Prudencio of Valle Inca, Peru on Building Trust & Community

Prudencio (Jose Prudencio Saenz Vargas) is the widely respected leader of Valle Inca in Cusco, Peru, one of our largest and most important relationships in the world. A Calca native, Prudencio grew up on a coffee farm, studied agronomy, and then went on to work as a bank loan officer before running Valle Inca—fiscal experience of critical importance to Valle Inca and the surrounding community, most of whom are smallholders averaging just 2-3 hectares each. His extreme quality focus has always been key to the group’s success. He helped Valle Inca producers move from drying coffee on plastic mats to raised beds, worked to improve drying, fermentation, and storage practices, and was the first producing partner of ours to implement GrainPro in storing parchment. He meets farmers where they are in the isolated reaches of Yanatile and Lares and works with them to produce the best coffee they possibly can for the best price they can get. What follows is a conversation with Prudencio, aired originally on the Foxhole and edited for clarity and brevity. 

Aleco: Hello and welcome to the Foxhole. Aleco Chigounis here with Ali Newcomb. Today we have one of our most special guests: our good friend José Prudencio Vargas Sáez, from Calca, Cusco. He is the leader of the Valle Inca group, which, while still being a relatively small and new group, has become the largest Red Fox sourcing partner by volume in the world. We have grown with Prudencio from 40 bags the first year, to almost 12 containers that were made last year and from there they will continue to grow. 

Welcome Prudencio! It’s a pleasure to have you here. 

Prudencio: Thank you.

Aleco: Can you tell us a little bit about how you started the Valle Inca group?

Prudencio: Yes. My name is José Prudencio Vargas Sáez, I am the son of a coffee producer, from the community Laco Llavero in the district of Yanatile, province of Calca, region of Cusco, Peru. I’ve been in the coffee industry my entire life. I was born on a coffee farm named Tomas Huato in Laco Llavero. Later I studied agriculture in a Salesian school. Coffee is my life. It’s my life, it’s my world, it’s what I do, and it makes me feel good. All of my family are coffee producers. There are coffee producers in my community that have really suffered from low prices in the past and been totally abandoned when prices were low. All of that is what inspired me to start Valle Inca.

Aleco: What year did you start the association? 

Prudencio: In the year 2015 and in our first year we sold just 20 quintals of coffee to Red Fox. It’s been six years since Valle Inca started taking form, but four since we had full legal status.

Aleco: How many producers did you start with?

Prudencio: We started with just five producers in the Yanatile Valley. Among them, we have Mr. Agustin Ccasa, Juan Jose, Eddy Robles, and other coffee producers that didn’t really believe in an organization like this at the beginning. Just like any other startup, there’s not much credibility early on. But by 2017, we were working with 50 coffee producers. In 2018, we worked with about 127 producers. And currently we are working with 260 coffee producers.

Aleco: That is incredible, Prudencio—congratulations!

Ali: How was the process for you, because you were a loan officer at Agrobanco (agrarian bank) before that, no?

Prudencio: Yes.

Ali: You were working with the coffee producers then but making agricultural loans. And from there, you went on to start Valle Inca.

Prudencio: Yes, that’s right. The thing is that I have been involved in agriculture my entire life. Beginning with where I was born, where I went to school, and leading up to the moment that I worked with Agrobanco making loans to coffee producers. It’s a different world and very helpful experience, and in parallel I was working with the organization that is now Valle Inca, but with a small amount of coffee. The financial experience has helped a lot. 

Ali: What have been some of the challenges? You started with only 20 quintals your first year and just five coffee producers, and now you have grown to a large organization, exporting a lot of coffee—more than 15 containers per year. What challenges have you faced in that process?

Prudencio: The main challenges are, paying a sustainable price to the coffee producer, obtaining high quality coffee, and being able to reach new coffee producers. And to fstablish equity so the producer, the intermediary, and the consumer are happy: that is the challenge that Valle Inca set out to achieve. 

But the biggest challenge in Peru is always getting fair prices for the producers. The next one, is the quality. That for us, is very important. The quality is very important, to look for, to research more. Find more producers, to understand the altitudes, the varieties, the genetics. Coffee is its own world, a world that millions of families depend on. All of that is the work we do. 

Ali: Regarding quality, I think we all recognize that you have been very successful, and just a moment before this meeting we drank a spectacular coffee from Combapata. 

