Farm: Vista Hermosa
Varietal: Primarily Caturra & Bourbon
Processing: Fully washed & dried in greenhouses on raised beds
Altitude: 1,850 to 2,000 metres above sea level
Owner: Lorenzo Cruz García
Town / City: San Ignacio, La Coipa
Overall: Brown sugar, dried fruit, cherry, floral
Vista Hermosa – Organic - Peru
Lorenzo Cruz García is possibly one of the most innovative and committed coffee farmers we’ve met. His ‘origin’ story may be a common one throughout much of rural Peru, but how he has transformed his life and coffee in this small part of the Peruvian highlands is not.
Raised in Peru’s Cajamarca Department, he was born into a relatively poor family whose primary cash crop was coffee, grown alongside primarily subsistence crops. As Lorenzo says, he has coffee ‘in his blood’, and even as a child he loved the activities around coffee production. However, his introduction to high quality specialty came later in life, and like his parents before him, for many years he struggled to find markets for his production.
As a young man, Lorenzo became a member of a cooperative called COICAFE, which made early attempts to improve the livelihoods of its members by improving the quality of their production. The cooperative provided training in quality improvement and had a fairly advanced quality control methodology for the time.
Lorenzo was immediately recognised by the coop’s managers as someone with promise. He secured a position in the quality control department in the cooperative and received training in cupping and quality assessment along with a variety of aspects of quality improvement. However, in 2013, despite the group’s efforts, the organisation folded and, as a result, the group of more than 200 coffee families were left unable to sell their product. Lorenzo knew he could do better.
At the beginning of 2014, a group of 5 families met together with the aim of replacing the previous organisation and working together to achieve their dream of finally accessing specialty coffee markets. The organization that emerged – the Cooperativa Agraria ”Union Y Fe” La Coipa (The Agrarian Cooperative ‘Union and Faith’ in La Coipa) – was the result of their efforts. Union y Fe came into being with the purpose of helping smallholder farmers from one of Peru’s most impoverished districts to find sustainable markets for their coffee and improve their livelihoods. In 2014, as a founding member, Lorenzo was appointed as an advisor to the group, and in 2015, at the first official meeting of the new organisation, he found himself elected General Manager working in harmony with more than 200 associates.
Today, together with the 220 producer members of Union y Fe, he is transforming the Coop’s coffee. Not only has he made sure the cooperative has a well equipped cupping lab, which operates according to strict cupping protocols, he has also made sure that multiple members of staff are trained to assess quality so that they understand importers’ and roasters’ perceptions and language.
Furthermore, Lorenzo was the first person in the cooperative to install a solar dryer equipped with drying beds – an action that has transformed the Cooperatives’ coffee. He originally learned about the importance of slow and even drying during trainings he received in 2004. He was very interested and followed these sessions up with his own research. This part of the Andes is high and humid – drying can be a big obstacle to achieving quality. He came to the conclusion that any producer interested in producing speciality coffee in Peru would have to take drying seriously. Drying methods can vary across rural Peru, but after witnessing the improvements to Lorenzo’s coffee, as of 2016 cooperative members have now voted that all members will be required to use these solar dyers as a means to ensure better quality and to preserve the hard work cooperative members have put into their production up until that point. This is directly due to Lorenzo’s influence and it has made a huge impact in the coffee quality and longevity.
Union y Fe for the most part only produces ‘group lots’ but Vista Hermosa’s coffee is so exceptional that it has been separated out into this very special, single farm lot. Lorenzo admits that his harvest and post-harvest activities play a big role, but he also acknowledges that nature plays a part He has expressed that his biggest secret is his Caturra plantation, which is meticulously maintained. These trees produce coffee of exceptional quality, particularly at the high altitudes that Lorenzo’s farm, Vista Hermosa, is lucky enough to sport.
More about Union y Fe Cooperative
The (rather long) name of The Agrarian Cooperative ‘Union and Faith’ in La Coipa derives from a combination of words that founding members found significant and that communicated the strength and ideals at the heart of the cooperative. In particular, ‘Union’ (Union) and ‘Fe’ (Faith) demonstrate their belief that collaborative action and perseverance are the keys to achieving a better life for coffee producers and their families.
The Cooperative was first created by 200+ smallholder farmers, most of whom farm on fewer than 4 hectares of land in one of Peru’s premier coffee-producing regions. Today, the cooperative counts 220 producers as members. These small farmers work 738.5 hectares in total, of which 558.75 ha is under coffee. For such small scale farmers, working with Union y Fe makes all the difference: the coop supports them with pre-financing, technical assistance and coffee quality improvement programming, along with other social programs.
Quality has, above all, been a focus for the organisation, given the demands of the current market for exceptional coffees. Processing in Peru is rustic, in all cases. Fermentation is usually determined ‘complete’ when a wooden pole stands unassisted in the fermented mass of coffee. 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, the group is producing some great coffee.
All members of the cooperative take strict care with regards to harvesting and processing, which also helps overcome the limitations of low technification. Coffee is selectively hand-harvested and is pulped on the same day at each individual producer’s small wet-mill. After fermenting for between 12 and 24 hours (depending on climate and altitude of each farm), the coffee is washed and then laid to dry on raised beds in solar dryers - for at least 10 days.
One issue with the dryers, of course, is that temperature can be difficult to control and coffee can sometimes dry too quickly. At higher elevations, however, the ambient temperature is kept cool and even. This was the case with most of the farms that Mercanta has visited, and temperature control is something that the coop is watching closely.
Organic coffee is key to the Cajamarca Province’s economy, and as such, COOAUNFE remains committed to the principles of organic agriculture. They are currently certified according to USA NOP standards and as of the 2015/16 season, the group secured EU certification (partially at the assurance of a market through Mercanta), enabling them to market their coffee as organic in all EU countries.
The group is organised as a social enterprise, with market principles and quality margins at their heart. Enabling small producers to participate and compete on international markets for quality coffee is their primary mission. The group’s short-term goals include continuing to improve their coffee quality and steadily growing as an organisation so as to impact more producing families’ lives. In the long-term, they wish to be recognised at both national and international levels as notable producers of high-quality coffee. Working with Mercanta in order to bring their coffee both to the US and the EU markets is one step towards this goal.