Subscribe & Save 10% | Carbon-neutral free shipping on orders over $55 within Canada

Coffee Origin Trip: South America 2014

Carmo Estate, Brazil: June 11 – 13, 2014

Neto Franco and I arrived in Pouso Alegre (specifically Heliodora) to see Carmo Estate on June 11. Tulio Junqueira greeted us enthusiastically and straight away we went to view his farm. Carmo Estate is 220 hectares (545 acres) of beautiful mountainous terrain with dozens of mountain springs bubbling up throughout the property. The Junqueira family has been growing coffee in this area for 150 years. Tulio is fifth generation but in no way is he complacent to do things as they were. He is innovative and adaptive to the needs of both specialty roasters and to the changing needs of his people. Yields on this farm are 40 bags per hectare—more than twice the national average.

View of Carmo Estate terrain in Minas Gerais

Carmo grows many varieties of coffee—Mundo Novo, Catuai, Catucai, Acaia and Icatu, in different areas throughout the farm. These are fantastic Brazilian varieties but the showcase of Carmo Estate is the Yellow Bourbon, which is in a totally separate area of the farm. The Bourbons mature earlier in the crop year so it’s easy for Tulio to keep the Bourbon separate from the other varieties. All the coffees are milled on site using the pulp-natural method. The coffee is either dried on their spacious patios or in mechanical dryers, depending on drying conditions. Additionally, the coffee is rested in wooden silos at their own warehouse.

Tulio, along with gentle prodding from his wife Lu, has committed to the wellbeing of his team. Many of his people have built homes on the farms, children have access to on-site schooling, and there is healthcare, adult education projects and strict adherence to safety standards. We observed hearing protection, air masks and safety signage everywhere we went.

Carmo Estate drying and processing field

Tulio has a wonderful three-bedroom house on the farm, which he shared with us for two nights. We enjoyed wonderful meals, coffee, and a desert that is alone worth going to the farm for, Pudim de leite condensado—condensed milk, melted caramel sugar in a flan style—kind of like crème caramel but better.

We observed the first mechanical picking that I have seen. He uses two methods: picking machines that look like weed eaters with vibrating rakes on the end, and a special machine dragged by a tractor that uses vibrating Teflon wands to gently (perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit) coax the coffee off the branches. Weed-eater-style mechanical pickers are passed through each branch, taking off many old leaves as well as the red cherries, which fall onto the ground onto tarps. The coffee is then placed onto sifting screens and thrown in the air to allow the leaves to blow off the top and junk to fall out the bottom. The tractor-driven mechanical pickers catch all the coffee, convey it into a truck, and separate the coffee at the mill.

Mechanical picking of coffee plants

Mechanical picking is problematic if there is rain during the picking season. Rain causes flowering and buds soon after. Mechanical picking damages flowers and buds but in Brazil it rarely rains during the picking season. The advantage to mechanical picking is that it only shakes off the ripe berries, which is not always the case with hand-picked coffee. The other advantage is that the pickers using hand-held mechanical pickers can pick almost twice as much as hand pickers per day. This allows Tulio to pay them more than a Central American picker would receive and it allows him to afford the health and safety features that are unheard of in most farms. The disadvantage is that it doesn’t sound as sexy as hand-picked.

From there we drove to Rio, enjoyed three days there, then two days at Fortelaza and saw Brazil tie Mexico in a first round match. I would love to do the Rick Steves blow by blow but would probably be better at describing the perfect Caipirinha. (Portuguese pronunciation: [kajpiˈɾĩj̃ɐ]). This is Brazil‘s national cocktail, made with cachaça (sugar cane hard liquor), sugar and lime. (use an ‘old fashioned’ glass, cut half a lime into 4 pieces, add 2 tablespoons of brown sugar or simple syrup, muddle, fill the glass with crushed ice and then add two ounces of cachaca). It’s made with all sorts of different fruit but lime is still the best.

This was followed by three days in Buenos Aires. Think big red wine (Malbec, of course) and beef—for three days: glorious! Eat at Paraje Arevalo (sorry, I am doing the Rick Steves thing).

