Hi everyone. I’d like to introduce our new Coffee Hunter, Mr. Paul Massard, by posting his travel summary of our latest trip to Peru. Paul joined us this spring and you’ll be hearing lots more from him in the coming months and years.
Paul will have his own “Bean Hunter” blog on our new website in the near future. But for now, please read his interesting notes regarding Peru.
Our Visit to Lima by Paul Massard
Our trip started with worries that the Peruvian miners were going to be on strike and demonstrating by blockading the highly used streets in and out of Lima, but we got word the day we were to leave that the strike had been settled and the roads were free and clear to travel on, so we were on our way to continue our search for the best coffees in the world.
The trips began with Danny O’Neill, Ben Cohoon from the Arbor Day foundation and I catching a mid morning flight to Atlanta which would then connect to our 8 hour flight into Lima. Upon landing in Lima it seemed that we were just so ready to be there that everyone and everything was moving in slow motion. We joked that the other people on our plane were already at their hotels and had long gone to sleep, while we were still standing around the airport. After what seemed to be eternity waiting to clear customs and waiting for our luggage, we finally arrived at our Hotel close to 1 A.M. We had planned on meeting our host, in the lobby at 8 am to have a quick breakfast then catch our bus. We had planned this thinking that the bus to Chachamayo, the central coffee growing region of Peru, was leaving at 9:30. Once we got up and started preparing ourselves for the 10 hour bus ride we had ahead of us, we got a call from our host saying that somehow we were mistaken about the departure time and that the bus actually left Lima at 8:00 a.m. So, we rushed out the door and gave the cab driver the paper with the address that we had for the bus station. Apparently, much to our dismay Lima “supposedly” has three different bus stations which somehow also share the same address. After about 25 minutes in the cab, the cab driver looks again at the directions and realizes that he is taking us to the wrong one. At this point it is 5 min to 8 and he tells us that the bus station is about another 20 minutes back in the direction that we had just come from. At this point we were praying for a miracle and discussing other methods to get to get to our destination, if the bus had left before we would arrived there. When we finally got to the station we were not surprised to see that the bus had in fact left without us. But luckily the woman at the terminal was able to contact the bus and have it wait across town. When we finally reached the bus and saw that it was there and waiting for us we were all pretty relieved. The bus attendant told us that we had 20 minutes to roam around before the bus was to depart. We decide that after all this commotion, what we really needed was a cup of coffee. The coffee that we had was very different to anything that I have ever experienced; it was a mug of hot water and alongside came a small metal pitcher of coffee concentrate, which Danny figured was prepared in a sock. I will say that although it was different it was great to actually taste some Peruvian coffee. The bus ride to the Chachamayo was very scenic; as we went through three completely different climates. First, we went through very dry, desert like mountains and then climbed up to 15,000 feet where there were icicles on the side of the road and the pressure on your head and on your body from the altitude could definitely be felt. It also seemed that we could just reach out the window and touch the snow on the tops on the mountains, they seemed so close. Then the trip got interesting, we were going through winding roads with amazing views of waterfalls and jagged cliffs. At times it seemed that the back tires of the bus were going to just slide off the edge of the road and we would find ourselves on the wrong side of gravity. Once we made it safely into the town of Chachamayo the bus dropped everyone off and we decided that we would all go out for a nice dinner. After asking our very friendly and helpful hotel manager, Elmer, where his favorite place in town to go was, we were off to sample what Peru had to offer. After a crazy little auto rickshaw ride, that I will say was pretty darn crazy, we finally got to the restaurant. Which was a small outdoor place called the “Parrilla” with little tables covered by umbrellas. Once we were seated we ordered a variety of the local beers and all sampled each others to see if there was one that we preferred the most. As we were all starving at this point, Danny ordered an appetizer of what looked like tasty meat skewers on the menu. I looked at description and asked him if he knew what he had ordered. He looked at the menu and once he realized what it was he looked at me and we decided not to tell anyone until the dish arrived. What he had ordered was a trio of pig hearts, cow intestines and chicken livers. Once we all had a good laugh over it, we decided to go ahead and give it a try it. I will have to say, much to my surprise, that the heart was a little chewy but other than that everything was very tasty. After a great meal we all hopped in the auto rickshaws and prepared ourselves for another crazy ride back to the hotel, at this point I made the first mistake of not negotiating with the rickshaw driver on the fare before hand and we ended up paying almost 3 times what it had cost us to originally get from the hotel. But it was ok, after a small argument we decided that the fun of the argument was worth the extra dollar and paid them what they wanted.
