“Melanie, it took a while…, but it’s coming off eventually!”
These were the first words of an email that reached me, after I almost lost all hope of going to Peru, for going on my very first coffee origin trip ever…
I’ve never been to South America before.
To be honest, this continent wasn’t really of interest to me so far… I know, I know…
Even though I knew about the many countries, where coffee was grown and cultivated: Brazil as the biggest exporting country for coffee, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru!
Of course I’ve heard about Peru’s capital Lima, the famous ruins of Machu Picchu and lake Titicaca.
I’ve seen photos of indigenous people with their eye-catching hats, the colorful clothings, and their long braids. I’ve also learned about the mysterious Inca in school.
But, I had no clue!
I had no idea what was awaiting me, when I stepped on a plane to Lima on that Saturday in early August…
The whole trip was organized by Promperu, the Peruvian export und tourism promotion board to introduce their country to our small group from Germany and South Korea.
And, what can I say they did a great job! I’ve seen way more than I ever expected to see in one week that felt like 1 month actually.
The first leg – The Peruvian South
We didn’t really spend much time in Lima; it was the city to come back to, though, to travel to all the other places that were on our itinerary.
After spending 12 hours on a plane, tired and jetlagged – I can’t really sleep on planes -, we went off to our first tour stop the next morning already: Sandia in the region of Puno.
This was part number one of this whole adventure that covered a short flight to Juliaca right at the shore of lake Titicaca on about 3,800 m height already – I’ve never been to a place that high before – and a 5 hours bus ride to the village of Sandia.
During that ride we crossed the Andes Mountains and the highest point of that area (and that I’ve ever been to actually): Abra La Pampilla on 4,707 m.
I learned about chewing koka leaves to fight the dizziness that comes with those heights, drank Muna tea that tastes a little bit like a more herbal version of a mint tea.
For the first time in my life I heard about people blessing their cars at Copacabana – no, not the one in Brazil, but the ‘real’ one in Bolivia. ;-) I know why now…
If you were wondering already, no coffee was involved just, yet, at that point, except for some beans that were handed around in our little bus and that were supposed to be some beans of the farmers we were about to meet in a couple hours…
After a stop at a small hotel in Sandia we continued our bus ride in the early morning for about 3 hours, the first leg in our small bus and then after having breakfast at Putinapunco, which is not on Google Maps (seriously, try to find it!), we continued our ride in an off-road vehicle to the countryside around Putinapunco.
I soon learned why this was a good choice! The ‘roads’ were just too narrow and bumpy for a bus, even a small one.
With the rising temperature came the papaya and banana trees and I asked myself why I hadn’t put on a t-shirt earlier.
We suddenly stopped our bumpy ride in the middle of nowhere, where the road seemed too dangerous to continue driving even with the jeep and started walking.
It was supposed to be a 20min walk that turned out to be about 45min. I don’t really know, because I don’t wear a watch…
The ‘short’ hike – I wasn’t prepared for hiking really with my Converse sneakers – should led us to the coffee farm eventually we’ve been told.
Rauls coffee farm
I could see it from a distance already, when I first started wondering, why still so many people all over the world are complaining about paying 2-3 € for a coffee…
Reaching the farm, though, with the washing station, the drying beds for the washed coffee beans and some coffee trees was only part of the deal.
The whole coffee farm of Raul Mamani, one of the farmers we got to meet, was way bigger and spread over several cultivations in that area.
Another (!) hike or rather climb up a hill later, we reached a field of coffee trees that were ready to get harvested.
I made it! My first ripe red coffee cherries! And I was about to harvest them together with Raul!
What an effort to get access to those precious cherries which seeds are the daily caffeine fix of thousands of people around the globe…
During our stay at Putinapunco and Sandia I’ve seen more coffee cultivations, tasted different coffees of different farms and talked to its producers and farmers.
This area, though, had so much more to offer than coffee alone.
The mountain slopes outside of Sandia are covered with old terraces back from Inca and even pre-Inca times.
Huge cultivations of potatoes (there are about 1.000 varieties in Peru!), beans, corn, yacon (different varieties of sweet potatoes), quinoa, papayas and papayitas, a wild variety of the papaya that now are being cultivated in the area, up to very high altitudes, as well as avocado.
I found the biggest avocado, I’ve ever seen and tasted…
Hundreds of thousands of lama and alpaca that almost ran into our bus and that I spotted from the distance pasturing on the terraces that aren’t used for cultivation anymore… Little brick houses or even ruins of houses of the people living there or that used to live there.
Sudden stops and avoiding other vehicles, bold cliffs, waterfalls and bumpy roads later we made our way back to Juliaca. Back from what was only the first part of this adventurous trip that only lasted 4 days at that time.
Cupping coffees in Juliaca
Back in Juliaca we got to taste more coffees from the region of Puno in a so-called ‘blind cupping’ at Cecovasa cooperative headquarters. That meant we didn’t know which farmer and coffee we would taste in the beginning.
One of the eight coffees blew my mind already while sniffing on the coffee grounds – very citrusy!
This actually was the only coffee that impressed me also during the actual cupping (slurping of the coffees sip per sip from a cupping spoon), because it continued to have notes of citrus fruits and was very very fruity, which I personally like a lot!
