Peru Part 2 Blog: Focusing on COOPAFSI

COOPAFSI is one of the Co-ops that we purchase coffees from in Northern Peru.  As you may have learned in Part 1 of this blog series, they are smaller, only about 300 members.  Almost one third of their cooperative is made up of women.  These women make up a group called ‘Las Damas de San Ignacio’ and produce some of our favorite coffees in Peru. 

Upon arrival in San Ignacio, we were brought to their central washing station and mill or beneficio.   Their 40 quintales and 80 quintales mechanical driers are powered by methane created from a gigantic coffee cherry compost heap.  They are also experimenting with processing.  Currently the majority of coffee out of COOPAFSI is washed.  But they are hoping the experimentation will lead to more unique quality lots in the future.

Once at the main milling area, we are greeted by dozens of women dressed in a variety of wear, from classical Peruvian attire, to a woman disguised as a man, to beautiful modern dresses. I do not think I have ever seen so many women in one place!  They all jump to their feet bursting into dance, as loud live Peruvian music begins, gigantic smiles upon everyone’s faces.  There are tables filled with beautiful handmade crafts and garments, as well as tons of locally made food and beverages. 

Immediately I wonder, who is this amazing celebration for?  Well, apparently this is normal weekend fare for the group of Las Damas de San Ignacio and we just happen to be the guests of honor this time!  The group goes on to recite poems, sing songs and perform traditional dances in the center, as the others continue selling their wares at the market set up along the edges.  Coffee is a theme threaded throughout.  We hear lots of gratitude for the support of their coffee farms. The purchasing of coffee from Las Damas has allowed them to purchase more supplies and create more garments and wares, in turn allowing for a more diverse income stream. 

One woman, who must have been half of my height, pulls me aside to tell me about their challenges, my Spanish is quite horrid, but I do my best to listen.  She explains that she knows I do not understand her, but she enjoys talking to me nonetheless, and continues on.  She, along with many of the other women, explains some of their challenges. Repeatedly, I hear that they do not have the space to dry their coffee, that they lose a lot of their crop, and any quality issues are due to drying problems.  I hear other concerns regarding health services, but drying challenges came up over and over again.  My peers and I decided we had to help. 

Later that night, we sat around the table and tried to brainstorm ideas to get these women solar driers.  We ended up settling on a Go Fund Me campaign, so that we can reach the largest audience and make it as simple as possible to get the capital needed to this group.  You can see our campaign here.

The next day we ventured on to visit a few farms.  We arrived at Dona Paula Santos’ Farm, Parcela El Cedrillal.  It is beautiful with a gorgeous vista overlooking the Andes.  We toured her farm which was made up of mainly Catuai, Bourbon and Caturra varietals.  This farm produced the first microlot from Coopafsi.  It was no wonder to me why her coffee scored high enough to be separated out to be sold as a microlot…

1.The trees were pristine, clearly beautifully cared for. 

2.There was a wonderful amount of breeze blowing through the coffee, keeping it dry enough to ward off potential of mold, bugs and fungi.

3.The hillside was filled with sunlight giving tons of exposure to help foster fresh growth on these trees. 

4.Every tree was pruned to the perfect height, keeping them healthy and easy to pick. 

5.There were a variety of trees and other plants to help shade and nourish the trees. 

6.We were also at this wonderfully steep angle, which most likely allowed for wonderful drainage and maximum sun exposure. 

7.She ferments her coffee for 40 hours prior to depulping and drying, which imparts wonderfully fruity flavors.

It was no surprise to me that one of the most delicious coffees on the cupping table was hers.  When I think of Peruvian coffees, I often think of coffees that make great ‘blenders.’  Coffees, that have a wonderfully viscous body, with pleasant nutty and cocoa tones, and only a hint of fruit and floral notes.  A coffee that is super flexible and can do the heavy lifting in an espresso blend.  The coffees we cupped had all of the for mentioned, but many were filled with exciting notes like raspberry, melon, bourbon and citrus. 

Before leaving, I had one last thing to do – teach my first class at origin.  Coffee growers rarely have the opportunity to taste and see what happens with their coffee after it leaves the farm.  They know what the specialty coffee market is looking for in terms of a profile, but not what the coffee ends up tasting like.  Not every grower really knows what steps happen and how much care and work goes into the coffee once it leaves their farm.  So, I taught a ‘De Su Finca ​A Nuestra Taza’ class, or ‘From Your Farm to Our Cup’ class.  We went over the process that the coffee goes through to get to consumers, as well as how each step effects the final cup.  These steps include: 

1. Transportation

2. Careful storage

3. Lots of documentation

4. Roasting

5. Marketing

6. Preparation

One of the biggest topics of interest was why there was such a range in tasting notes on the bags of their roasted coffee, ranging from candied orange to dark chocolate to vanilla.  The disparity from the coffee we purchased as ‘brown sugar, cashew and orange’ and these final tasting notes was quite confusing.  It took an explanation of ‘you need to start with a healthy chicken, to turn it into any dish, with a variety of flavors’ to clear the confusion up.  There also was some amazing brainstorming going on after explaining how in Kenya, Peaberries were separated out and sold separately as a boutique offering.  Maybe we will have some interesting ‘Peruvian Peaberry coffee’ in years to come…  We ended with a chemex service of two different versions of their coffee.