Prudencio: I am drinking a coffee from Alto de Cedruyoc, from Emilio Gutierrez. It’s early coffee from the 2021 harvest.

Aleco: Very good.

Ali: Prudencio, I know Valle Inca plays a big role in the community, more than just buying coffee. Can you tell us a little bit about that role and how this has played a part in facing the pandemic?

Prudencio: As you said, Valle Inca is not just an organization that buys and sells coffee. Our goal is to find a sustainable future for the community. We work to be calm and coordinated in our decision making, and that was key during the pandemic to maintain trust and support the community. At Valle Inca we keep our word. We fulfilled everything we committed to and focused our resources on producer needs. If someone needs a loan, we have to find a way to do it, whether we have the resources or not to support them in their hardest moments. Now we have to look after health issues, social effects. For example, right now we’re working to get psychologists for the producers, so they can improve their mental health and quality of life. We’re also responsible for finding a good price for them, to offer them that stability. In turn, they do the best work they can offer. 

That all helped us a lot through the pandemic. 2020 was a very difficult year, but as a collective I have to thank Red Fox, and your clients for the donation you made to us. It all adds up. Here in Peru, we were lucky to be able to look for help from the municipalities and NGOs to help all the producers: with staple goods, mainly to cover the food needs. At the moment, we are working full force disseminating information to gain the producers’ trust, and to improve their trust in the clients and the entire chain.

Aleco: What would you say have been the main achievements of the cooperative since you started?

Prudencio: Of course, when we started in 2015, Valle Inca sold 20 quintals, and never in our lives could we have imagined selling 5,000-6,000 quintals of coffee per year. Every year we set a goal, evaluating, analyzing, and measuring production factors and risks. The biggest achievements have been growing and selling more coffee, and selling coffee that was of a high quality, for the consumer, for everyone really. We want coffee we are all happy with. That’s the goal. We’re also proud of working on the social aspects, the collaborative association that we manage. To gain producers’ trust and always keep our word with them. 

Ali: That’s a great answer. Prudencio, I wanted to ask you this, because you are one of the people who does this the best. What is the key to having a good relationship and communication with the producers?

Prudencio: In summary: trust. The trust that exists between us and the producers. At the end of the day, we are a family, we are the Valle Inca family. That the workers at Valle Inca can feel at home, that they can feel that we are siblings, someone they can count on to share their weaknesses or their sad stories, everything: trust. A resounding trust like with Red Fox—just like we can trust Aleco not just to keep his word but to let us know if there’s a mistake we’re making, that’s part of trust with the producers as well, what mistakes are we making, and how we can improve, and all that. In that way we can all build  trust. That is the key to building an association. And of course, to keep our word.

Ali: Well, I love working with you. All of that work shows in how everything flows and you do an incredible job as a team, with the producers as well as with your employees, and with Red Fox, because you are always very direct, you are very transparent, and you make things flow very well.

Aleco: Yes, the communication has always been open and direct with you. That is fundamental, to be able to have a good relationship in this industry.

Prudencio: It’s very important. For example, in the beginning, we are very thankful to Red Fox because if Red Fox didn’t exist, Valle Inca wouldn’t exist either, and if there weren’t coffee producers, Red Fox wouldn’t exist either. Inca Valley is on the producer side, and all of us, we all fill a gap in this supply chain. What we have to do is improve every day, to increase the production area of ​​the producers, and continue to improve the genetics in the coffee in Peru. That is the main goal. We also have the goal of winning international competitions, national competitions, to continue being a transparent company, and to sell quality coffee.

Aleco: Excellent, Prudencio! Do you have any questions for us?

Prudencio: First of all, I want to thank Aleco for the trust, because when I started Valle Inca, we were very young. We were young and we didn’t know exactly what to do at every turn, and maybe we made mistakes, but we learned from that. Thanks to Red Fox for helping us out all these years. And for being an institution that we trust fully, because you’ve helped us grow, and have helped a lot of other businesses grow and organizations and cooperatives in Peru, in Puno, in Cusco, Cajamarca, and other places in the world. I would like to ask you if you are happy working with Valle Inca?

Aleco: Truly Prudencio, it is my pleasure completely … well, ours. We both made mistakes in the beginning. I wasn’t as young as you were. But just like you, learning to manage a business. It has been a great experience. There is a line, where you can see how much Valle Inca has grown, and how much Red Fox has grown. And they are parallel. And truly I feel like you and I, we have grown together in this, but it’s not only Aleco at Red Fox, as you know better than anyone, with Ali, with Carina, managing everything there. We both have very strong teams, and having this partnership has been a great pleasure for me. I am more than happy, let me tell you.

