Are you wondering exactly what Peruvian coffee really is and why you’ve never heard of it? Why is it that Peru is the second largest exporter of coffee in South America, second only to Columbia and yet many coffee drinkers around the world are like, “Peru? Do they farm anything other than llamas?” While llamas are an integral part of the Peruvian economy, so too is coffee, but why are we just finding this out?
Why is it that some of the world’s finest Arabicas hail from this nation, situated just south of Columbia and we don’t even know they exist? We have our theories, and part of it is all the tv commercials over so many years of that mythical Juan Valdez Columbian coffee farmer. Did he exist? No one knows for sure, but all that money spent on television marketing only served to overshadow what their neighbours to the south were doing, and a very fine job of it at that! So then, with that said, we think it's time to get acquainted with Peruvian coffee beans that will blow you away.
A Little Bit of History Goes a Very Long Way
One of the most common misconceptions is that Peru ‘learned’ the coffee trade from Columbia. Actually, that couldn’t be farther from the truth! There is a long history here but, in reality, Peruvians were farming coffee throughout the entire 18th century while Columbia didn’t begin to produce coffee on any kind of commercial scale until the early 19th century. The key difference here is that while most Peruvian coffee was produced for domestic consumption, Columbia shot right out the gate toward international export. In other words, Peru isn’t the new kid on the block, Columbia is!
But the important point in history didn’t begin there. In short, a coffee blight abroad in nations such as Java and Sri Lanka — a disease known as coffee rust — sent Europeans searching for fertile grounds elsewhere. Peru happened to be a perfect candidate and stayed as such while England continued to invest heavily in the coffee Peruvian farmers were able to grow in largescale commercial farms funded by the English.
However, after two World Wars, and the blight healed in Europe, England pulled out of Peru, leaving farmers to make their own way in the world. At this point, the best Peruvian coffee farms were smallish, family-owned and operated farms without the major funding that had been coming from abroad. These farmers continued to do well, but on a much smaller scale than they had previously seen and smaller also than their neighbours to the north, Columbia, that began to seriously ramp up operations.
In more modern times, Peru has also been dealing with other issues such as guerilla warfare that impacted life in the nation and also Peru lacked the infrastructure that Columbia had been able to produce. So then, with waning interest among foreign investors within the previous century and new geopolitical issues affecting coffee production, they had to overcome much to get back on track. This they did, but sadly for Peru, another event surfaced that took them a few years to circumvent.
A Blight Takes Hold in Peru
Let’s continue on for just a moment so that you will understand just how coffee is largely grown in Peru today began. Peru had been growing an Arabica variety that was quite susceptible to coffee rust. In an effort to save their beloved coffee farms, they began transitioning from the Typica varietal which was extremely susceptible to the blight, to a hardier Arabica varietal, Catimor, which was highly resistant to the fungus and Peru once again was on the move in the coffee Peruvian industry.
So then, oddly the very same issue that brought Peru to the world stage of coffee production took some of that former glory away until it found a way back from the proverbial cold. Today, there is less danger of a largescale blight because Peruvian farmers are now growing much hardier stock. As a matter of fact, the coffee Peruvian farmers are best known for are of the Arabica varieties. As the 5th largest global exporter of Arabica coffees and actually the 11th largest exporter overall, Peru definitely has a place of prominence in the coffee industry. Yet, still the best Peruvian coffee beans are not as widely known as they should be.
So then, let’s move on from here. Let’s get better acquainted with the coffee Peruvian farmers are so very proud of.
A Word About Peruvian Coffee Grown Today
With so much having been said in regard to the Arabica coffee varieties commonly grown in Peru over the years, it should suffice to say that the overall flavour of Peruvian coffee would be that of a mild to moderate acidity. While this is true for the most part, there are many varietals that alter the flavour significantly and many climatic and geographical factors that affect flavours even within a single varietal.
One thing that you probably surmised by now is the fact that Peru is home to a myriad of small coffee farms and thus, Peruvian coffee is, for the most part, grown in small batches. Also, another thing that will interest natural food buffs out there is the fact that a great deal of Peruvian coffee is grown organically. Very few Peruvian farms use any kind of chemical pesticides or fertilizers which is a definite plus.
Also, it is interesting to note that a very large number of Peruvian coffee farmers have taken the time and effort to be “Fair Trade Certified.” The government and farmers have joined forces to ensure that both farmers and workers are treated fairly and ethically. Unlike many other coffee-producing nations, you will find that Fair Trade Certification is the norm in Peru, rather than the exception. This is something that appeals to a global market which is why we can expect big things from this llama-raising, coffee-growing country in South America.
Let’s Talk About Regions and Flavors – Isn’t This What You’ve Been Waiting For?
In all, there are three very distinct growing regions in Peru. These are, not so oddly, north, central and south. But believe it or not, each region produces very distinct flavour variations even among the same varietal based on where it’s grown.
Coffee from this region of Peru is broken down into subregions such as Piura, the Amazon and Cajamarca. When seeking flavour profiles for each of these areas, you could sum them up as follows:
- Piura coffee is very well-balanced and has notes of chocolate, nuts and caramel.
- The best Peruvian coffee from the Amazon is similar but heavier on the caramel with a bit of dried fruit notes as well.
- The sweetest of the Northern Peru Arabicas are produced in the Cajamarca area and are brighter and fruiter than the same varietals grown in the other two subregions.
Of all the regions in Peru, the Central region is said to be the most remarkable in that Peruvian coffee beans grown here are mostly from within the Chanchamayo Valley which lies within the Junín region of Central Peru. Neighboring Satipo has some amazing coffees as well!
- Chanchamayo Valley - Can you imagine a Peruvian blend coffee with moderate acidity but flavored with notes of chocolate, citrus, nuts and caramel?
- Satipo – Strongly acidic but with a creamy body. Many say it has a strong taste of black and yellow fruits. How exotic is that?
Some of the best Peruvian coffee beans to be found in the entire nation are produced here in Southern Peru. The can be a bit difficult to lay your hands on, but when you do, it’s sheer perfection. This region is subdivided into two very distinct subregions which are Cuzco and Puno.
- Cuzco – This is the region in which you will find those hard-to-find (if you can find them) beans. Grown here, Arabica varietals are creamy and smooth with a hint of literally every fruit you can imagine, and some you’ve yet to imagine. They grow the connoisseur’s coffee of coffees.
- Puno – A variety of specialty coffees hail from Puno but they are said to have tropical top notes with caramel underneath. A Peruvian blend coffee does well with just about anything grown in this area for that very reason – smooth and well-balanced with exotic top notes.
He Who Laughs Last Laughs Best
While Peru was really the first major coffee producer in South America, a little over 100 years into their history of coffee production, Columbia took the lead primarily because of geopolitical factors. As a result, for the past hundred plus hears, Columbia stole the spotlight, but Peruvian coffee has so much to offer that it’s time to hop back onto the world stage.
Even though Peru hasn’t done nearly the amount of marketing that Columbia has, they have other things going for them that take precedence in the world market. That would be their focus on being strongly into the Fair Market Trade and organic farming which is ultimately the most desirable among consumers today. It may not yet be time to say move over neighbors to our north, but it surely is time to start remembering that “He who laughs last, last best.” What do you say about Peruvian coffee? If you haven’t tried it, you are in for a real treat!