El Chaupe, Peru: June 23-25, 2014

Okay, back to coffee. We arrived in Lima at 1:30 in the morning, and slept in the airport as we had a 6:30 a.m. flight to Chiclayo. We met Dietrich (Dito) Eppe from Sucafe and Jorge Grandez from Perhusa. Dito is the person helping on the sales side of Perhusa to develop the specialty side of coffee in Peru and Jorge is an engineer working with Perhusa on the education, logistics and development side of things. Perhusa is the largest exporter of green coffee in Peru. They also export many other agricultural products and have a small chain of cafes.

Perhusa Beneficio Mill

We started off by visiting the Perhusa Beneficio (mill) in Chiclayo and met the key people followed by a cupping. Peru produces between five and six million bags of coffee but this year because of coffee rust they will only produce about three million. Of that five million there are about 200,000 specialty bags available. JJ Bean’s favourite specialty coffee in Peru is from the San Ignacio area and in particular we have been buying coffee from El Chaupe. El Chaupe co-op (eight families) produces 236 Quintales (100 lb bags) in an area made up of 75 hectares.

Group cupping coffee in the office

JJ cupping in the office

Peru’s farms are very small (82% of all farms are four hectares or smaller and 67% are two hectares and smaller) and the farmers lack access to education about producing great specialty coffee. Perhusa has invested people and considerable resources to help move these farmers from just producing coffee to producing great coffee. Earlier this year we made a donation to buy the materials to make raised-bed drying ‘hot houses’. The area has very little flat ground for traditional drying patios and to add to their problems, it rains almost every afternoon during the harvest. This means that the green coffee has the potential to dry unevenly and be susceptible to mould. The raised beds will allow for drying in 1/4 of the time of the traditional patios and eliminate mouldy coffee.

Jorge and Dito took us from Chiclayo to Jaen, about a seven hour ride Northeast. In the morning we drove three hours to San Ignacio followed by two more hours to the El Chaupe area. There we were met by some of the co-op members who met us with gumboots and additional transportation (horses and mules). We didn’t understand the gumboots until we saw the mud. An interesting side note was that they had to go to all seven stores that sold gumboots in San Ignacio to find my shoe size. Unfortunately they could not so I needed to wear a size too small—I still feel my toes! These poor animals had to go down 30% slopes (think Grouse Grind) in 10 inches of mud followed by going up 30% slopes with the same mud. Neto started walking instead of getting on a horse. I realized after about 30 minutes that it was safer to walk.

Group riding donkeys up the hill

We got to the village about two and a half hours later and were received by all eight families and their kids (who got the afternoon off from school). They greeted us with placards of appreciation, huge smiles and speeches. We were introduced to everyone in the village, reviewed the drying beds and took hundreds of pictures. While we were waiting for the outdoor fire to boil the chicken we took a tour of the property followed by Neto entertaining them with his football skills. Did I mention that we got to try the local chicha (home brew)?

Welcome group at the farm

Neto and JJ with kids from the welcome group

The farm is beautifully located high in the Andes on volcanic soil, perfect conditions for great coffee. The locals are learning about what it takes to prune, fertilize and protect against rust. In Jorge’s words, Peruvian farmers are not real farmers, they are collectors. In other words, they just wait to collect the coffee every year, but do not understand that they have to work during the whole year, preparing the soil, pruning and fertilizing in order to harvest great coffee. That is why Perhusa has a program that is teaching the farmers how to be real farmers. This program is led by Jorge with the assistance of two field engineers that work side by side with the farmers: Hugo Diaz and Jose Agurto. Perhusa guarantees purchase of the coffee produced and provides the fertilizer (guano from the Guanay seabirds from the coast of Peru) that also contains the nutrients to fight rust. They also provide the know how to harvest and process the coffee.

Group inspecting the coffee plants

Perhusa organized all the purchases of the materials for the drying beds and hothouses that we purchased the materials for, and they provided the design and supervision for their construction. This was not a small project given the isolation of this community.

Group outside the drying bed tent

Inside the drying tent with JJ

We enjoyed a meal with our hosts and finished things off with dancing with the locals. We came away feeling blessed (versus being a blessing) to this community. They treated us with such thankfulness and graciousness that humbled us.

We look forward to seeing continued quality improvements on the Chaupe coffee. We also look forward to a continued relationship with Dito who, along with Jorge, were unbelievable hosts to us.

We returned to Lima via San Ignacio and Chiclayo and then a day later came home to sleep in our own beds—thankful for all that we enjoy in Vancouver and ever more grateful for all that the people from Peru and Brazil do to provide JJ Bean with incredible coffee.

Group shot with some horses!