Prudencio: Thank you, thank you Aleco, for all your trust, I want to celebrate your team, it is exceptional, and it is very important, there you have Carina, Ali, Aleco, some others that I know, Jajaira, who helps us so much, with our exports and more. We have to keep going forward, continue supporting the producers. Everyone, keep drinking Valle Inca coffee, Cusco coffee, and Peruvian coffee. Thank you!

Aleco: To you!

Ali: Thank you very much Prudencio. It’s always a pleasure talking to you, and I am very thankful for your trust, and for being here, and being able to share with everyone.

Prudencio: Of course, thank you.

Aleco: Ok Prudencio, I’ll see you soon, in June for sure.

Prudencio: Thank you, thank you!

To learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.

Newsletter: Harvest Update & Delivery Schedule Peru 2016/2017

Greetings from the Fox Den, where we are in the thick of the South American shipping season. Lots from Colombia and Peru that we approved earlier this fall are starting to arrive on both coasts, and we’re sprinting to keep up with the influx of new samples from later in the harvest. In Colombia, where the harvest season lasts much longer, our offerings are spread out more evenly and ship more consistently. We already have coffees available in the warehouses on both coasts and will continue to ship a couple of containers per month throughout the winter. The buying season in Peru is much more intense and compressed. With our primary focus on the southern departments of Cusco and Puno, the vast majority of what we buy is from the peak harvest in August/September/October. Our time is devoted to filtering and approving Peru samples in both Lima and Berkeley from September through November. We just received our last batch of Peru offer samples in our Berkeley lab and, if all goes according to plan, we’ll finish cupping and send our instructions to the cooperatives by the end of this month.

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2016 POST-HARVEST REVIEW

We have put a new system of filtering samples in place in Peru for the 2016 harvest. It’s designed to make us more efficient at analyzing and approving samples, bulking lots and selecting micro lots, and, perhaps most importantly, at ensuring that stable coffees are milled, packaged, and shipped in the most timely manner.

The work begins with our field agent, Tibed Yujra, who is based in Puno and engages daily with the producers, cooperative leaders, millers, and exporters that we work with in Peru. Beginning right around the halfway point of the harvest season, Tibed begins collecting parchment samples from receiving stations throughout southern Peru. He takes physical measurements of all the samples to analyze water activity and moisture content, and excludes any samples that fall outside our specs. After this initial filtering, we meet up with Tibed in Lima to conduct a first round of cupping. All the coffees that we determined are “clean” at that point are brought back to the Berkeley lab for final analysis, where they are again measured for water activity and moisture content and cupped for a final time. It’s at this point that we determine which lots should be kept separate as micro lots, and which can be bulked by cooperative or region. Results and milling instructions are immediately sent back to the the cooperatives, and coffees are dispatched to be prepared for shipment. Tibed is waiting for these lots as they enter the dry mill to assure that a proper job is done. So far we’ve found this new system to be faster and better organized, and we’ve trimmed 2-3 weeks off of the entire process compared to last season.

Storage conditions for our coffees in Peru are ideal. The coffees are kept in very dry, cool climes prior to milling — between 2800 masl (Andahuaylas) and 3400 masl (Juliaca) — and most coffee is milled in Juliaca itself. Many of you who have bought Peruvian coffees from us in the past have remarked at the impressive longevity of these lots. We think the explanation is the excellent milling and storage conditions, along with Tibed’s ability to move coffee from the interior to the dry mill to port at what seems like the speed of light.

We spent time this season trying to solve the water activity issues that plagued some of our coffees from the 2015 harvest, and on our first trip to Peru this year we discovered some excessively fast drying practices in La Convencion, Cusco. Coffees were being dried on patios in direct sun in just 3 to 4 days and, while the coffees were reaching the proper moisture content in that time, it was wreaking havoc on the stability of those coffees. Even drying is more important for overall longevity and quality than a target moisture level, and water activity is a far greater measure of stability for us for this reason. We find that drying coffee at such an extreme rate doesn’t allow for an even distribution of water within the coffee bean, and we think slower drying times — we recommend a minimum of 8 days — equate to lower water activity, a longer lifespan, and greater freshness for green coffee.

