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from Miles & Kerri

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Categories: 2012, OctoberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

CoffeeTalk has been accused of advo­cat­ing “class war­fare” over the past few weeks. Our belief that Robusta does not belong in Specialty Coffee seems to have brought out the dark side of some folks. This notion is of course patently absurd. However, if you mean by “class war­fare” my con­tention that we should stick to our guns and sup­port the grow­ers who have ded­i­cated them­selves to a path of con­tin­u­ous improve­ment in order to sup­port the 17% of cof­fees sold in con­sum­ing coun­tries that can be classed as Specialty, then yes, I am advo­cat­ing class war­fare, just as we as an indus­try have done for the last 40 years to dif­fer­en­ti­ate our indus­try from “com­mer­cial” coffee.

Diligent removal of defects in order to approach a ‘Zero Defect’ score does not change the sig­nif­i­cantly higher CGA (chloro­genic acid) per­cent­age and the resul­tant impact on fla­vor, there is no pixie dust here. Botany and genet­ics are sci­ences, not whimsy. It is disin­gen­u­ous to imply that the fla­vor pro­file of the species has been altered or that some Robusta grows in such pris­tine and wild con­di­tions that its fun­da­men­tal genetic chem­istry has been altered for the bet­ter. No, it con­tin­ues to demon­strate the same pro­files as Ted Lingle, Dr. Illy, Ken Davids, Dan Cox, and so many oth­ers have writ­ten – rub­bery, woody, harsh, unbal­anced bit­ter, and astrin­gent (The Coffee Cupper’s Handbook; Fourth Edition and others).

Robusta cof­fee is typ­i­cally har­vested as nat­u­rals. The only way that defects can be detected is through visual exam­i­na­tion after the pulp has been dried and removed — in other words, at the dry mills. The impov­er­ished farm­ers are long out of the pic­ture before the mill begins to sort the cof­fees for defects. Removal of defects beyond cur­rent mar­ket stan­dards costs the proces­sor a great deal for which they will have to charge a sub­stan­tial pre­mium to the roasters.

This now advances two issues. Dry mills are not going to pay farm­ers more for their cof­fee. Any belief to the con­trary is naïve. All the value-added in pre­mium Robustas is incurred at the proces­sor level, not the farms, and there­fore nat­u­rally any increased price should be ele­men­tal to the mill’s com­pen­sa­tion. The farm­ers are deliv­er­ing the same cof­fee they always have. Nothing has changed except the increased labor costs of the mill owner. Second, who will be the buy­ers for this enhanced Robusta? Specialty roast­ers will cer­tainly not embrace the taste of pre­mium Robusta, espe­cially because it will have to be mit­i­gated with pre­mium Arabica in order to present an improved prod­uct that will still be per­ceived as infe­rior to a 100% Arabica prod­uct. Commercial roast­ers have no moti­va­tion to alter their cur­rent blends toward a more expen­sive Robusta bean. Commercial roast­ers have a trained con­sumer base that is unlikely to respond pos­i­tively to a higher price point. So, faced with rejec­tion by spe­cialty roast­ers and dis­missal by com­mer­cial roast­ers, why would coun­tries of ori­gin pur­sue devel­op­ment of pre­mium Robusta for sale in the United States? One thought? Countries are jump­ing on this band­wagon because gov­ern­ment agen­cies and inter­na­tional devel­op­ment agen­cies such as USAID, UN-ITC, UNESCO, and oth­ers are push­ing mil­lions in grants to pri­vate con­trac­tors and coun­tries to attempt to recre­ate the suc­cess of the “Q” pro­gram in Robusta pro­duc­ing countries.

Where are the benefits?

• The farm­ers will not be paid more for their Robusta cof­fees because all the improve­ments to the qual­ity take place at the mill level after the grow­ers have delivered.

• There is unlikely to be will­ing and eager mar­ket mak­ers in the US com­mer­cial cof­fee uni­verse, if pre­mium Robusta sells at a sub­stan­tially higher dif­fer­en­tial to the LIFFE Robusta market.

• Specialty roast­ers are unlikely to embrace Robusta for fear of los­ing their whole­sale cus­tomers to local competition.

• Specialty cof­fee and espe­cially the Specialty Coffee Association of America will likely lose one more level of cred­i­bil­ity and gen­er­ate more con­fu­sion as to its purpose.

So, who wins then?

• Commercial cof­fee roast­ers who can now declare “Super Premium Robusta” in their blends with no method of verification.

• A hoard of new inter­na­tional “R Graders” will find employ­ment at ben­efi­cios and coop­er­a­tives in Robusta pro­duc­ing countries.

• Private “schools” cer­ti­fied and paid by CQI, and in a year or so, the SCAA, will spring up to train and cer­tify inter­na­tional “R Graders.”

