Peru has been notoriously known for bad coffee among specialists. It’s just about the last on the list of places to look if you want to find an exceptional coffee bean. Even the demand for coffee among local Peruvians is quite low as compared to other South American countries.
Why, do you ask, does Peru have such a bad reputation for coffee? What has caused this country to lag behind in coffee production as compared to its neighbors in Latin America?
So far I have learned that it is because the people in the highlands of Peru, the area where coffee is grown, were under the threat of terrorism from those involved in the drug trade for many years. I am fortunate enough to say that I don't know anything about what it feels like to be under the direct threat of terrorism day in and day out…. I can only imagine that the fear must be overwhelming. From what I’ve gathered from Dan, the terrorism was so great that the people here struggled to survive and take care of their families. Their daily concerns focused on sustaining and protecting their lives and the lives of their families. Coffee production took a backseat and quality was the last of anyone’s concerns.
That's when Jose Jorge, the incredible man I mentioned in a previous post, began to turn things around. (You can read more about him here on the Reach Trade website.) Jose began organizing farmers in the Central Highland and jungle regions of Peru. He's helped many farmers improve the quality of their crops, gain organic and fair trade certifications, find a market for their crops, and receive fair prices. Little by little, Jose has helped bring the people out of their state of fear. He has increased the productivity of the area by showing the farmers what their hard work can do.
When I first arrived in the jungle, I was immediately struck by the energy of the place. I had travelled eight hours from Lima into the countryside and expected to arrive in a deserted town, but instead La Merced was alive with activity.
The first night we were in La Merced, we visited Jose's organization, Chanchamayo Highland Coffee. It is situated in a huge warehouse that has been set up as a store to showcase all of the different products offered by his farmers. There are juices, jams, coffees, carvings and purses lining hundreds of shelves all around the place. There is even yogurt and ice cream and about a thousand other products that I can't name. The walls are covered with pictures from the area and jungle music plays constantly. There is no denying that you are in the jungle of Peru as you walk around. Jose's hard work, and the hard work of the farmers in the area, is clear from the livelihood of the place.
Now I'm in Villa Rica, another town in the jungle region of Peru, where I am living on the coffee farm of a woman named Selena. (You can also read more about her here on the Reach Trade website.) Selena's family has been growing exceptional coffee for many years. The farm, called La Finca Santa Rosa, is full of life. There are vibrant trees lining the walkway up to the house and a beautiful garden on the side. There are flowers spilling out of pots on every available surface. Selena and her family have been committed to protecting and improving the environment in the area for many years. All of their coffee is grown under the shade of huge pine trees, piños, and there have been many reforestation projects on her land as well. Everyday, I'm awoken by the sound of the birds chirping and calling to each other from the trees.
I had heard from Dan and Paul at Reach Trade that all of Selena's efforts help her to produce exceptional coffee. I didn't believe until last night when we went to the coffee processing plant. Every cherry that came from Selena's farm had been picked with care and each one was a deep red color. In contrast, the coffee that was coming in from other farms was a mixture of green, unripe cherries, and the red ripe cherries. From what I’ve learned about coffee thus far, coffee is like any other fruit. It must be picked at its prime ripeness in order to produce the best possible flavor. Just based on this observation, Selena's coffee far exceeded all the other coffees there. (And the picking of the cherries is only one stage in a very complicated process!)
Selena, like Jose, is at the forefront of the movement to change Peru’s reputation in the world of coffee. They have proven that exceptional coffee from Peru is possible, and that it is already being produced here. Reach Trade can see the promise of Peru and wants to help the country, and these farmers, in their efforts.