At our request, the cooperative in La Convencion has installed raised beds in most of the washing stations they operate, and they are covering the parchment at midday to protect it from the ultra-intense sun. Where raised beds couldn’t be installed in time this season, they are drying parchment in larger piles to slow down the drying times. Overall, the results are markedly improved. We have adhered to a strict protocol with water activity this season, and only accept coffees that measure between 0.50 and 0.59. All coffees shipped this season are within this range.

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CUSCO

Cusco is the future. It’s like a brand new origin for the ultra quality-focused buyers out there. We’ve written before about the monumental implosion of the old cooperative union. Now a handful of new cooperatives have risen from its ashes, and they’re looking to connect with the specialty market. We have built strong relationships with two of these cooperatives, and hope that more will come with future harvests.

Altitude in Cusco is supreme. I don’t know a region in Peru that has more 2000+ masl producing zones. Scratch that. I don’t know another coffee producing region in the world with as much 2000+ masl coffee. Our focus to date has been in the La Convencion area of Cusco, an absolutely gigantic swath of coffee-producing land. We’ve spent days on end driving in and around the producing valleys within La Convencion, seeking out the hidden crevices. They are the most epic areas in the coffee lands that I know.

The two cooperatives we currently work with in the department of Cusco are both on the southern end of La Convencion. Though they seem close to one another on the map, the distance between is quite far in reality. They’re separated by a rugged 10+ hour drive across altitudes upwards of 15,000 ft.

On one end of the journey, just over the Cusco/Apurimac border, is the Incahuasi Valley. The valley has an otherworldly beauty, like being on another planet. The feeling of escape from the rest of the world out there is unlike any other place I know. It’s just the producing community, the coffee, and us when we visit. No interruptions. After a long hiatus buying from this group, we got back into the swing of things two years ago. The connection between the producers, the cooperative leaders, and Red Fox is strong, and this year they will be our largest provider in all of Peru.

The three main communities within the Incahuasi Valley are Pacaybamba, Amaybamba, and San Fernando. Each has its own centralized wet mill where producers can deliver their cherry. A smaller portion of the associated farmers process cherry at their own farms in a similar fashion to what you’d encounter in Colombia: manual depulping, fermentation in small tanks or buckets, washing by hand, and drying on raised beds. Baseline altitude for most of the valley is 1900 masl, and the peaks above San Fernando are home to some of the 2200-2300 masl farms. Being isolated from most other coffee production in Peru means that the farms in Incahuasi are planted almost exclusively with Caturra and Typica. Small pockets of Bourbon still exist as well.

At the other end of the long drive is Quillabamba, Santa Teresa, home to the Sacred Valley itself. The cooperative we work with in Santa Teresa is just 12km from Machu Picchu. While visiting farms this past June, Joel, Tibed and I were introduced to farms hidden along a secret trail built as an escape path down the backside of the old Inca fortress. The path was “discovered” by the western world in the 1980s, but was well known and farmed by three generations of producers whose coffee we now buy. Altitudes are enormous here as well, exceeding 2100 masl at the top of this path and in the region in general. Small pockets of Bourbon and Pache can be found in greater Santa Teresa, though, like in Incahuasi, Caturra and Typica still reign supreme.

Wrapping up our second year of work with these folks, it’s safe to say that there is a lot of room for improvement, both in the infrastructure for coffee storage and drying and in the organization. A prior history of commodity buying means that this producing culture is just beginning to learn about and be motivated by quality. But we believe in the potential here, and we think this season’s offerings make that potential clear.

 

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PUNO

I would love to have started this segment by saying that if Cusco is the future for Red Fox, then Puno is our old faithful. Unfortunately, the entire Sandia Valley, home to all coffee production in the department of Puno, has been ravaged by roya. In light of the large risk that roya presents, many producers have pulled up their coffee trees and replanted their farms with coca, which has a higher monetary value compared to coffee, and yields multiple harvests in a single year. The producers who have maintained their coffee production are delivering a third or even a quarter of the volume they used to produce.

If there’s good news in Puno this year, it’s that the farmers who have stayed true to coffee have galvanized their communities towards a greater commitment to coffee production. The Inambari Valley in particular, home to the Inambari and Tupac Amaru cooperatives, is still producing strong volumes of beautiful coffees. The San Isidro and San Ignacio areas of Tunkimayo are still producing beautiful coffees as well. Staying true to our commitment to these producers has allowed us to increase the volume of our purchases from 650 bags in 2015 to 800 bags this year. It’s not much coffee in the grand scheme of things, but we hope that number will grow as harvests stabilize and yields increase.

