Zest Specialty Coffee experiences a paradigm shift in Peru

Darren Stinson of Zest Specialty Coffee experiences a paradigm shift in Peru as he discovers flavour goes beyond experimentation and into the fabric of a community and its people.
Zest Specialty Coffee

There were moments in Peru I didn’t lift my camera. I needed to remember the beauty and vividness of the austere peaks and earnest valleys without social construct. Peru is genuine, friendly, and unspoilt, a magnificent land where the nationality and culture is as vibrant as the colours woven into the traditional clothing. 

Project Bosques Verdes (Green Forests) is Zest’s latest flavour-creating mission and the reason for my Peru visit. This is a project in collaboration with our direct trade partners, Cooperitiva Bosques Verdes, located in the last city of the Inca Atahualpa, San Ignacio. 

The over arching purpose of Project Bosques Verdes is creating flavour, but also improving processing practices, expanding fermentation techniques, supplying tools, disseminating knowledge, and helping bring financial value to the co operative in a sustainable way. Sharing ideas with our partners at origin and learning from one another is our true ethos.

While we didn’t know much about Peru’s coffee going into our experiments, what we did know is that Peru, and in particular, San Ignacio’s growing region, is typical for the equatorial belt and tropical environment (wet summer, dry winter, average temperature of 24°C). We also knew that the farms of the Bosques Verdes co-op are producing a wide range of varietals, some quite well known, and a couple more obscure.

Armed with knowledge from our previous Project Raggiana in Papua New Guinea and Project Wonosari in Sumatra, we were confident in producing a high-scoring lot at the Bosques Verdes Co-op (BVC) and finding outstanding flavour hidden under the leafy canopies of the region’s steep, green forests. 

Two hundred and fifty small one-to-two-hectare farms make up the BVC. Each hectare contains around 4000 coffee trees, each producing around three kilograms of coffee cherry per year. 

After pulping, washing, drying, hulling, and removing defects, the yield of each tree is just 400 grams of green coffee beans. It is quite humbling to think that with all the labour that goes into the picking and processing of the coffee, each tree provides just 30 lattes in your local café.

Along with Ernesto Guzman from Inkas Commodity Trading, we got to work with our on site fermentation experiments, which explored the effects of time, temperature, microbial activity, and pH on flavour in an anaerobic tank environment. Our aim was to find ways to produce higher scoring micro-lots by focusing on alternative ways of processing, and add value to these smallholder crops.

The work was more strenuous than we imagined. Our days started at 5am with a breakfast at the motel in San Ignacio followed by a motorbike ride to the base of the hill on which the processing farm was situated. Then, it was a half-hour trek up the steep hillside to our experimentation site. 

Picking is back-breaking work: crouching, reaching, and twisting through the heavy foliage to grasp the crimson cherries, and plucking them from the stalks. We used a traditional manual machine for de-pulping. Cherries are fed into the top hopper and an operator swiftly cranks a handle round and round. The slowly rotating drums squeeze the slippery beans from the skins and separate them into a sack. “All in the pursuit of flavour,” we told ourselves as we whirled the handle long after the sun had slid behind the hills.

The de-pulped coffee seeds were tipped into large plastic drums and sealed. Temperature, brix, and pH readings were recorded at regular intervals. When the perfect pH was reached, the beans were spread out to dry in a makeshift sun tent perched precariously on the side of the mountain.

The sun tent provided a controlled drying environment, sheltered from moisture and temperature fluctuation, yet exposed to the gentle drying rays of the sun.

The four lots we created at Bosques Verdes explored low oxygen fermentation on washed, honey, and natural processed coffee, an evolution to the techniques developed and implemented in PNG and Sumatra. 

I went to Peru gripped with a normal fixation on flavour, but I came away with a much larger vision, a paradigm shift. The unbreakable ties in the coffee world between people, culture and coffee, care, kindness, and place left a deep impression on me. The faces of 100 Peruvian personalities are etched in my mind.

You can’t leave the human factor out of coffee. It’s what makes it what it is. It’s what we at Zest have come to call Coffeekind, and it’s essential to flavour. 

For more information, visit www.zestcoffee.com.au

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