cenfrocafe's lab for further testing.
We spent most of our week in Peru at the Cenfrocafe lab. Our partners at Cafe Imports tell us that Cenfrocafe's lab is one of the most advanced they've seen in a coffee producing country. Coffee samples are roasted with a Probat sample roaster and then cupped according to international standards. Over the course of the week we cupped 40 different microlots from around the region and found some truly exceptional coffees. Peruvian coffees are known for their sweetness and body but not much else. But these microlots defied all expectations with a complexity and vibrant acidity seldom found in the region.
We're excited to share several of these Peruvian microlots with you. They're currently on a ship and we're optimistic we'll have them in time for the holidays. We're thankful to have partners like Cenfrocafe and Cafe Imports, who are dedicated to pursuing better coffee through meaningful relationships.
All images by Michael Butterworth.