Though the climate in Puno may be slightly wetter than Cusco, the peak altitudes are similar. The Sandia Valley is home to a wealth of 1900+ masl coffee. Caturra and Typica are the common varietals, though Bourbon plays an even stronger role in the genetic makeup of coffee here, thanks to a UN-funded replanting project in the 1980s.

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QUALITY

What we love most about Peruvian coffees are their unique flavor profiles. These are not Colombias and they’re not Bolivias. I’m hardpressed to compare Peruvian profiles to any other origin, unless it’s those floral Bourbons that remind me that the Ethiopian harvest is just around the corner.

Many of you have bought Puno coffees from us before, as that is the region that really put Red Fox on the map when it comes to Peru. These coffees are so so sweet, creamy, and balanced, with crisp but subtle malic acidity and elegant dark fruit character. ‘Honeycrisp apple’, ‘raisin,’ and ‘creme brulee’ are common descriptors for me. I’ve always found these coffees to be crowd-pleasers at well-roasted production levels. And they behave well in blends with other coffees, too. Punos are versatile and built to last for the long haul through winter.

The Cusco coffees are the lively ones, showing off that racy, ripe-fruit character that is so appealing on the cupping table. The Incahuasi lots demonstrate the whole range of yellow fruits from peach to mango, along with dried fruit notes of golden raisin and apricot. The sweetness of these profiles runs from brown sugar to wildflower honey. These are our brightest coffees from this origin.

I can’t stress enough that these are the coffees that always surprise people in late spring, when they help to bridge the gap between the winter menu and the arrival of new crop centrals. The high-altitude storage, swift shipping, and our extra attention to ensuring stability make these coffees something to count on year after year.

DELIVERY SCHEDULE

The first wave of shipments has arrived on both coasts and will be clearing into Continental Terminals and The Annex in the next week or so. These coffees were dry-milled and packaged in Juliaca at 3400 masl in early October before being sent to the port in Lima.

The second wave of shipments, which represents the bulk of our purchases from both regions, is either afloat or in the dry mill now, and will begin arriving on both coasts in early December. The second shipment of Puno coffees was milled in Juliaca in mid-November. The second wave of Cusco lots was prepared under Tibed’s careful supervision in Lima. These coffee spent a total of 12 days in Lima before being loaded and shipped from Callao.

A third and final shipment, exclusively from Puno, will ship in December. This coffee will also be milled and packaged at 3400 masl in Juliaca and will arrive just after the new year.

Most of the coffees on offer are organic certified, and many also have Fair Trade certification. Please inquire with us about which lots are certified.

Newsletter: Peru 2015 Shipment & Delivery Update

Back when Red Fox Coffee Merchants was still a daydream of mine, one of my more lucid visions was that Peru would become the defining origin for a nascent sourcing business. No other producing country fulfills the core ideals of our mantra so seamlessly: coffee-producing communities so far off the grid that they have been left behind by much or all of the specialty market; quality that has the potential to change the way people think about coffee. Getting around Peru is more difficult than any other origin I’ve ever worked in. And, yes, that includes Ethiopia, Indonesia, and everywhere else. The south is particularly tricky to traverse. Each trip involves several flights, dozens of hours in the car, challenging hikes to get in and out of the producing valleys. Visiting one farmer often takes an entire day.

Being a coffee farmer from the Sandia Valley in Puno or from Incahuasi or Huadquina in Cusco is as grueling a proposition as anywhere I’ve seen. Note the photo of Ciriaco Quispe and his homemade wooden cart, which holds 2 bags of parchment coffee — bags that weigh somewhere around 40kg each. Ciriaco’s farm is a 90 minute hike off of the main road on a rugged dirt trail at what feels like a 90-degree angle, and it yields roughly ten 69kg bags of 1st quality exportable green coffee a year. Let’s use the standard translation of 70% parchment to 1st quality green to estimate that Ciriaco makes this trip at least 12 times a season to deliver all his coffee to the mill. This is the standard for coffee farmers across the greater Sandia Valley.

We think it’s important for everyone to understand what the reality is for these folks. We pay a whole lot of money in Peru because we love the coffees, because we know what it takes for farmers here to deliver their coffees to market, and because we think there is even more potential to develop.