The next day we all awoke early and were very excited because it was the first coffee day of the trip. All that traveling had finally paid off and we were in store for a great day. We started the day off meeting with the board members of the La Florida Coffee Cooperative. There, we were escorted into their “Mini Pentagon” and were treated to a great history lesson as well as a great discussion about their cooperative; which is made up of 1780 members, or separate farms, who of which 915 are specialty coffee producers. We discovered that 90 percent of their farms were Certified Organic as well as a large percentage of them also being Certified Shade Grown. We also talked a lot about how they are helping the communities in which their farming members live. By improving the infrastructure, setting up medical centers, running electricity, helping them source potable water, introducing micro financing and teaching classes to children as well as adults on the practices of sustainable coffee farming. We also talked about how they are seeing how their climate is changing and is affecting their crop. They believe that it is due to all the deforestation that has occurred in the area, we also talked well about how they were helping the farmers in their efforts to reforest their lands. After our wonderful chat and amazing cup of coffee we were off with Alberto our tour guide for the trip. After a wonderful and scenic hour long ride through the jungle we were finally at our first coffee farm and I will say that it was amazing. There, I got to taste my first coffee cherry, which I believe to be very similar to the taste of a juicy grape, but instead of chewing it, it’s much like hard candy where you have to suck on the beans to get the flavor. While at the farm, the owner, a German missionary who had traveled with his wife to Peru 15 years ago gave us a very nice tour of his farm as well as invited us into his home for an interesting cup of coffee as well as some interesting conversation. I’d say that we all thought that he had different views on coffee and was more interested in discussing the types of wood he had built his home and fences with. After we said our goodbyes we were on our way to the Finca San Lorenzo, when we arrived we were greeted by the farm owner a very nice Peruvian woman named Sonilda who was carrying her young daughter of 8 months. We must have caught them off guard because they were on their way to meet the rest of their family who were further up the mountain to cut firewood from a tree that had recently fallen. Once we spent some time on her farm and had the chance to take some pictures we gave them a ride up the mountain and we were off to visit the wet mill. This is where the farmers bring the coffee that they have harvested that day to be sold to the cooperative, so that it can be processed. We were told that work at the wet mill started at 5 in the afternoon and went well into the morning. As we looked around I was surprised as to how clean everything was. We also had a chance to look around and see their huge production in regards to the fermentation tanks, the machinery they use to separate the different qualities of beans, how they classify them then, sort the beans as they are processed as well as how they make the organic compost with these little tiny worms. We were then taken into the small town next to the mill and up to the school house where the cooperative was holding its sustainable farming classes. Once there, we were able to talk to some of the students, some who had traveled up to 25 plus hours by bus to be there. As well as take some pictures and get a tour of their chicken coop and to our surprise their Guinea pig farm. This is when we were all informed that they don’t consider these little guys to be pets but as tasty little dishes. After the tour Alberto took us back to town where we decided to have dinner. I will say that I was a little intrigued about this Guinea pig dish and decided, when in Rome. During this time Danny was telling us a story about when he was younger he had a guinea pig named Albert as a pet, who when passed away, they had stuffed and placed on the mantle. So, much to Danny’s dismay, I will say it was extremely delicious and very similar to the texture and taste of rabbit.
The next day which was the last day we were to spend in Chachamayo, we were picked up by Alberto at our hotel and took a short ride over to the La Florida drying mill. Once through the doors to the mill I was amazed as to all of the families on the patios tending to their coffee, especially on a Sunday. We were told that the families get a little bit more money for their coffee if they take it through the drying process before selling it, instead of just dropping off their freshly picked cherries. We were taken inside the mill where they have these huge dryers called Gardiolas in which they put the milled coffee into, in order bring the moisture content from 40 percent to about 16 percent. Then we were then taken into their huge holding warehouse where they rest the coffee for 25 days before it is shipped out. Once we finished the tour of the inside of the facilities we were taken to the actual patios in which they lay the coffee on the concrete to finish drying process and bring the moisture content down to 12 percent. We all were given the chance to work the patios and also have some fun. We had a race to see who could rake the coffee the fastest as well as made some coffee “angels”, think snow angels. Then, we asked if we could help them out and shovel the coffee that was finished drying into a pile. After about 20 minutes of shoveling our shirts were drenched with sweat but he had about 17 bags of dried green coffee stacked up, that were ready to be bagged and taken into the holding warehouse. After taking pictures with our “mountain” of coffee one of the women who was drying her coffee nearby offered us a small bag of oranges, which I will say tasted great and at that point were very refreshing. We gave her a