Farm: Various small farms
Varietal: Yellow Caturra, Yellow Bourbon, Pache & Typica
Processing: Fully washed; dried on patios and finished on beds
Altitude: 1,850 to 1,900 metres above sea level
Owner: Various Smallholder farmers
Town / City: El Mirador, La Coipa
Region: San Ignacio, Cajamarca
El Mirador, La Coipa #2 - Peru
Every year, Mercanta selects the very best lots from the community of El Mirador, high in Peru’s Cajamarca Region. This 2018 lot hails from various producers that live along the base of El Mirador and whose coffee plots are located in the Horcon Alto valley, at an average altitude of around 1,850 metres. The land is so rich and lush here that farmers don’t even have to fertilise the land, making the coffee organically grown by default.
Each contributing family member has their own, individual farm, but they do not live on the coffee plot but rather have a small house on the land where they stay during the harvest. Many pulp the coffee there on the farm, but many also carry the coffee cherry (or parchment) back to their homes (around 1 km away), where it will be pulped, fermented and dried.
All farmers contributing to this lot are members of the Santuario Association of Coffee Producers (Asociación De Productores Cafetaleros El Santuario), which works with small scale producers in Cajamarca, Peru. Advised by Santuario agricultural technicians, all farmers use the same strict harvest and processing methods so as to insure that the natural potential of their coffee is maintained. During the harvest, coffee is selectively handpicked with only the ripest cherries being harvested at each pass. These cherries are then hand-sorted to ensure no underripe or damaged cherries make it into the fermentation tanks. The coffee is pulped on the same day that it is picked using a mechanical or hand turned pulper, as mentioned located on the farm or at the farmer’s home. After pulping, it will then ferment in a tin or cement tank for up to 30 to 40 hours (depending on ambient temperature, which is very cool at this altitude) before being washed clean in pure water. The coffee will then be delivered to patios or tarpaulins for pre-drying for around 2-3 hours. Many of the producers, on the advice of Santuario, have constructed raised ‘African’ beds for drying, and the clean parchment will shortly be moved from the patios to be finished on these or on Solares (raised drying sheds). Here, the parchment is turned regularly for 20 to 25 days until humidity reaches 11.5-12% humidity.
The farmers feel blessed to be members and clients of Santuario – a small coffee business formed of numerous small farms that neighbour one another in Cajamarca, Peru. Established in August of 2017, ‘Santuario’ members must have years of coffee growing experience and must share a vision of improving the quality of their production. Although the participating farms are all small – around 3 to 5 hectares on average – the total land under coffee represented by the group is around 250 hectares in total, thus the productive potential is substantial.
The name - “Santuario/Sanctuary" - refers to the fact that all the farms working as a group are in the buffer zone of the Tabaconas - Namballe National Sanctuary. This environmental placement is important to Santuario, as the company prioritises environmental conservation and biodiversity.
Santuario’s main objective and activity is to work in cooperation with small producers and producer organisations in order to promote coffee quality improvement. The business not only helps with market access, they also assume the role of agricultural extension – or technical field assistance – where individuals with agricultural expertise and training advise on all aspects of soil fertility, cultivation techniques, harvesting, post-harvest and, generally, improvement of quality. The coffee that the organisation works with comes from varied and unique production areas of the Cajamarca region. With diverse microclimates and high soil quality, they’ve identified practices that enable individual producers to instil the very best quality in their diverse lots. The focus, then, is on the production of small, distinct and unique high quality microlots…. And of course on making sure that these very special coffees find the right home with speciality roasters.
Long term goals of Santuario include expanding the presence of high quality Caturra, Typica and Bourbon. These plants will increase productivity while maintaining quality. Renovation work is a key aspect of the agricultural extension services provided by Santuario representatives, but they also focus on organic methods of controlling plagues and on soil fertility. For instance, coffee Leaf rust poses one of the largest threats to coffee in the Cajamarca region, and in order to combat it, carefully timed fertilisation is very important. Santuario provides advice and technical assistance with this.
All participating producers are required to take strict care with regards to harvesting and processing, which also helps overcome the limitations of low technification in the region. Quality has, above all, been a focus for the organisation, given the demands of the current market for exceptional coffees, and since processing in Peru is rustic, great care and attention must be taken with all stages of processing. Each producer has their own processing infrastructure, but all are required to apply the utmost attention and check the coffee frequently.
The installation of large-capacity solar tents (carpa solares) is also being planned, since by increasing production, producers will need more drying capacity to be able to dry their coffee according to the climatic conditions at the time. The climate in Northern Peru can be unpredictable and is often wet when you need it to be dry. Solar dryers usually feature a room built either of wood or adobe covered with plastic or polyurethane sheeting. Add in raised beds, and you have a significantly improved drying capacity. When drying coffee, moisture is monitored by either biting the parchment, assessing firmness, or by cutting a bean in half. In the latter case, if one half jumps away from the knife, its humidity is 14-15%; if both halves jump, then it’s below 12%. Even using these simple techniques, Santuario’s producer partners are producing some great coffee.
Ultimately, Santuario aims to help producers in one of Peru’s most impoverished but also promising (coffee-wise) districts to find sustainable markets for their coffee and improve their livelihoods. Mercanta is excited to be able to help them achieve this goal.