History of Coffee in Peru
It's the land of the Incas, a country steeped in rich pre-colonial history and a turbulent past. From the Andean mountains to the Amazon basin jungle to the desert and Pacific coastline, coffee has been grown throughout Peru since the 1700's, including the Machu Pichu region. But Peru's variable climate, lack of good transport and somewhat primitive agricultural economy have stymied Peru, currently the ninth largest producer of coffee in the world but only the third largest exporter in South America.
Life isn't easy for most coffee farmers in Peru. The average farmers' landholdings are small - two or three hectares - and the typical wet-milling operation even smaller. Arabica coffee cherries are painstakingly picked by hand, processed and dried in the sun. To sell their crop, many of these farmers hike their beans by foot or mule to the nearest town to sell at market. But if there aren't enough buyers, then lack of competition forces coffee prices down.
Things have changed in recent years, particularly when Peru discovered that organic coffee can fetch a higher price, leading to more organic farms and more fair trade networks linked with Peru's smallholder cooperatives. Today, Peru is known as one of the major producers of organic and fair trade coffee in the world.
Characteristics of Peruvian Coffee
For all of its organic and fair trade plaudits, Peruvian coffee isn't the most highly regarded coffee in the world. Cynics argue that Peru's discovery of organic has been focused on quantity, not quality, driving down the price of organic coffee and making it difficult for smaller growers who DO produce quality beans to compete in the market.
That said, Peru is a varied landscape and so too are its coffees. And hidden amongst those average beans you can find some great ones with body, brightness and amazing depth of flavour. For example, the Chanchamayo is considered the top region for best quality Peruvian coffee, but there are also some good beans that come out of Norte and Cuzco, as well.
Peruvian Coffee: Interesting Facts and News Bites
- There are over 110,000 coffee growers in Peru with an average land-holding farm of about two to three acres.
- Global warming is a current major threat to Peru's coffee trade, with Peru rated amongst the top three nations likely to be most affected by climate change, a condition that's already seen an impact on coffee production (source: Guardian)
- Coffee harvested from dung? That's exactly what some Peruvian growers are doing, trying to tape a niche market by using an Indonesian method for processing coffee beans that involves using a mammal's digestive track to strip bitter tasting proteins from coffee beans. (source: Reuters)