Bolivia Trip Report: July 20107-27-10
So, with this trip report, I am going to try something a little bit different, so please bear with me. I posted 30-40 pictures on Flickr to visually take you into the sight and scenes – including notes along the way.
I left North Carolina not really knowing what to expect. We have been working with the Cenaproc cooperative for many years now, and, while the coffee had been good, we have certainly had some issues, as well. The goal of the trip was to see if further work with Cenaproc is possible, and to see what else is going on around the country.
On this trip, I visited a single farm, 2 co-ops, a few wet mills, and two dry mills. Overall, I was impressed with everyone. The term microlot has become a standard, and single farmers and co-ops alike are realizing that if they separate out quality, they can earn more for that coffee.
Cenaproc, without question, has tons of potential. Everyone knows they have great coffee, and, out of 27 samples I tasted, 6 of the top 8 were from Cenaproc. They do have some processing issues, but those should be easy fixes. We will taste some microlots this year, and hopefully the relationship between us we thrive. Next year, I believe things will be even better.
I met Maria Nidia Ascarrunz, who owns Finca Copacabana and the Vicopex dry mill. Both were very impressive operations. Vicopex is doing great processing, and I believe coffees from there will be better than anywhere else.
My last stop on the trip was to Agritrade. I met Pedro Rodriguez and his daughter, Daniela. Agritrade is a large operation, but they also have the ability to select out some very good small producer lots. I was well calibrated with everyone there and hopefully we will taste more coffee from them in the future.
Bolivia is a really interesting place, but does have some internal problems. The travel of the coffee from the Yungus at high moisture content is something that needs to be solved, and it may be Bolivia’s greatest challenge for coffee quality. We have a couple ideas that may lead to answers for this. Bolivia’s politics are also something to keep a watch on. The country is leaning more and more towards countries like Venezuela, and groups like USAID that, in the past, have provided funding for good projects in coffee, are no longer quite as prolific around the area. As with every country we do business in, the potential in Bolivia is huge, but the question is can certain challenges be overcome.
To see a lot more of this trip, go to the Counter Culture Coffee flickr page.
From the Road: Hello from Peru!7-14-10
Here I am, swimming upstream. You see, great coffees are created on a farm. Coffee is a miracle of nature, and at its perfect point of ripeness, it is full of potential flavor. The farmer then carefully prepares the coffee for export, pulping, fermenting, washing, and drying to enhance the coffee’s natural greatness. At that point, the coffee has all of its deliciousness locked up inside of it – and it must be protected and preserved during its long journey from the farm to our roastery.
My job this week is to work my way backwards along the long road that coffee takes to get to us. I’m swimming upstream, towards the farm, making sure that the great coffees we work with farmers to create are safe during that long journey. And so, after landing in Peru last week, my first stop was the port town of Piura, where our Valle del Santuario coffee is loaded on ships bound for the U.S. Our first stop was the dry mill where the coffee gets its final peeling, sorting, and bagging before export. This is the least romantic part of a coffee buyer’s job – inspecting the mill, talking about containers and logistics and bags – but it’s impossible to have perfect coffee without perfecting the process of getting it to us. We seek to improve every year, and this year we’re streamlining the process to get the coffee to us sooner, fresher, and even closer to coffee perfection!
I then set out East, away from the coast and through the foothills of the Andes – driving up and over the spectacular peaks of South America to get to the little valley where the greatest coffee in Peru is grown. I will risk using the word “spectacular” again to describe the massive and beautiful mountains that span Peru’s northern border and tower between the farms where our coffee is grown and the port. The road is long and treacherous and winds for countless miles – at times clinging to the side of a valley, with hundreds of feet falling away below. After hours of driving, we finally made it to Jaen – in the heart of coffee country. There, I was met by the leadership of CENFROCAFE, the co-op which helps us export the coffee, and Elias and Alex – the two cuppers who are such an important part of identifying the great coffees of this area. After a night of rest, we set out again for 4 more hours of driving to get to Ihuamaca, one of the towns that produces Valle del Santuario.
I received a warm welcome; the children of the town performed a traditional dance, and afterwards we proceeded to the home of Zacharias Neyra for a meal. Zacharias is a community leader, great spirit, and wonderful coffee farmer – coffee from his farm was one of the coffees that made up our Valle del Santuario “3 Farmers” microlot this year. After lunch, as we walked his farm, Zacharias explained that he had expanded his farm this year – growing from 1.5 hectares to 2. He told me he was able to make the purchase, in part, with the extra premium we paid for his spectacular coffee. I could not have been happier.
We hiked other farms in the village, occasionally stopping for a passion fruit or tangerine from trees on these diverse, organic farms. We walked together as a group, and I realized I was surrounded by the all-stars of Peruvian coffee. These farmers create the greatest coffee in Peru, and one of the greatest in all of Latin America. I had finally made it home, to the birthplace of this great coffee. It’s going to be another great year for Valle del Santuario, and we’ll make sure the coffee is safe on its long journey from that little valley to your cup.
Next week, Cuzco!