ORIGIN UPDATE: PERU 2022
Words by 49th Green Coffee Buyer, David Pohl
It’s been a few years since my last trip to Peru, a country I used to visit with some regularity. Meanwhile, Peru has become an important source of coffee for 49th Parallel, regularly finding its way onto our Organic and Single Origin menus. A trip to the northern region of Cajamarca has been on my short list for a couple of years now, but with recurring Covid related restrictions, as well as a tumultuous political situation, travel to Peru has not been difficult to coordinate. Despite the odds, I found a window of opportunity in June 2022, spending five days in and around the city of Jaen, hosted by our partners Origin Coffee Lab.
Until a few weeks before my visit, the Jaen airport made visits to Cajamarca relatively quick and easy from Lima, 1100 kilometers to the south. This wasn’t always the case, and for years I would fly from Lima to Chiclayo, driving from there through the Sechura Desert, up into the Andes Mountains, before reaching Jaen some five hours later. A beautiful journey yes, but when the Jaen airport opened in 2015, I was happy to say so-long to this circuitous and time consuming route.
Unfortunately (or fortunately) the Peruvian aviation authority deemed the Jaen airport runway in poor condition and closed it 10 days prior to my arrival, forcing a return to Chiclayo after many years. The airport is now expected to be closed until September at least, while the runway is repaired.
This unanticipated change of route, exacerbated by the fact that there was construction all along the highway - apparently having to do with upcoming elections and local politicians rushing to repair roads - ate into my time on the ground. It was an adventure just to get to Jaen, this time taking seven hours, and I was again reminded how far “out there” Northern Cajamarca really is.
Of course, this prelude is getting to the point that the journey was totally worth it! Visiting Origin Coffee Lab (OCL), our partners in Peru since 2017, was even more inspiring and impressive than I had expected – and this is saying a lot. Founded in 2016 by Jose Rivera, OCL started small, exporting just 80 bags of coffee its first year. Since then it has grown considerably, thanks to partnerships with companies like 49th Parallel, as well as a number of top importers around the world. Why? First, Jose knows coffee exporting – his father runs a couple of dry mills and exports coffee himself – so the coffee export business is in the family. Second, Jose knows specialty coffee roasting, having lived in Chicago and worked for Metric coffee roasters for some years. This background and expertise is evident in the excellent coffees Jose is able to source and export from producer partners in the Cajamarca region.
At a time when poor weather and logistical delays are impacting coffee quality around the world, OCL arrivals have tended to exceed expectations. I have noted, along with the QC team at 49th, that the OCL coffees we purchase hold up very well despite longer than normal voyages.
Visiting OCL in person, and traveling to the La Palestina project in the community of El Triunfo, about two hours from Jaen, highlighted why OCL coffees are so good. Through work with OCL, as well as money raised through the sale of coffee in the Cup of Excellence, La Palestina has invested heavily in renovating old coffee farms, creating well organized, technified farms, growing may different exotic varietals, as well as investing in processing infrastructure such as a new eco-mill and solar dryers. The result is a much higher quality coffee than is typical in northern Peru where lack of investment and rainy, damp conditions make post-harvest processing a challenge.
The 16 producers that form La Palestina are responsible for the large lots that go into some of our Organic offerings, as well a number of Single Origin offerings, including one currently being offered by Zobeida Alarcon. The rest of our OCL coffees come from the Tres Quebradas project, in the Colasay area just south of Jaen. Unfortunately, due to road closures we were unable to visit on this trip – making this priority number one for our next visit in 2023!
In addition to the extensive work directly with small farmers in Cajamarca, OCL stores all of the coffee that it purchases in protective liner bags starting at the farm level. This helps to maintain freshness after coffee has been dried, in the months prior to shipping. This extra step is often overlooked by exporters, who store coffee in jute or permeable nylon bags, sometimes in warehouses that suffer from high temperatures and humidity. The impact on the coffee may not be immediate but OCL is convinced that proper storage improves overall quality as well as the longevity of their coffees. Anecdotally, we tend to agree having received a number of shipments this year and last that cupped identical to the pre-shipment samples.
On the horizon for OCL is extending their reach into the Piura growing region northwest of Jaen. This remote area is purported to have some of the best coffee in Peru, hampered for years by distance which has prevented travel and investment. Determined to bridge this gap, Jose is actively seeking to form alliances with producers in this area, and hopes to be able to offer their coffees to us in coming harvests.
We are eager to see the results of his and OCL’s efforts in Piura, and in the meantime are grateful for the excellent coffees they are able to produce in Cajamarca. You can find these coffees in our organic offerings (Organic French, Breakfast and Espresso) as well as Single Origin offerings from Onias Guerrero/Tres Quebradas and Zobeida Alarcon/La Palestina.