Peru is most certainly a part of the South American coffee powerhouse, along with Brazil and Colombia. It’s estimated that more than 200,000 farmers contribute to Peru’s exports, which often hovers around 4 million bags annually, including one of the world’s largest supplies of certified organic and Fair Trade coffees. Certifications alone could explain how critical Peru coffee is for so many roasters; but the origin’s harvest timing, its hefty sweetness in the cup, and the affordability of most export grades combined make Peru’s coffee practically indispensable for its buyers. Royal buys a significant amount of coffee from Peru, for ourselves and on behalf of our customers, and we are constantly impressed by the range of quality available and the precision achieved by most exporters, most of whom are managing extremely complicated supply chains of often thousands of small farmers fermenting and drying coffee at home.

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Peru Green Coffee

Peru’s coffee history dates back to the 1700s, long before most modern Latin American countries planted coffee. It’s believed that the first seedlings came from Ecuador, and until Peru’s independence from Spain in the early 1800s coffee was barely exported. Over the next century coffee was primarily in the hands of larger estate-holders of European descent, although coffee was always grown on small farms among the indigenous and poorer European peasantry. This changed dramatically in the mid-20th century through land reforms that transferred property to large numbers of additional small farmers, as well as efforts to cooperatize them into larger more manageable business structures. By the 80s and 90s Peru’s coffee landscape was solidly smallholder-driven, and also largely lacking in transportation infrastructure or economic investment at the farm level. It was also, however, prime for Fair Trade certification schemes that sought to reward collective management, and organic certifications that recognized traditional, chemical-free farming techniques. The strength of Peru’s certified supply would guarantee premiums which, while still less than ideal, would be good enough for many growers to survive global market downturns and continue producing.

Peru still has a uniquely strong cooperative structure. Some associations in Cajamarca, in Peru’s north, are among the largest grower unions in the coffee world. Logistics for smallholders can be the definition of arduous: high elevations and steep slopes, fermenting small amounts of coffee in handmade wooden or concrete tanks, drying in the elements, and long treks, often by foot, to sell only as much dried parchment as one can carry in a hand cart, or by motorbike. Many of Peru’s collection warehouses are remote to begin with, often many hours’ drive from a major city, and service farmers many additional hours further afield. It’s a remarkable feat, as in so many producing countries, that such a landscape could be so well organized.

Being small farm and cooperative-driven, units of parchment coffee in Peru are typically very small. So, achieving better cup qualities is most often a matter of quality control and logistical diligence on behalf of association managers, or independent exporters doing the work as a third party. This means identifying quality potential delivery by delivery, over the course of thousands during a single harvest, and building larger coffees in the most profitable way possible.

The majority of low- to medium- grade specialty coffee in Peru is molasses-like in sweetness with herbal complexity, round and soft in mouthfeel. Being readily available, often certified in one way or another, and affordable, these profiles are commonly used as seasonal replacements for Fair Trade/Organic certified Mexicos and other Central America regional coffee blends. Washed Ugandas and certain lighter-body Indonesias can also be substituted with Peru’s coffee, and vice versa.

Peru’s arabica genetics, while favoring catimor-based hybrids over the last 10 years, remains one of the origin’s greatest assets. At higher qualities, Peru’s potential for exquisite florality and herbaceousness rivals that of Ecuador, or the brightest Ethiopia arrivals each year, but typically at a fraction of the cost. The best coffees we taste each harvest are often single cultivars from individual farms, with memorable flavors of stone fruit or papaya and perfumey or honeysuckle-like volatiles.

Peru produces such volume that the marketplace for top-end micros is simply not as critical to associations’ bottom line. Naturally this can leave exporters un-motivated to do the extra work to help small unique coffees make it to market, but the general movement is toward more and more microlot availability, which is exciting.

The Andes mountains run vertically through western Peru, close to the country’s Pacific coastline for its entire length. Northern coffee producing areas in the provinces of Amazonas, Cajamarca, and parts of Piura are located across the wide center of these mountains, where the elevations are lower and the landscape more lush. In central and southern Peru the Andes are steeper and more concentrated, so coffee tends to be better-established on the eastern slopes, in the transitional territories between the Andean altiplano and the Amazon basin. Humidity, and temperatures, are higher here compared to the west, and the landscape more jungled.

 

The country’s largest grower associations are located in the north, often centralized in Jaen. The southern cities of Cusco and Juliaca are southern Peru’s most common hubs for storage and transit logistics.

FAQ

Most areas of Peru harvest between April and August, with the highest elevations potentially harvesting through October.

Compared to Colombia, where much of the country’s coffee has been replaced with disease-resistant hybrids in the past 10 years, Peru’s use of bourbon- and typica-lineage cultivars has waned much slower. Catimor hybrids are used by many growers, but it’s not difficult in most producing regions to also find lots of 100% bourbon, or yellow caturra, or typica, boasting some incredible and rare degrees of delicacy in the cup. 

Coffee ships from Peru typically from July-March, with the majority shipping between July and October. Fresh crop coffee is typically available starting in August.

Despite a few exceptions, Peru remains dominated by fully-washed processing. Even at the Cup of Excellence level, recent years have had scant award-winning naturals, unlike most other countries where experimental processing has started taking over the rankings. As Peru remains a smallholder-processed ecosystem of coffee producers, widescale processing tweaks such as we’ve seen in southern Colombia that can affect more than a few bags of coffee are still rare. That said, we have recently contracted more than a full container of flavorful naturals produced in Piura–so it is happening. But most roasters are still completely unfamiliar with what a non-fully washed coffee from Peru might taste like.

Peru’s coffee is uniquely delicious in the cup, affordable compared to other origins’ mid-level specialty qualities, and there is what feels like an endless potential of small farmers and producing communities to experience. The origin offers large volumes of certified coffees, reliably shipped each year with little difficulty across a wide spread. Peru is also a source of well-produced arabica heirlooms that are disappearing in most of Latin America’s coffee origins, or which can’t achieve the same high-grown expressiveness in Brazil.

No. Average well-made specialty coffee from Peru is bright but in balance, with acids that clarify and articulate earthier or fruitier flavors, rather than scream on their own, resembling a more herbal Guatemala. We rarely encounter Perus as acid-forward as washed Yirgacheffes, or Kenyas, or Rwandas, but they are certainly bright nonetheless. Coffees with fuller mouthfeels also tend to resist textures of ashiness when roasted dark, so many roasters utilize Perus in blends and darker roasts for their sweetness and neutrality, which ends up being an association with the terroir. 

In our opinion, this is because it has few opportunities to stand out: Peru has the disadvantage of a summer (to Americans) harvest schedule, arriving after many roasters have already booked all their washed milds, and Africas, for the year. Add to this the fact that while cooperatives do often have excellent traceability, the coffees are rarely differentiated lot by lot, so much of the coffee on the market tends to look generic.The Cup of Excellence only began hosting in Peru in 2017, and the country has taken few opportunities to promote itself via private auctions, courting barista competitors, etc., which are often how origins develop a high specialty image. As many Peru buyers understand, however, this only means the country’s coffee has a long, long future of quality exploration ahead.