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As many of you know, Red Fox added a full-time field agent, Tibed Yujra, on the ground in Peru going into the harvest this past spring. Tibed and I have cupped together since 2009, when I first began working in the Sandia Valley of Puno. Back in those days, Tibed was Quality Control manager for the entire cooperative society that we worked with.

We brought Tibed on board to help us acheive our vision for the country. There are more obstacles to overcome in Peru than in almost any other coffee producing country in Latin America, but the potential for top quality is equally as large. What are the prerequisites that a coffee buyer looks for when venturing into new territory? Elevation? Varietals? Microclimate? Processing technique? Peru has everything we’re looking for and in spades. Elevations soar well over 1,800 masl across the country and reach 2,200 masl in a few specific regions. Caturra and Typica are commonly found top to bottom in the Peruvian Andes, and one of the south’s best kept secrets is the abundance of Bourbon. The Peruvian Andes are more arid than most, allowing for proper drying and storage conditions. We are often conditioning parchment at over 10,000 feet. Processing in our projects is similar to Colombia in that it’s done very simply with manual techniques. Drying on raised parabolic beds is also a commonality.

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This year Red Fox is working in three departments of Peru. Coffees from two of these regions are arriving now on both east and west coasts:

PUNO

Peru started for us in Puno. We were initially, and still are, attracted to the potential for micro lots with dramatically floral character. I sometimes refer to them as ‘Junior Yirgacheffe.’ People occasionally confuse them for Geisha. They’re neither — I mean what is? — but that delicious confusion is thanks to the United Nations. In an attempt to rejuvenate coffee production in the Sandia Valley, a UN-funded project brought the aforementioned Bourbon seed stock to producers in the region during the 80’s and 90’s.

Along with these unique, floral-driven coffees we also find coffees that are filled with fresh cream, fine chocolate, black walnut, toasted sugar and a range of fruit from red apple to apricot to raisin. They cup very solid on the table, but they brew even better. We encourage you to put these samples through your harios and kalitas after you cup. It adds perspective.

Within Puno is the Sandia Valley, which is due north of the department capital of Juliaca, saddled right up along the border of Bolivia. Within Sandia are several other valleys that we work in, from Inambari at the southern entrance to Tambopata further north. There are thousands of farmers producing in the valley, but we work with a select number who have the elevation and varietals we’re looking for. Our selection process is ultra-intensive. We’ve screened well over 1,000 samples this fall, with an approval rate of approximately 10%. We’re more strict this year than we’ve ever been when it comes to cup quality, water activity, moisture content, and physical preparation. These lots are clean and stable.

CUSCO

My very first trip to Peru was centered around an adventure to the Incahuasi Valley of Cusco. It’s a 10+ hour drive to get out there from the city of Cusco; a drive that takes you from the Department of Cusco into Apurimac before winding its way back into Cusco. It’s one of the more epic rides you can take as a coffee buyer, especially the crossing over the altiplano at 15,000 feet. Breathing is not to be taken for granted up there.

I took two trips to Incahuasi in the summer of 2006, but the outcome was disappointing. A large trade organization that was not open to outside buyers working directly with farmers pushed us out of the region. They were an immovable obstacle in the road to transparent sourcing.

In 2014 that group disintegrated, a moment I had personally been waiting for since my initial visits, and now not only are we able to trade directly with farmers in the Incahuasi Valley, but Tibed and I are focused on scouring the rest of the Department for its finest coffees. Our search has taken us to the Yanatile Valley as well as to Ocobamba and Santa Teresa. There is a treasure chest of amazing Cusco coffees that we can’t wait to bring to market in the coming years.

Elevations can reach well over 2,000 meters in the region, and there are small pockets of Bourbon to be found, along with more widespread Caturra and Typica. These coffees are exciting and demonstrate an entirely different cup profile than their neighbors to the south. The range of flavor begins with a bounty of yellow fruits from mango to peach and apricot to meyer lemon. Muscovado and darker sugars and honeys drift through the profile from start to finish.

We’re really proud of where our projects in Peru are now, and we’re very happy about the qualities we’re bringing in. These are coffees that will bring a whole lot of life to your menus throughout the winter. Please email info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com for samples.