When the farmers names got released, I almost freaked out! This very coffee was the one of Wilson Sucaticona that I just interviewed the same morning in Putinapunco and who told me, he would be doing Direct Trade with his coffees from now on…
What an amazing and outstanding coffee! Very happy for the roasters who get to roast them soon! :-)
The second leg of my Peruvian coffee adventure – the North
Before heading to the North of Peru, though, where we would be spending the last two days of this epic trip, we had to go back to Lima. You cannot fly directly from South to North, unfortunately. You always have to go back to Lima.
Specialty Coffee in Peru: Cafes & Coffee Shops in Lima
Lima embraced me with its bustling streets and its specialty coffee culture. I actually insisted on visiting specialty coffee shops as well, besides the coffee farms and producers, to talk to roasters and owners of those shops.
Why? Well, it’s my personal approach for a trip like that, I wanna see and explore not only the source where coffee is grown, cultivated and processed, but also where it’s roasted and served to Peruvian customers.
I’m glad, I got to visit Neira Café Lab that just opened about 3 weeks before I went there and talked to Harry Neira, the owner and roaster, as well as to The Coffee Road, another specialty coffee shop in Lima close to the hotel, where I was staying.
On my last day in Peru only a couple hours before my flight back to Germany I was even able to do an interview with David Torres Bisetti, owner of Café Bisetti, who’s coffee I drank only one week earlier on the very first evening spent in Lima at Malabar restaurant.
Specialty coffee in Peru is still new to the Peruvian coffee drinker, but it’s growing.
Peruvian coffee used to be strong, dark and bitter. But with the gastronomic revolution in Lima going on and with more and more people appreciating high quality food, restaurants got aware of the fact, that this revolution doesn’t stop with food, it continues with ice cream, beer, wine and coffee!
Now you can find pour over coffee demonstrations at restaurants as well as tasting menus. Peru seemed to have made it possible that restaurants appreciate high quality coffees, too, and even promote specialty coffee, says David.
Is this still Peru?!
Stepping outside of the plane in Tarapoto I asked myself, if I actually still was in Peru any longer. I’ve never been to the Caribbean, but this is how it felt to me:
Tropical heat and humidity, palm trees and coconuts, banana trees, hills and mountains covered with rain forest, rice fields and little motorized vehicles on the streets carrying up to 5 people – I think in East Asia they’re called Tuk Tuks.
I was impressed! Not for the first time, as you might have noticed, dear reader… ;-)
How diverse, colorful and beautiful this country is!
And I again learned, Peru is not only about coffee. There’s also cacao and those wonderful fruits: Papaya and Papayitas, grenadillas (or Maracuja or passion fruit), bananas, pineapples, oranges and mandarins, avocados, coconut – I had my very first fresh coconut water ever – and more fruits, I haven’t even tried, yet.
Fruit juices and smoothies, baked bananas and fresh fruits have been part of my diet during that amazing trip almost daily!
The local cuisine is as diverse and colorful as its people! Little did I know about the diversity of the Peruvian tradition and culture, when learning about the indigenous people and their traditional clothes in the South.
The North has its very own traditional costumes, decoration and ornaments as well as hairstyle.
Expo Amazonica that we got to visit both in Moyobamba and Tarapoto showcased this diversity.
Different coffee regions in Peru
The different influences of the climate, the soil, the altitudes, the humidity – Harry Neira of Neira Café Lab called it micro climate -, as well as the local produce growing and cultivated in that area has a lot of impact on the coffee trees and its little red fruits, the coffee cherries.
We attended another cupping at Aproeco cooperative trading organic coffees in Moyobamba and my personal impression was that these coffees had more notes of chocolate and nuts than the ones in the South.
Maybe due to the cocoa beans growing around the coffee fields? I’m not sure, though, since we weren’t able to visit a farm up there. They were about 30min away, time that we didn’t have alas.
Cocoa or cacao or chocolate
The cocoa bean, though, was the last culinary highlight I got to see (and taste, of course) in this area.
Ever been to a chocolate manufactory? No, it’s unfortunately not like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, it’s rather clean and cold. Literally!
But, the chocolate was there and I took a bunch of chocolate bars with me at Chocolateria Artesanal Amazonica, after almost being disappointed not to have bought some at the Expo earlier that day. Lucky me! :-)
Roasting and processing cocoa beans is actually pretty similar to coffee, except for the cocoa beans being ground and conched in a concha machine to turn them into a smooth paste and to get as many flavors out as possible.
We got to taste liquid chocolate out of the tank as well as the firm version that is turned into bars eventually. Oh, there’s a Dark Espresso version, too! Just saying… ;-)
Peru is only the start
What can I say, Peru hooked me, not only to explore this country even further, but it infected me with the travel bug in general. To see, visit and discover even more countries and cultures, talk to even more wonderful people, be it coffee people or locals.
Because that’s what we did actually! We literally fired questions at our guides and travel companions during the whole tour – Huge Thanks to everyone involved: Willy, Vilko and Warren!
It’s always always about the people, especially the locals. How would you know about a country, its culture, its history and its stories better than by being told about by locals?
I’m already looking forward to my massive coffee trip to East- and South East Asia starting this fall, this time again from seed to cup…
Follow along by signing up for Mel’s Coffee inspirer through the little pop-up window on the bottom right!