• Consultants and con­trac­tors who have seized on the poten­tial oppor­tu­nity to train a new class of cof­fee graders and set up “cer­ti­fied” labs in a new group of coun­tries through the sup­port of UN-ITC, USAID, and other devel­op­ment fund­ing agen­cies grant dollars.

There are sim­ply not enough words to con­vey my admi­ra­tion for many of the most vocal advo­cates for Robusta cof­fees and for what they have done for mil­lions of peo­ple world­wide. Their con­tri­bu­tions to cof­fee busi­nesses and cof­fee sci­ence are extra­or­di­nary. However, on this issue, I think they are reach­ing for a gov­ern­men­tal gold ring with­out regard for the con­se­quences. I real­ize that con­tracts are the lifeblood of many a con­sul­tant in our busi­ness and essen­tially are the only means of sup­port, but pur­su­ing the “R Grader” pro­gram is, in my opin­ion, purely oppor­tunis­tic. It appalls me to be part of a club that would admit a new mem­ber not because of their qual­i­ties, or because of their poten­tial con­tri­bu­tion to the greater well being, but sim­ply because the club can make a whole lot of money.

Bye-Bye Ashley

As many of you know already, this issue will be Ashley Prentice’s last for CoffeeTalk as a mem­ber of the staff, at least for a while. Ashley has been with us for a lit­tle over a year and dur­ing that time she has made a deep impres­sion on peo­ple from all seg­ments of cof­fee. She is off to Italy now to attend the University in Trieste. She received the first schol­ar­ship given to an American to pur­sue a Masters Degree in Coffee through the University of Udine (UNIUD) and illy Caffe. This is an extra­or­di­nary oppor­tu­nity and we are so proud of Ashley and her accom­plish­ments but we will miss her deeply.

While away, Ashley intends to con­tinue writ­ing for CoffeeTalk and jour­nal her expe­ri­ences in Trieste.

 Kerri & Miles

Café Peruano

Categories: 2011, NovemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Peru is the sixth largest pro­ducer of Arabica cof­fees in the world! Interestingly, that fact comes as a sur­prise to many in the spe­cialty cof­fee indus­try. In order to change the per­cep­tion of Peruvian cof­fees in the con­sum­ing world, the Junta Nacional del Café (the Peruvian Coffee Association), the Peru Ministry of Agriculture, and PromPeru (a gov­ern­ment agency tasked with rais­ing inter­na­tional aware­ness of all things Peru), have joined forces to raise their coffee’s mar­ket cachet.

As part of this effort, this year saw the intro­duc­tion of the first Expo Café in Peru. For the first time Peruvian grow­ers and sup­pli­ers met to share infor­ma­tion, inform grow­ers of trends, and wel­come inter­na­tional par­tic­i­pants. CoffeeTalk was for­tu­nate to be part of the inter­na­tional press con­tin­gent to attend the Expo. This suc­cess­ful first-time event also coin­cided with the sev­enth Concurso Nacional de Cafes de Calidad final – the finals of the national cof­fee qual­ity com­pe­ti­tion – and the first judged by inter­na­tional cup­pers and staged fol­low­ing inter­na­tional cup­ping protocols.

Despite their suc­cess­ful steps into inter­na­tional notice, the Peruvian Coffee Association and the Ministry of Agriculture face a daunt­ing task. Many obsta­cles need to be over­come while jour­ney­ing toward Peru being part of the inter­na­tional pan­theon of world-class cof­fee pro­duc­ing coun­tries. To their credit, the lead­ers of the Peruvian cof­fee indus­try are aware of the chal­lenges they face and are tak­ing the appro­pri­ate steps.

Coffee in Peru is grown on the Eastern slope of the Andes within the Amazonian water­shed. Individual farm­ers and rural coop­er­a­tives are respon­si­ble for all aspects of wet milling and dry­ing to parch­ment at 12–14% mois­ture. As in most cof­fee grow­ing areas, the aver­age farm size is less than 2 hectares. Because of lack of trans­porta­tion infra­struc­ture, the farm­ers must rely on a sys­tem of mid­dle­men to get their prod­ucts to the dry mills.

Most of Peru’s dry mills are cen­tered close to the sea­ports on the Pacific coast, hun­dreds of miles from the farms and across the spine of the Andes Mountains. These mas­sive indus­trial mills typ­i­cally aggre­gate all the cof­fees they receive into “Peruvian cof­fee.” They only seg­re­gate cer­ti­fied coffees.

