In early August, a team from Orinoco Coffee & Tea – Business Assistant and first-time origin trip participant Charlotte Berry and President Pedro Ramirez – flew out of Baltimore to see what could be found in Peru.
At 6 a.m. Saturday, August 3, Orinoco’s plane arrived in Lima.
The adventure began back in July, when Orinoco was invited by Peru’s tourism agency – PROMPERÚ – to participate in an early August coffee buyers’ mission to South America.
The proposed journey would lay the groundwork for future importing opportunities with Peru. The itinerary included orchestrated visits to coffee farms, cooperatives, and more in and around the central region of Quillabamba, Cuzco and Jauja, Junín.
And so, Charlotte and Pedro packed their bags and prepared to learn new things about the Peruvian coffee trade.
The plan, said Charlotte, was to stop in Cuzco, a coffee producing region – AND the biggest city near the fabled Machu Picchu in the Andes Mountains.
But due to an unforeseen scheduling issue, Charlotte would need to kick off the first half of the mission trip all by herself.
ADVENTURES IN COFFEE CUPPING
Charlotte soon found out she wasn’t so alone, after all.
A small cluster of coffee professionals from across the globe had gathered – including industry colleagues from Taiwan, China, and Korea, initially, and later Australia. Representatives from industry trades ROAST and Fresh Cup were also in tow.
This group of strangers soon bonded because of their language barriers. Packed into a van by 8 a.m. every morning, the assembly spent every waking moment together – traveling long stretches of unpaved roads until late night; each day punctuated with visits to various co-ops and Peruvian farms.
“We were all there for the same reasons,” Charlotte says. “All of us were going through the same learning process.”
That process largely involved cupping.
Coffee cupping is a professional procedure employed by producers and buyers to measure various aspects of a coffee’s taste – including sweetness, acidity, flavor, and aftertaste. It is accomplished by deeply inhaling – or sniffing – the coffee, prior to loudly slurping it to spread the brew to the entire surface of the tongue.
“We cupped for hours on certain days,” Charlotte says.
While the process was at times exhausting, it was also incredibly enlightening, she says.
“It really helped me to refine my technique,” she says. “If the coffee was over-fermented, or over-roasted, [my peers] would point that out to me. At times, we had ten different coffees from one region at one table.”
The diversity of flavors generated from one country, she says, was astounding. “Most people probably think, ‘It’s Peruvian coffee – it tastes Peruvian,’ [and that’s not the case.]”
In fact, the entire Orinoco team was impressed by the advanced cupping techniques demonstrated by various smaller farms.
“The different flavors, grades, and processes of coffee from just one place – they’re like night and day. And Peru is really not really considered a major player in the coffee world. It’s incredible to think the coffee can be that different.”
After resolving scheduling issues, Pedro managed to catch up with Charlotte for the second half of the duo’s journey.
“I was very surprised by the challenges [these farmers] faced,” he says. “Even though we have purchased and sold from Peru, I was not aware of the diversity, climate, and elevation challenges that are abundant in the region … and just how much effort the farmers put into creating new product.”
“Peru does not have as much government help as one would hope,” Pedro adds. “They don’t have money. If they don’t have a crop – that’s it for the year. If the rainy season is too rainy, they’re out of luck… It’s not as established as Colombia or Brazil, where they do get aid.”
In 2013, a fungus known as La Roya swept through Peru, decimating the tree population. An ancillary issue with this blight is that farmers cannot fumigate their crops – otherwise they can no longer claim to sell organic coffee.
Many of the farms Orinoco had visited during this trip had been severely crippled because of the fungus. New trees take years to mature and begin producing fruit. “You just can’t say, ‘We’ll replant, and next year we’ll have a new crop. It doesn’t work that way. It takes years to cultivate.”
And yet, Peruvian farmers remained undeterred.
One co-op in particular had been closed until only recently, having been burnt to the ground by the Shining Path Communist guerilla movement. The co-op, Pedro notes, continues to be under the threat of violence. And yet – they rebuild.
“They’re trying to make a go of it,” Pedro says. “To see that – it was very inspiring.”
Ultimately, Pedro and Charlotte believe the trip was a success.
“We met interesting people, learned things we didn’t know, and made good friends with the organization who sent us,” says Pedro.
Charlotte agrees. “It was like nothing I’ve ever [experienced.]”