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Newsletter: Peru Cusco Incahuasi 2014

Those of you in frequent contact with us are familiar by now with our thoughts on Peru. We think it’s the cat’s meow. We fully believe that Peru has more untapped coffee-growing potential than any other country in Latin America. Yes, Latin America in its entirety. Why? Well, maybe it’s the elevation which often reaches and exceeds 2,000 masl. Maybe it’s the areas throughout southern Peru secretly laden with Bourbon trees. Maybe it’s the shaded and garden-style growing reminiscent of Ethiopia. The honest truth is that it’s all of these pieces along with one more critical ingredient: our biggest attraction to Peru’s coffee production is that nobody has done it right yet. Nobody has put the effort into exploring the deepest producing areas of the country or spent the time developing relationships and quality. We’ve started to scratch the surface in Puno and now we’re doing the same in the farthest reaches of the La Convencion area of Cusco.

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Historically, coffee trading in Cusco has left a sour taste in the mouths of buyers who have wanted to work with any level of transparency. A beast of a “cooperative” group ruled the region for decades with an iron fist, making the trade channels too opaque and choppy to navigate with any success. Due to an odd turn of events with its leadership, the organization has recently met its end, and Cusco has essentially become a brand new producing origin in its own right. We’ve been patiently waiting for this day for years; for like 8 of ‘em.

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This subregion of the La Convencion area within Cusco is a perfect example of what motivates us at Red Fox. It’s way off the radar. It’s a 12 hour drive from town, crossing many a pass at 12,000 feet. It’s a gnarly journey to get out there, but the growing region is e-s-p-e-c-t-a-c-u-l-a-r! Bourbon, Typica, Caturra (and of course some Catimor) grow up and down the valleys from 1850-2100 masl. Farmers with strong organization are looking for an opportunity in the specialty marketplace. There are expansive vistas that remind us exactly how lucky we are. And of course, there’s superb coffee to boot. This is what we live for.

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We’ve made the treks before, during and after this past harvest. We’ve given the producers our message: the message that quality pays. The message that there is a viable future in coffee production for them should they choose to come along for the ride. I first bought coffee in La Convencion back in 2007. It changed my entire perspective on the region’s potential. Those first lots showed me that coffee in Cusco could be held in the same regard as coffees from Puno, Ecuador, Colombia and beyond. These are coffees that cup very well, but brew even better. They are full figured, creamy coffees with a profound sweetness that saturates the profile as the cup gets cooler and cooler. They are perfect winter coffees.

Travel Journal: South America Update

Perfectly ripe stone fruit. Tart green grape. Juicy red apple. Fragrant floral aromatics reminiscent of wildflower honey and Queen of the Night. Toasted pecan. Toasted almond. Macadamia. Sugars ranging from cane to muscovado, turbinado to panela. High percentage fine cacao.

These are the things we love about the very best South American coffees. And these are the coffees we’re searching tirelessly to discover. Finding them and the people who produce them is not easy, though. It’s taken years of travel and a constant focus on development to bring the top Inzas and Punos and Pichincha coffees to market the over past decade. We spend a good part of our spring, summer, and early fall making the journey to Colombia, across the border into Ecuador, down to Peru, and over the altiplano to Bolivia. We do it several times over to make sure we have a strong strategy in place, to check in during harvest time and select lots, to ensure that our work isn’t all for naught in the dry mill. It’s my favorite time of year. South America is often the overlooked continent in our specialty coffee industry. Sure, Colombia is on the radar, but Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador often are not. One of our primary aims at Red Fox is to change that; to give the smallholder farmers of these origins a voice in the marketplace.

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I’m hopping a plane to Peru in just a couple of hours and will be making the trek from Puno to Cuzco over the course of a couple weeks. The harvest is just past peak, meaning it’s the perfect time to get our spoons into some samples.

I personally have been working in the Sandia Valley of Puno for five years now, in a handful of different communities. These are the most special coffees in all of Peru, in my opinion. Elevations soar here, reaching over 2,000 masl in certain areas. Caturra and Typica are grown across the valley, but the secret here is the Bourbon. A UN-funded development project in the 80’s reintroduced Bourbon to the valley, and it’s the best explanation I have for the wild floral flavors, layered acidity, and saturated sweetness we find in the top lots.

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Cuzco was my introduction to Peruvian coffee back in 2006, but, after purchasing from an isolated community deep in the valleys of La Convencion the first year, we lost the coffee when a mega-sized cooperative took over the region and made transparent buying impossible. This year, farmers in Cuzco are once again able to trade freely and directly, and that means we’re right back into the fray. We’re hoping to select a handful of top lots during my trip next month, and are looking forward to building our relationship with this community again.

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