When you reach for a morning bag of coffee, you likely think of it being emblazoned with countries like Brazil or Columbia. But you may be surprised to find that Peru cultivates more than 3.2 billion 60 kg bags of the delicious brew each year, and it’s the second-highest exporter of fair trade coffee after Mexico.
With excellent altitude to grow at, successful co-ops, and precious coffee arabica genetics running in those plants’ veins, Peruvian coffee has peak levels of desirable written all over it. So why is it only recently that it’s been thrust a little closer to the spotlight?
Domestic usage – saving the best beans for Peruvians.
You read that correctly. They were keeping this goldmine to themselves. Props to Starbucks for offering a seasonal Peruvian coffee in 2015 to get the word out and rolling with it from there. We appreciate you. (note from the editor: I’m not a fan of the Seattle coffee chain by any means, but we’ll let that one go)
The History of Peruvian Coffee
Peruvian coffee has been pretty off the radar by way of consumption. And magic bean’s history in this Latin American country is not well known either. The earliest known reference is really one made just before the turn of the 20th century saying, “we’ve been harvesting coffee for aeons. Where have you been?”
Okay, not quite a direct quote, obviously, but that’s the gist of the earliest history. They’ve spent the time since organizing, forming farm cooperatives, and shooting up the charts to become one of the highest fair-trade coffee distributors in the world.
Coffee is originally from Ethiopia so the bean would have arrived in the new world with the Spanish after the 16th century.
Coffee: A Labor of Love
The Fair Trade movement in Peru began a little before 2003. “Fair trade” is always a good term to look for on a bag of the good stuff— it means that the people picking the cherries, the ones who own the farms, get paid fairly, aka fair trade coffee.
It’s a particularly positive thing for Peru considering that most of their coffee is produced on small farms of no more than 3 hectares, which is about 7 and a half acres. These small farms band together in cooperatives to have joint drying mills and take advantage of mass international export. There’s also a movement to actively provide fair pay to women’s cooperatives, which I think we can all agree is the bee’s knees.
Not long after the fair-trade movement, many of these family farms strove to become organic, as well. This proved to be just as, if not more, difficult. Organic certifications can take as long three years to earn, and the yield on organic farms in notably less than non-organic ones.
The coffee is picked by hand, which can come with a significant amount of danger the higher the elevation. The cherries are processed to remove the pulp from the beans and then dried out in the sun. Peruvian coffee is typically dry processed, but there is a small market for wet processing, as well.
More recently, what’s colloquially known as “poop coffee” has grown popular in Peru. What started in Indonesia using Asian palm civets, moved through Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and, now, Peru. Dung coffee is made by having an animal (usually a civet) eat coffee cherries. The natural digestion process reduces bitterness. When they poop out the beans, they’re gathered, thoroughly washed, and typically take on flavors of the animal’s diet.
Peruvians use the uber-adorable coatis, which are like tiny racoons. They’re fed the best-of-the-best arabica beans and nature takes over from there!
Why Coffee From Peru?
It’s always about the profile, and coffee is spoken about the same way that connoisseurs talk about wine.
Coffee from Peru often has a medium body. If you’re unfamiliar with describing coffee by its scrumptious “body,” a medium one lands between watery and syrupy. For examples in either direction, Mexican coffee often has a light body, aka is more watery due to the low altitude it’s grown at, while Sumatra coffee is considered to have a heavy body, more syrupy mouthfeel, due to the nutrients in the soil where it flourishes.
Cuppers (professional coffee tasters) refer to Peruvian coffee as aromatic and flavorful, with a mild acidity. This means a few things. One, when you turn on the brewer and it starts heating up, you’ll know when it starts dripping the good stuff. If you prefer a brewing with Chemex or French press, you’ll be able to smell when it’s ready to sip.
When a coffee is considered “flavorful,” it doesn’t refer to any sort of artificial additives or maybe even having a “burnt” or “not-burnt” taste. Depending on where coffee is grown, it absorbs nutrients and minerals from the soil, and those provide a natural flavoring to the brew. In the case of Peru’s soil, your buds will pick up on some nutty and chocolatey notes, and even a few citrus ones, not only during a hearty sip, but in the smell and aftertaste, as well.
How to Buy Peruvian Coffee beans
We all know how things work — you can buy a bag of Peruvian coffee but if it’s not the quality stuff, you’re not going to get the real feel of what it means to drink this delicious caffeinated beverage.
I can help you here.
First and foremost, make sure that you’re buying 100% arabica. Robusta is viably used for making Vietnamese coffee, but they’re special. They really own their coffee-making method, which involves sweetened condensed milk, but it’s not going to tickle your taste buds using any other coffee-preparing method. What I’m saying is that, unless the circumstances are right, robusta is gross. Make sure that your bag isn’t cut with robusta, which is something that many distributors do to cut costs.
Next, elevation is key. Most coffee made in Peru is grown at least 1,200 meters above sea level, but the higher the better. Most coffee is grown in the Andes Mountains and Chanchamayo, which have well-respected elevations and production quality.
Don’t let the allure of Brazil overshadow the unique and lively taste of Peruvian coffees. Whether you want to pay the $40 to $1,400 dollars for dung coffee or are quite happy sipping on some organic, fair-trade arabica, Peruvian joe is definitely worth adding to your morning routine.
Rachel Bean is a writer for CoffeeorBust.com. Despite what it may seem like, her last name and deep over for a cup of black brew is a total coincidence.