Coffee was introduced to Peru in the late 1700's. The Typica varietal of Arabica still accounts for about 35% of the country's exports. The Bourbon varietal was introduced in the 1950's. Combined, these two varietals make up about 60% of the Peruvian coffee production. Peru exports primarily newer varietals such as Caturra and Catimor.
Peru has everything to be a leading coffee producing country in multiple categories but it is not. Why is that?
- Peru has the high altitudes and partial shade desired for Coffea arabica in much more readily available land quantities than other coffee growing areas such as Jamaica or Hawaii.
- However, Peru faces challenges becoming a leader in coffee production because of its informal economy, lack of modern highways and somewhat primitive transportation networks to bring products to market.
- Peru's agricultural commodities include, among others, coffee, maize, asparagus, rice and potatoes. Peru has gained wide acceptance in the organic coffee category through careful planting and harvesting practices that are growing each year.
In addition, Peru enjoys advantages and disadvantages from weather and temperature changes resulting from the Humboldt Current.
- The Humboldt Current brings nutrients from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean to the borders of Peru.
- What this means is that Peru experiences a cold mist that covers coastal Peru in such a way that it forces plants on land to get water from the air instead of from the infrequent rainfall that takes place.
- East of the mountains, on the "wet 'side, the soil is thin and not the best for agriculture.
- On the dry side, near the coast, the rivers are few and this forces farmers to bring the water from the eastern side of the mountains that split Peru.
- The result is a limitation of farmable land and the need for farmers to produce more product per capita wherever they cultivate.
- In addition, the phenomena of El Niño and La Niña, which cause rainfalls and droughts, respectively, further complicate the weather patterns impacting agricultural development in Peru.
Land reform in the 1960's had a very negative effect on Peruvian coffee production and agricultural production in general.
- Plantation owners, with education and agricultural know-how, lost their lands to uneducated peasants who lacked the experience and knowledge for effective farmable land management. The result of this land reform was a chaotic coffee production that still affects Peru's ability to compete in world markets.
- There is no national "coffee management system" in place. The registered coffee exporters act independently from one another and are paranoid about land reform taking place again.
- There are over 110,000 coffee growers in Peru with an average land-holding farm of about two to three acres. Peruvian coffee farms are small and the country's typical wet-milling operation is also very small.
- Typically, farmers pick ripe cherries from May to September. They take them to hand pulpers and wooden fermentation tanks.
- This practice of micro-wet milling is beneficial in that it protects water resources from the polluting effects of pulping factories. However, micro-wet milling produces coffee that is inconsistent and overly fermented.
- What happens is that during busy harvest time, pulped coffee parchment is rushed through fermentation tanks. This is not good because it does not allow enough time for the biological process to eat away the attached cherry mucilage. The result is that the mucilage sours the beans are laid out on drying patios.
- During less busy times, fewer ripe cherries need to be wet-milled. Coffee in the parchment stays in fermentation tanks sometimes for several days instead of the ideal 12 to 18 hour fermentation.
In addition, because of lack of education, farmers rarely taste or cup their own coffee. Farmers use "color changes" as the indication of correct or incorrect fermentation, a very inaccurate system. However, over time, with education and financial motivations, Peruvian farmers are learning to process more carefully each batch of beans. Farmers now associate rewards with the quality of their product and Peru is producing more and more great coffee.
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