Coffee has been grown in Peru since the 18th century when it was first brought to the new continent by European immigrants. While much of the coffee first grown in Peru was destined for export to Europe, the first coffee shop in Lima (Peru´s capital) actually opened its doors in 1771, thus laying the foundations for a successful national coffee culture as well. The valley of Chanchamayo has long been the epicenter of Peruvian coffee cultivation, as both Spaniards and later the English consolidated the region as a coffee center.
In more recent years, Peru has taken the lead as a major producer of organic coffee, and was the world leader in organic coffee production in 2006. Small farmers working together with the growing network of fair trade organizations have allowed these farmers to find a stable and just market for their production. A successful network of coffee co-ops have allowed small producers to organize and demand a fair price for their harvests.
With coffee being grown from the Andes Mountains to the coastal plains to the Amazon jungles, there are few areas of the country where coffee is NOT grown. One of the distinguishing features of Peruvian coffee growers is that almost one of out of every three producers now belong to coffee cooperatives that help rural farmers improve their marketing strategies and receive a fairer price for what they grow. Most coffee farms are small holdings, with the average size around two hectares.
One of the biggest challenges that small scale organic growers face is developing agro ecological methods to replenish the nutrients from the soil. The loss of nutrients from the forest ecosystems where coffee grows has led to a perceived reduction in quality which has translated into diminished international demand for organic, Peruvian coffee. Fortunately, sustainable and organic farming methods are on the rise, as both ancestral growing techniques coupled with new technologies are allowing small farmers to maintain the fertility and ecological resilience of their farms while maintaining organic growing techniques.
Coffee beans in Peru are generally handpicked by small farmers and their families. After removing the pulp from the cherries, the beans are most often dry processed, taking advantage of the hot sun that shines at higher elevations. However, wet processing methods are also growing in popularity throughout the country. Harvest occurs from June to September throughout the different regions.
In terms of flavor profile, almost all coffee from Peru is known to have a medium body and is highly aromatic and flavorful. A mild acidity allows for the characteristic coffee “smell” to permeate the room as soon as brewing begins. Nut, chocolate, and citrus notes are usually distinguishable both in the smell and the aftertaste. In recent years, some specialty growers have begun to experiment with “dung coffee” wherein coatis (a small, local mammal similar to a raccoon) swallows and defecates the seeds. This drastically reduces the bitterness of the coffee profile and allows the bean to take on the flavor of the coati’s diet, after being thoroughly washed, of course.