The sys­tem is loaded with oppor­tu­ni­ties to affect the qual­ity of the cof­fee neg­a­tively. In order to sup­port spe­cialty cof­fees, the Peruvians will have to tighten their sup­ply chain and bring more dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion into their pro­cess­ing. For exam­ple, the den­sity sorters in one of their largest dry mill had only three pad­dles sort­ing “domes­tic con­sump­tion,” poor qual­ity (instant), and good qual­ity (com­mod­ity).
One of the lim­it­ing ele­ments of Peruvian export cof­fee is grad­ing. Peru only grades their cof­fees for export into two grades – essen­tially “Okay” and “Better.” As a result, the pro­to­cols they impose for defect grad­ing of good cof­fee would not pass muster in the Specialty market.

In fair­ness, this does not limit importers from going to the source and work­ing with co-ops to find extra­or­di­nary cof­fees much as Sustainable Harvest and Equal Exchange do, but this sys­tem does dis­cour­age typ­i­cal large importers to spe­cialty.
But these obsta­cles and oth­ers are sur­mount­able and have been faced by many emer­gent cof­fee coun­tries. With dili­gence and deter­mi­na­tion as demon­strated through the Expo, Peru soon will be an essen­tial ele­ment of every roaster’s cof­fee program.

Part of the evi­dence of how lit­tle we know about Peru is shown in tourist reac­tions to Lima, the cap­i­tal city. Peru depends on tourism but most tourists travel directly to Cuzco and then up to Machu Picchu. Lima, Peru is a vital and met­ro­pol­i­tan city. Residence to over 10 mil­lion peo­ple, it is the cen­ter of bank­ing and com­merce on the Equatorial West coast of South America.

Historically, it has been a major fac­tor in the estab­lish­ment of Spanish hege­mony over Central and South America. At one time, it was the Western Hemisphere seat of the Spanish Kingdom – the Viceroy (the Spanish King’s voice in the Spanish colonies) gov­erned from Lima mak­ing that city the cen­ter of Spain’s colo­nial uni­verse. As a result, the city also became the cen­ter of the Catholic churches pres­ence in the colonies. Many his­tor­i­cal build­ings from the 15th and 16th cen­turies remain as sen­tinels to the country’s colo­nial splen­dor, and its shame.

Some, but very few, mon­u­ments from Peru’s pre-Colombian past remain in the city. The gov­ern­ment and UNESCO are actively restor­ing many of these her­alds of Peru’s 10,000 year his­tory of con­tin­u­ous settlement.

In many ways, Peru’s rel­a­tive iso­la­tion over the past 150 years has led to a truly unique cul­ture. As Spain lost its colo­nial and mar­itime influ­ence in the Western Hemisphere, so waned the global influ­ence of the west­ern nations of South America. The result of this period of self-sufficiency estab­lished the full inte­gra­tion of many of Peru’s cul­tural and eth­nic diver­sity into a fully inter­wo­ven piece.

As one who likes food and food prepa­ra­tion almost as much as I like cof­fee, the cui­sine of Peru was extra­or­di­nary. Peruvian food, which is embraced by all Peruvians, is a mix­ture of ancient and mod­ern tra­di­tions using food prod­ucts that can only be found in Peru.
Incorporating and assim­i­lat­ing every cul­ture that has come to its shores, Lima boasts restau­rants that match and sur­pass many 5-stars in the US and Europe. Fusions of meth­ods using foods once eaten by the Incan civ­i­liza­tion, rare and unusual fruits, root veg­eta­bles, and grains are incor­po­rated into any­thing from fresh seafood to Chinese stir-fry.

Peru, and the Peruvian cof­fee pro­duc­ers, are poised on the brink of emerg­ing into inter­na­tional great­ness. There chal­lenges are off­set by the energy and enthu­si­asm of the Peruvians themselves.

This is box title
The first inter­na­tion­ally judged Peruvian cof­fee com­pe­ti­tion, the VII Concurso Nacional de Cafes de Calidad, was tak­ing place con­cur­rently with the Expo Café Del Peru. Hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Peruvian Coffee Association and tak­ing place in the SCAA pro­to­col lab at Bisetti, the upscale café and roast­ery located in the Barranca dis­trict of Lima.

Café Bisetti, which has been pro­filed in a pre­vi­ous issue of CoffeeTalk is the mas­ter­piece of David and Hanna Bisetti, who also own the Arabica Café in Lima.

The judg­ing panel was com­posed of six Peruvian judges and six inter­na­tional trained judges from the US, Europe, the UK, and Japan. The win­ning cof­fee, with a score of 88.75 over­all, was from Benjamin Peralta Surco of the CECOVASA coöper­a­tive in the province of Puno. His cof­fee was described as ‘per­fect’ and ‘fleshy’ by many of the judges.

Second, third, and fourth place were tied with a score of 86.16. All these cof­fees were grown above 1700 meters.

Click here to down­load the results.