We just got back from a whirlwind tour of Northern Peru that covered every step of coffee production. The coffee industry relies on elaborate systems to transport coffee from remote farms to roasters such as ourselves. Over the course of the week we got to meet with producers, visit mills, and sample 40 different microlots. We're excited to share our experiences with you on this blog, as well as a few microlots we selected which should arrive in November.
A standout experience for everyone on the trip was visiting Wilson Olivera's farm El Laurel. Wilson is on the board of directors of Cenfrocafe, a cooperative of over 1,900 producers. He owns three parcels of land which are known for producing some of the highest scoring microlots in the co-op.
Coffee trees need very specific environmental conditions. The best coffees come from the most remote places. The higher up the mountain you go, the best quality the coffee. In the case of Wilson Olivera's farm El Laurel that's over 1800 MASL. Getting to his farm involved over two hours on dirt roads that in places were completely washed out. Occasionally we had to pay self-proclaimed security guards that carry shotguns and charge tolls to passers-by.
Good coffee doesn't happen by accident. The best cherries come from farmers who have very intentional often labor intensive practices that increase the quality of their product. That starts with the varieties the producer chooses to grow. Wilson only grows Caturra and Typica, two varieties known for better flavor attributes. Wilson could increase his production by switching to a different variety, but he knows companies like Cafe Imports (our main importer) are willing to pay a premium for better tasting coffees. Relationships like this are one of the reasons we've seen coffee quality in Peru get better each year.
Another practice that increases cup quality if only picking the ripest cherries. Just like any other fruit, ripe coffee cherries are sweeter and more complex, which results in a better tasting cup of coffee. Many commercial coffee farms will strip the trees, indiscriminately picking ripe and unripe cherries alike. The price of coffee traded on the commodity market is irrespective of quality, so these lower grade farms have no incentive to implement more labor intensive systems. At El Laurel they go over each parcel four times, only picking the ripest cherries. Many of the trees at El Laurel are Yellow Caturra, which means their cherries don't turn red. It takes a skilled farmer to know when the cherries have reached their ripest point.
After the coffee cherries are picked they go through a depulper, which separates the fruit from the seed. Next they will spend 16-18 hours in a fermentation tank before being washed and sun-dried. Because of the cool temperatures and high humidity at El Laurel, Wilson drives much of his coffee down the mountain to Jaen to dry at Cenfrocafe's main warehouse.
Both Luke (our Director of Operations and Green Coffee Buyer) and I were impressed by the stunning natural beauty of El Laurel and Wilson Olivera's commitment to quality. It's because of producers like him that we are able to bring you better tasting coffee.