Roasterie shirt in exchange and were very touched by her generosity. After our time at the mill we had the afternoon to do as we pleased so we had Alberto drop us off at the town square where the local school children were selling food in order to raise money for their school. After walking around the open air markets and sitting for a while at the town square. We started talking to some of the school children, who turned out to be hilarious. We then decided that we should do something touristy. After inquiring at a tour booth what there was to do around the town that afternoon, one of the other tour operators Alfonzo came up to us and gave us his brochure. As we were all discussing our possibilities he came back up to us and tried to talk us into going canyoning, he talked us into following him to see the video about canyoning and once seeing it we decided that white water rafting was more our style. We came to this conclusion only after Alfonzo assured Danny that the water was not that cold. So, we went to change clothes and returned to catch an auto rickshaw to the restaurant where the boat was leaving from. Once we are there Alfonzo told us that the guides would be back in 15 minutes and that we would go as soon as they returned. After about 5 beers and about an hour and a half, he was still sticking to his story that it will only be a few more minutes. During our wait, Alfonzo divulges to us that the water is actually very cold due to the fact that it comes from the melting snow and ice on the top of the mountains, we can all see that Danny is not happy with this news. At that moment we see the people come back from their ride and they are damp at most. So, we figure that it wasn’t really going to be a problem due to the fact that they barely got wet, and decided that would be fine. After getting a small instruction on what to do if we were to fall into the water we were off on our little adventure. I would guess that about 10 minutes into this hour long rafting ride Danny and I who were on the front of the boat were 100 percent soaking wet. But, after a few minutes we forgot about the cold as some of those rapids were huge. Once we were done we were picked up by this orange 4 door car about the size of a Honda Civic. This was a little odd as there were 6 of us as well as a 12 foot rafting boat. As soon as we were all packed in and the boat was tied to the roof, we realized that there was something wrong with the cars exhaust, due to the fact that we were all about to pass out from the carbon monoxide seeping in from the muffler. Not soon after we took off we were stopped by the local police, who much to our dismay deemed us safe for travel and let us go on our way. After the crazy ride back to the hotel, we all showered and went back into town for a nice dinner. During dinner we ran into Alfonzo, the tour operator, and he suggested that we go over to a disco in the next town over for a few drinks. Danny decided that he would rather go back to the hotel, so the rest of the group was off to experience a small town Peruvian disco. We were there a little early as we were 3 of 7 people there, but soon after, the place was jam packed with people dancing, drinking and having a good time. In just a short time after we arrived, the place was so packed it was hard to move, so we decided that we had, had enough and it was time to go. On our way out I decide that it would be a good idea to try some of the local sidewalk fare, as I got my little meat and potato on a stick, the women asked if I would like some hot sauce to go along with it. I asked her if it was really, really hot, she looked at me and said no not at all, I again asked her if it were ok for an American and she laughed and said it was fine. Well let me tell you, this nice lady had either burnt off all her taste buds as a child or was a liar. As soon as I got into the taxi, my mouth was on fire, it had to be one of the spiciest things I have ever had consumed and I tend not to be a wuss about spicy foods.
After a good night’s rest we all met downstairs to catch the taxi that would take us to the bus station. Once we arrived at the station we found the bus going to Lima and without thinking gave the attendant our bags and boarded. Luckily someone was sitting in my seat, thinking that they had oversold the bus I asked the bus driver and when he looked at my ticked he looked at me and said. Well you’re at the wrong bus station then looked at his watch and said, your bus is probably gone as it was scheduled to leave at exactly 11 and it was now 11:05. So we rushed off the bus, got our bags and found the woman in charge of the busses. We asked her if she could call the other station to see if our bus was still there. As we are rushing out to find a taxi, she gets a hold of the company and tells us that the bus is again, waiting for us on the side of the road and that we should take a taxi to it. Once we finally got on the right bus we had a great, but long trip back into Lima. On our flight back into the states, Danny and I were lucky enough to have the exit row seats which made sleeping just a little bit easier. But when we arrived in Atlanta we were told that we would have to wait on the plane as a few of the passengers were demonstrating Swine Flu like symptoms and that the health department was on its way. Luckily they did not make us wait until the health department arrived and let us off the plane and away from the sick people, from there we had a great trip back to Kansas City.
After this trip I will never forget what Norm had told me before we left, he said that after your first trip to origin you will be hooked and want to work in coffee for the rest of your life and I will tell you that he was 100% correct. I also realized that this business is not all about buying the best coffees in the world; it’s about how we can help the farmers who have that amazing coffee by paying just a little bit more for it and seeing how that little bit more affects them as well as their communities.