Direct Trade Coffee in Peru – Days 1 and 2

Day one in Peru was mostly spent getting to our final destination.  After yet another 5:30 am wake up call, Paul and I hit the road back to the airport and boarded our flight to Piura.  In the airport, our choices for coffee were Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts.  I’ll leave it a surprise where we went.  This was followed by the swift realization that in my sleepy haze I had left my ATM card in the machine after taking my money and receipt (and also lost my awesome traveler points).  No luck in recovering, it had already been eaten up.  Now the fun game begins of trying to survive for a week one 100 dollars, but I think that I am up for the challenge (our travel budget will be lower than expected, always a plus). 

After arriving in Piura and grabbing a quick breakfast, Paul and I took a tour of Cenfrocafe’s milling and processing plant with manager Martin Dominguez, who works for Cepicafe, and Daniel Alberca La Torre, traffic manager for Cenfrocafe. We looked over their books, walked through the milling process, and checked that numbers matched up on bag tags.  Overall the visit was a great success.  The added bonus to that trip was seeing their cupping lab, where they do a final quality inspection before the coffee is exported.  The manager of the lab was not there, but as we walked up the stairs we were greeted with the sweet smell of melting chocolate.  We happened upon cacao tasting and analysis day, and got to watch them prepare raw melted cacao!

From Piura we set off again, this time towards our final destination, Jaen.  The trip was uneventful, an easy 7 hour journey over the Andes, no sweat.  We stopped about halfway through for lunch in a tiny roadside town, population 35, I would guess. Then we arrived in Jaen around 8 pm, tired out, and had a quick dinner with Elmer, a Cenfrocafe representative, and Felipe, the manager of Cenfrocafe.

Day two in Peru was another informative day.  Paul and I departed around 9 this morning to go to a “meeting.”  We assumed this to be an introductory meeting for planning the agenda of our visit. Oh how wrong we were.  Our driver dropped us off at the local elementary school, where we entered a gym full of around 50 producers awaiting our arrival. If we had known, we might have not taken so long to eat our eggs at breakfast.  When we stepped in the door, we were greeted with a large applause, welcoming us.  A little starry eyed and panic stricken, Paul and I took our seats in front of the room and were asked to quickly describe the state and future of the specialty coffee industry in the United States.  Luckily, having had this conversation the night before, I had Paul’s answers ready to go and translate for the crowd  (although maybe not so prepared to do it into a microphone before a full gymnasium). The group we spoke with was the leaders of local associations that sell coffee to Cenfrocafe, representing over 2,000 individual growers.             

We described our goals for direct trade coffee, and were met with reassuring nods and thoughtful questions about how our model would work.  The only flop was Paul’s witty retort to the question, “What do you think the market is going to do in the next year?” The growers did not find the response, “I think the market is definitely going to do something, either go up or down, but it definitely will move in one of those directions” especially amusing (but it did give me a good chuckle).  We shared the Project Direct website with the farmers at the meeting, and were pleased with their interest and understanding with what we want to do.  I can only imagine good things in our future relationship with the farmers and producers in northern Peru.

After the meeting, we were whisked off to Cenfrocafe headquarters in Jaen, where we cupped different lots to complete our pending shipment of coffees.  We cupped with the office’s 3 Q-certified graders, Elias, Alexander, and Ronny, all of us shockingly well calibrated.  Cenfrocafe is working on training the younger generation early on how to grade coffee quality, with the hope that after an internship in Jaen they will return to their towns and establish cupping labs at origin.  Paul and I were very impressed with this initiative, and we had the pleasure to cup with 3 of these teenagers who had just started cupping one week earlier.  They all were very eager to learn, and listened intently to our conversations about each coffee after the cupping was over.  Education and support for the younger generations is a primary initiative for Cenfrocafe, and their training process is very impressive. 

Next up, after lunch (the Peruvian specialty of Lomo Saltado, for those of you interested in our gastronomic choices), Paul and I attented a feria.  I know this word to mean a fair, as in, “hey, let’s jump on the ferris wheel at the fair,” so I was confused with our final destination.  When we arrived, there was in fact a ferris wheel and carnival games, however we were led straight past the fun stuff into a meeting with different coffee cooperatives addressing the issue of internal coffee consumption in Peru.  Paul and I were a little tired of meetings at this point, so with a great sigh (by me) we sat down and listened.  As the microphone was passed around the circle, however, Paul’s interest piqued, and he started to get fired up about the topic.  By the time it was our turn in the roundtable discussion, Paul gave an articulate synopsis of how and why the US coffee market has grown so substantially over the past 20 years.  Hopefully I captured his passion and eloquence in translating to the other participants.  Fortunately, we ended with a brindis, or a toast, a word Paul definitely knows in Spanish, based on the look of glee that came over his face and his question, “Where?”

All in all we have had a very good past couple of days.  Tomorrow we are headed to San Ignacio to visit the farms of the coffees that we liked in the cupping today.  Stay tuned for more ….

Highlights of the day: Soaking our feet in the hotel pool after a long morning, witnessing a local carnival, cupping some really impressive coffees, and how comfortable this hotel bed is right now.  Good night!

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