October 31, 2018

At Origin – Peru

First Published - July 18, 2016 (By Pascale - Coffee Lover, Traveller and Mother)

As part of my role in bringing Union Direct Trade to life, I do a lot of travelling. Last August it was Chirinos in Peru, this is my adventure…

Day one

After a long trip with two stop-overs in Bogota and Lima, we arrive around midnight at the hotel. Things get interesting when the guy at the reception tells us there is only one room available. Though Steven and I get along very well, we prefer separate rooms. Eliah, my little baby of 14 months is obviously tired from the trip and slightly irritated. I find the booking reservation which clearly states two rooms. A small miracle happens and suddenly there is another room available! But, the rooms are far apart from each other. “Is that a problem?”… We end up in neighbouring rooms.

With just a few hours sleep to catch, I hit the bed. At 7:00am we have to leave for Chirinos (a six hour drive).

Day two

The following morning we eat breakfast with Lenin, the cooperative manager and the driver before we head on a very long, curvy road to Chirinos. During the travel I learn that Eliah doesn’t like the curvy roads and is car-sick. After a quick stop, changing clothes standing next to a ravine with an amazing view, we continue. We continue that is, in the car which now smells slightly of sour milk. We have another stop, for lunch and around 2:00pm we finally arrive. And people think my job is nothing but glamour.

Immediately I get excited, it’s so good to be back and the only memory of the uncomfortable trip that sticks, is the butt pain from the long sit. I need coffee. This is the only thing I can think of, I guess that means I’m in the right job. I am the typical spoiled and arrogant coffee drinker who prefers to drink tea instead of coffee in the absence of a decent cup. Which means I started today with tea. After such a long day without, I am craving coffee – and the lack of coffee headache is starting to head in.
To our surprise we find that the cooperative has invested in an actual coffee shop, my prayers are answered. It has an espresso machine and a barista lady with the loveliest smile and excellent barista skills. The coffee shop is a meeting point a place where farmers can enjoy a good cup of coffee and experience themselves what quality is about. This is not the first time I’ve visited a coffee shop at origin, but it’s especially welcome today. The cooperative also roast and package coffee to be sold in the local market. We love those types of initiatives at origin and to Steven’s delight they have cake too (in case you didn’t now Steven has a real sweet tooth and can’t resist sweet pastry).

We sit, drink coffee, eat pastry and talk about coffee. Memories of curvy roads fast disappearing. With our blood levels pumped full of caffeine and sugar we’re ready to kick off. We spend the day meeting various staff members and learn about how the cooperative is managed and are pleasantly surprised by the amount they’ve grown in terms of members. This is a good indicator of a well-functioning cooperative, more people wanting to join means the coop is offering good services. After dinner we go to the hotel. The hotel is clean, but with shared bathrooms and a lack of hot water. So after a very cold shower it is time to go to bed.

Day three

The next day is all about cupping and farm visits. We cup around 30 coffees. Lot sizes and quality differ. We cup samples, taken from 480 lots to samples that represent 2 bags. We cup amazing coffees and we cup defects. It’s the real experience. I enjoy these cuppings because it makes me realise how much work farmers, and cuppers put into producing and exporting the high quality, speciality coffees we need.

Farmers deliver either cherry, wet-parchment or dry parchment to the cooperative. If the farmer delivers cherry on site, the coffee is checked for floaters. If the farmer delivers parchment, the coffee is hulled and green-graded. After that, the coffee is cupped. It doesn’t matter how many bags the sample represents, if the farmer brings two bags the coffee will be cupped and scored. The farmer receives his payment on the basis of his quality. But, in physical terms, humidity, amount of defects as well as the cupping score.

We spend time visiting farmers, learning about their lives and how the cooperative has helped them improving their living standards by improving the quality of the coffee.
Farmers have around 5 hectares, and often have small side jobs such as growing vegetables for home consumption, or knitting as Lucila shows us. All the farmers we speak to are pleased with the projects of the cooperative. The organic fertilizing plant is a great success, as farmers can really see the difference between fertilized and unfertilized crop. Some of the members have received help constructing greenhouses for drying the coffee. These greenhouses ensure the coffee is dried more evenly and protects the coffee from re-wetting when it rains.

Unfortunately, we are only able to spend a couple of days, but it was amazing sharing with these farmers in the remote areas of Peru. We can’t wait to visit them next time and keep you up-dated.

I find this such an incredibly rewarding experience and reminds me how vital it is to work in such a direct hands on way with our producers. It amazes me how any serious coffee business can do it any other way.

Here’s to my next adventure.

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