Myself and Alaster Siddle (sales director and big lad from Leeds) set off at 6am one Saturday morning from Humberside airport, just 5 minutes from the coffee factory. Two full days later we arrived in the northern mountains of Peru, by way of Amsterdam and the capital Lima.
Travelling with clients, we flew from Lima to the coastal town of Chiclayo on the North coast. Hiring a couple of Toyota 4 wheel drives we headed Northeast , initially on the Pan American highway for a six hour drive to Jaen (pronounced High-en), a town at 800 metres above sea level. The road took us along the course of a wide fast flowing river with a backdrop of impressive mountains almost all the way. A variety of crops are grown in the fertile alluvial soils at the side of this fast flowing water, such as avocados but most importantly – rice. In fact there is a big civil engineering project going on right now, to dam the river and thus divert water to the other side of the mountains in order to provide irrigation to that area.
6 hours later we arrived in Jaen. We went to Jaen to see an important coffee growers co-operative, CENFROCAFE . In the evening we drove to their offices and met commercial manager Elmer Pena and general manager Ruben Espinoza Bello, who made a presentation to us.
Cenfrocafe started in 1999 with 200 members. Membership is now 2250 and around 200 containers of washed Arabica coffee is exported annually, for a turnover of $21 million. The co-operative members are farming in the huge Cajamarca region, covering the 2 provinces of Jaen and San Ignacio. Average farm size is 1 hectare and 90% of production is organic. Cenfrocafe was given Fairtrade certification in 2007 and most of the sales are Fairtrade and/or organic certified. A small amount of coffee is also Rainforest Alliance certified. Lincoln & York buy a significant amount of Fairtrade organic coffee on behalf of clients from this co-op.
Cenfrocafe provides coffee processing and other services to its members. These include agronomy, education, crop finance and marketing of the coffee to the rest of the World.
The next day we set off for another 4 hour drive along rough roads into the hills. We stopped for breakfast of fish, rice and soup in a small town. Later that morning we arrived at a farm owned by Theodormiro Ojeda, a former Cenfrocafe Technical manager. The farm is 10 hectares and at 1200 metres above sea level. May is the beginning of the harvest season and the trees were laden with red cherries. Yields are 10-12 kilos per tree and 4 tonnes per hectare. All the coffee is shade grown by orange, laurel and other tropical trees which protect the bushes from the glare of the sun and also dissipate rainfall through the canopy. The farm has triple certification: Fairtrade Organic Rainforest Alliance status.
As the farm is organic, ordinary fertilizer can’t be used. Guano (bird droppings similar to the type used in early Victorian England) is mixed with well-rotted coffee pulp, soil and other waste. This is applied early in the season and at a high rate.
This farmer picks coffee cherries and delivers it to Cenfrocafe’s wet mill. If there is too much cherry to deal with, he de-pulps it himself and then dries the wet parchment on a number of patios.
We then headed off to the only Cenfrocafe wet mill, which is in Paya Pina in Tabaconas province. The mill is well laid out, with the plant running downhill slightly. Cherry is received at the top end, sampled for density and then tipped into a hopper. This is then flushed into separation channels and pulped in vertical depulpers. Wet parchment runs into tanks and then piped outside to the drying area for first stage drying. A few days in the sun brings moisture down to around 20%. The parchment is then dried in guardiola dryers down to 13%. The dried parchment is taken to Jaen and then on to dry mills for cleaning, grading and export bagging.
The pulp is conveyed outside for composting. A series of chambered filters outside the mill cleans up the water used in processing, before it runs into settling tanks and then into the river. Methane gas is created by the filtering which the mill uses for cooking.
Although the wet mill is well laid out and managed, one area of concern is the outdoor drying. Parchment is laid out onto plastic sheets which in turn are laid onto grass. The grass area is on a slope and at the time of our visit was quite sodden. This could be a source of flavour contamination and the facility really needs a concrete patio, with a covered option.
The next day we did some cupping at Cenfrocafe in Jaen with their Q grader, then set off into the mountains again, this time near Jaen to see another organic farm at 1350 metres. This is also well managed and neighbours on to a conventional farm showing signs of poor husbandry. That particular grower has dropped out of Cenfrocafe and the purpose of the visit was to see conventional and organic side by side.
Again the coffee trees on the organic farm looked very healthy and fully laden with cherries. Picking was about to commence though the drying areas still had to be cleaned up ready for parchment. Crossing a fast flowing river, we wandered through the shade grown coffee. The farmer’s wife gave us oranges fresh from the tree and cut down a bunch of bananas which were delicious. That was a first for us all!
By the afternoon we had come down from the mountains and visited the Louis Dreyfus dry mill in Jaen. This is a big operation and Cenfrocafe send some of their organic coffee parchment to be hulled, polished, electronically sorted and graded, and prepared for export. Every bag of coffee is sampled and tasted in 50 bag lots. If a problem is detected they then sample every bag in 5 bag lots until the issue is identified.
While admiring their new Sortex colour sorting machine the manager said that coffees delivered by co-ops such as Cenfrocafe were generally better quality than by private traders and didn’t take as long to sort. I must admit to not expecting that answer and gives weight to the idea that educating growers and controlling quality at every growing stage gives great benefit.
Heading back on yet another 4 hour drive we stopped for dinner at a fish farm and restaurant. The farm raises Tilapia and although I’ve had it before this was straight out of the lake, dispatched and cooked before our eyes. Later we arrived back in Chiclayo.
As you might expect we were tired, having been travelling one way or another for almost 5 days. We deserved a break and so before heading back to Blighty, had arranged to visit the important Inca historical settlement Machu Pichu. So we flew to Cuzco via Lima and then went by train.
Machu Pichu is an unbelievable sight (forgive the pun). It is a 15th century Inca settlement , often referred to as the Lost City of the Incas and is built on a mountain ridge high above the Urubamba valley in Cuzco region. Thought to have been built for an emperor, it was abandoned in the 16th century so that the bestial Spanish conquistadors would not find it. Today it is designated a UNESCO WORLD HERIATGE SITE. The dramatic skyline views are hard to take in, much less describe. However we all felt the visit was a fantastic experience and rounded off an amazing week.
Two days later we were back home. The big lad from Leeds had made it in one piece!
Thanks to Chris, Rachel, Tommy and Siddlala, and most of all to John at Twin Trading for hosting and translating.