Peru is rich in diversity. From the Amazon jungle to golden beaches, from the soaring Andes mountain range to one of South America’s largest lakes, it has a huge variety of landscapes and climates. And the same could be said for its coffee.
Peru is the world’s 11th-biggest coffee producer, but it offers far more than just quantity. It has ten different producing regions, all with their own unique cup profiles. To find out more about them, I spoke to the team at Caravela Coffee.
Lee este artículo en español Una Guía a Los Perfiles de Las Regiones Cafetaleras de Perú
Producer Santos Casimiro Huancas Julca from Caserío El Corazón. Credit: Caravela Coffee
Peruvian Coffee: Challenges & Potential
Coffee plays an important role in Peru’s economy. It provides an economic income to around 223,000 Peruvian families, and in 2017, was the country’s second-biggest agricultural export by value.
Miguel Sanchez, Caravela Coffee’s Country Manager in Peru, tells me that most farms are around three hectares in size. “Here in Peru, the structure is made up of mostly independent coffee farmers,” he says. “Many cooperatives exist but they don’t cover much of the total system.”
There are distinct challenges facing Peruvian producers. The global coffee price crisis and climate change are two significant ones. “The climate is very changeable,” Ana Salazar, Quality Coordinator at Caravela Coffee, says. “There are times in which it shouldn’t rain [but it does], and this rain affects coffee plantations during the harvest.” Changes in rainfall patterns alter the coffee production cycle. Unpredictable rainfall kickstarts the flowering process, leading to differing ripening stages.
Harvest rain can significantly reduce coffee quality, lead to lost crops as cherries fall to the ground, and prevent an even drying of processed beans.
Miguel also tells me that in comparison with other Latin American countries, there tends to be less investment in infrastructure such as roads. “From the biggest city to… the smallest city in the producing zone, not even to the farm, it can take 10 or 12 hours,” he tells me. Many Peruvian roads only have one lane, meaning that transporting coffee can be slow, costly, and even dangerous.
With all these challenges, sometimes coca can become an attractive alternative for producers. “It’s a crop that maybe not all producers decide to cultivate, but when they see that coffee isn’t working out for them, they search for other options and find a refuge in coca, in terms of income,” Miguel tells me.
Other producers focus instead on specialty coffee. Miguel explains that as this becomes more widespread in Peru, farmers see it as a profitable alternative. Peru is well positioned for quality as the coffee is generally washed processed, up to 25% organic, and grown between 1,000 and 1,800 m.a.s.l.
In the past threats such as leaf rust led producers to turn to resistant varieties such as Catimor. However, they’re slowly starting to return to quality varieties such as Typica (which is known as Nacional by local producers), Bourbon, Caturra, Pache, and a small percentage of Catuai.
“These are the varieties that nearly always result in specialty coffees,” Miguel stresses, explaining that Caravela Coffee doesn’t buy lots of Catimor because of their astringent notes.
The return to these higher-quality coffees, he says, is driven by the market conditions. “They are realizing that betting on quality is something more solid.”
Discover more in A Crash Course to Coffee Varieties
As Peru is home to ten distinct coffee-growing regions, the country boasts a variety of flavor profiles.
Raking washed coffee beans to ensure they dry evenly. Credit: Caravela Coffee
In the north, Peru borders Ecuador and Colombia and boasts jungle, mountains, and a coastal region. It also has four coffee-producing zones.
Piura sits on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. It’s less well-known than other regions, with relatively low yields. Farming is mostly centered in the province of Huancabamba, which has elevations of 900–2,000 m.a.s.l. Typica, Caturra, and Catimor are the most common varieties.
Despite the low productivity, Ana tells me that it’s a place worth paying attention to. She says coffees from here tend to have balanced acidity, good body, and notes of chocolate, caramel, and nuts.
Next to Piura, you’ll find Cajamarca. Its biggest coffee-farming provinces, Jaén and San Ignacio, sit at 900–1,950 m.a.s.l. Typica, Caturra, and Bourbon are farmed here. The region is known for sweet coffees with bright acidity and notes of red and yellow fruits.
The region of Cutervo is also found here, with farms at 1600–2, 100 m.a.s.l. This new growing area recently switched from sugar cane to coffee, to meet changing demands. Varieties to be found here include Catimor, Pache, Bourbon, Typica, and a small amounts of Pacamara. The profiles associated with these coffees include vanilla, stone fruits, and molasses. They have medium acidity and a balanced body.
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Washed coffee beans dry on raised beds under shade. Caravela Coffee
Moving northeast, we find Amazonas. As well as being home to the world’s most famous jungle, Amazonas has seven different coffee-producing provinces. With the Andes crossing the region, elevation goes from 900–2,100 m.a.s.l.
