Coffee Growing in Peru
Peru is by far the largest supplier of Fair Trade certified coffee to the United States†. Their coffee is largely organically produced, mostly by small family growers with 2-5 acres of coffee trees. A large number of those farmers grow shade coffee, which is coffee grown under the canopy of other taller trees. One of the reasons that the farmers grow their coffee in the shade is that the coffee trees are spread out in small patches mixed among other productive trees such as pacay, achiote, papaya, avocado, etc. which is the traditional, biodiverse, way they have been farming for generations. The concept of clear cutting, was introduced by europeans, and many farmers continue to reject this kind of agriculture. Additionally, because the growers are small and lack resources, their ability to remove all non-productive trees, shrubs, vines and plants is limited, thus the jungle tends to continue to reclaim space, commingling with coffee trees. Shade grown coffee is better as it supports biodiversity that is known to sustain long-term agricultural and support environmental health. According to farmers, the observed benefits are:
- Disease and pests are kept in balance naturally; widespread loss of all crops is unlikely.
- Supports an ecosystem where birds and other animals thrive, which supports soil health.
- Filters sunlight, slowing coffee bean growth, which in turn provides a denser, better bean.
- Provides protection to the worker from prolonged exposure to sun.
- Provides additional crops in the same space (coffee growing under the shade of a papaya tree).
- Resists soil erosion, promoting healthier soil.
In Peru, when coffee was controlled by foreign land barons, local inhabitants worked for little or no real pay, and they had no say in what farming practices were used, which eventually led to environmental and agricultural issues.
After turmoil in coffee prices sent most of the barons packing, the local inhabitants, whose land the barons had taken, and sometimes forced them to work on, was returned and some of them continued, but grew the way they wanted. Other plantations fell into disrepair and disappeared back into the jungle.
Today, the modern Peruvian farmer struggles with balancing the past and the future. Trade aid for farmers worldwide is often tied to monoculture practices, which farmers in Peru know isn’t a long-term positive strategy, so they often reject aid. Without aid, farmers continue to struggle to develop a market for their coffee, which is desirable because of the organic, biodiverse way it is grown, but to have enough resources to get their coffee to faraway markets (where it commands a higher price) they are often asked to do things they think would be unwise. Slowly, Peruvian coffee is becoming more appreciated worldwide, and growers are learning how to access markets themselves, hopefully ensuring that future generations will have a biodiverse ecosystem to farm within.
Brewing Coffee in Peru using a “La Cafetera”
Brewing coffee in Peru is accomplished differently than in North America and unlike most anywhere else in the world, for that matter.
There are two methods: hot and cold brewing.
Cold brewing produces a low acid cup, and takes 12+ hours to produce.
Hot brewing, a method shared with the rest of the world, is efficient in the amount of flavor extracted and the amount of time it takes to extract it.
Hot brewing is far and away the preferred method everywhere including here, but cold brewing is still alive.
What is common to both methods is that, in Peru, an espresso like concentrate is made.
The concentrate is called coffee, though it is much stronger than most prefer to drink straight, so it is often mixed with hot milk or water.
The concentrate takes time to make, so a whole day’s supply is usually made in (or in the case of cold brew, for) the morning.
Then, the concentrate is used to make individual cups throughout the day.
To cold brew coffee take one cup of ground coffee and mix with two cups water and place in a large screw top jar.
Twelve hours later the coffee is ready to be strained in a similar method to hot coffee.
Shaking the brew jar, a few times if possible, during the process helps.
Here photos of a La Cafetera, which is used to either strain the cold brew, or make hot brew.
The simple two chamber La Cafetera has an upper chamber to hold the ground coffee and a bottom reservoir to accept the slowly dripping brew.
Rather than pass a lot of hot water through to extract the flavor, a little bit of boiling water is passed through a lot of coffee.
The fewer successive boiling water passes, the “shorter” the extraction.
“Short” extraction concentrate is used for making certain kinds of coffee drinks and “Long” extraction for others.
The strong coffee concentrate is made by filling the top the La Cafetera 3/4’s of the way full with coffee grounds and periodically pouring boiling water into the small remaining head space.
The initial pass, tends to create quite a volcanic effect with the possibility of coffee foaming up and over the sides.
So initially only enough water, to wet the grounds, is used followed by a few minutes of rest to allow the coffee to expand.
Generally, an equal volume of dry coffee grounds produces an equal volume of strong coffee.
The holes of the La Cafetera are very small, and without the aid of any paper filters, the bottom chamber is filled drip-by-drip over the course of about 10 minutes.
The espresso is allowed to sit a few minutes to allow the sediment to settle.
Then, the coffee is poured through a strainer to catch any stray grounds or sediment.
Once brewed, the coffee concentrate is stored for use throughout the day.
Over the course of an hour, any heavy particulates settle to the bottom of the jar and this produces a nicer cup.
The last “la taza desesperada” can conversely, be strong and is by some, discarded.
For coffee service throughout the day, or at a place of business, hot water is often stored in a vacuum canister or vacuum dispenser to avoid having to boil water for each cup.
Evaporated milk is the commonly used coffee lightener which here, high in the Andes, doesn’t need to be refrigerated, as the kitchen is usually as cold as the inside of a refrigerator, except when cooking.
That is what my coffee experience looks like.
The first cup from an electric, automatic drip coffee maker is nice, but the second and third (microwaved) cups aren’t so good.
Making a concentrate produces a fresher tasting cup throughout the day.
The concentrate isn’t continuously heated on a burner, so the concentrate retains the flavor better over time.
† Pay, Ellen, et al. (2009, September). Re: THE MARKET FOR ORGANIC AND FAIR-TRADE COFFEE [Study prepared in the framework of FAO project GCP/RAF/404/GER and provided in PDF form]. Retrieved from