“Profiles here have notes of dry fruits, caramel, and candy, along with a balanced body and acidity,” Ana tells me. Just like in Piura, Typica, Caturra, and Catimor are common.
Even further northeast, we come to San Martin. Ana explains that this region produces coffee similar to Amazonas, but with a medium body and notes of chocolate, nuts, and caramel.
“San Martin has a lower elevation, but it produces a lot of coffee,” she tells me. It sits on the eastern slopes of the Andes, resulting in elevations of 900–1,200 m.a.s.l., and has a tropical and sub-tropical climate.
The Quispe family in Cajamarca sort through washed coffees by hand, removing any defective ones. Credit: Caravela Coffee
Huánuco sits northeast of Lima, on the western outskirts of the Andes, giving it an elevation of 900–2,000 m.a.s.l. Its coffee-growing areas are surrounded by forests, waterfalls, caves, and diverse flora and fauna.
Typica, Caturra, and Catimor are common here (along with cacao). Ana says that she associates specialty coffee from Huánuco with notes of oranges, mandarins, and caramel, along with a defined acidity and a smooth body.
Bordering Huánuco, we find Pasco, a region that includes the Amazon jungle and the Andes. Ana says that coffee production is low here, but mainly due to the climate.
“The areas where coffee is mainly produced [within Pasco] are Villa Rica and Oxapampa, which are jungle zones at high elevations…,” she says. “The Villa Rica profile has an aroma of nuts and sweet chocolate. However, when you taste the coffee, raisins, fruits, citrus, and florals are more likely to appear, along with a defined, intense acidity and a balanced body”.
An organic chain producer from Chirinos, San Ignacio, collects dried, washed coffees from the beds. Credit: Caravela Coffee
South of Pasco lies the relatively large zone of Junin, where Caturra, Catimor, and Typica are grown in the provinces of Chanchamayo and Satipo. Elevation stretches from 900–1,800 m.a.s.l. in these two areas.
“In those zones, especially in Satipo, they have really good coffees,” Ana says. “They’re coffees with profiles of black fruits, yellow fruits, intense acidity, a creamy body, and good balance. They’re really fruity coffees with lots of chocolate and caramel too.”
Coffee producers take a break on a drying patio high in the Andes. Credit: Caravela Coffee
Southern Peru, Ana tells me, is where you can find the best conditions for organic coffee. It’s also particularly famed for its specialty lots.
In the south-east, Cuzco sits at 900–2,000 m.a.s.l. Producers here tend to grow Caturra, Bourbon, and Typica. Productivity is low, but Ana tells me that the zone’s climate and soil lead to high-quality coffees with notes of “red fruits and black fruits, plums, raisins… grapes, and also pretty strong notes of chocolate, with a creamy body and medium acidity.”
Ayacucho has an elevation of 1,600–1,900 m.a.s.l., but lower productivity than other parts of Peru. Farms tend to be centered in El Mar and Huanta, and grow Caturra and Typica. The region is newer to the production of quality coffee, however, and Ana tells me that you often find flavors of cereals, black fruits, chocolate, and caramel, with a medium body and acidity.
Last but certainly not least, we come to Puno in the south-eastern edge of the country. It borders Bolivia and has elevations of 900–1,800 m.a.s.l. Caturra, Typica, and Bourbon are the most common varieties produced here. Although the region doesn’t produce a high quantity of coffee, it’s known for its quality.
“Puno has some very interesting coffees and it’s because of its unique microclimates and varieties” Miguel says.
Ana adds that the richness of the soil leads to very complex flavors. “The coffees from Puno, they are a combination of tropical fruits like passion fruit and pineapple, with a really juicy body. They’re very sweet with notes of caramel and molasses, it’s pretty complex. There are floral notes. Specialty coffees prevail in this zone.
“They have a juicy acidity, that is to say that there is a good balance between acidity and body. It’s a pretty bright acidity and a juicy body.”
Araceli Silva ( a coffee producer) and Luis Terrones (a PECA Technician) of Caravela Coffee. Credit: Caravela Coffee
Peru has a lot to offer. Its wide range of climates and elevation creates a diverse palate of coffee profiles. From the juicy, sweet, fruity lots in Puno to the chocolate-and-caramel ones in Piura, there is something for everyone.
So next time you taste a Peruvian coffee, pay attention to where it’s from. Perhaps even try cupping samples from a few different regions in this often-overlooked country. The results might just surprise you.
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All quotes translated from Spanish.
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