Written from the Jaén Airport, Northern Peru by Chris Vigilante
I just finished cupping at the 3rd annual Atipanaku coffee competition and auction. I was invited by my German homie & coffee colleague, Thomas. The competition judged, scored, and evaluated hundreds, if not a thousand coffees. Narrowed down to the best 35 coffees from the very best coffee farmers in Northern Peru.
Summary of the Trip
I arrived in Lima and stayed in a beautiful Spanish looking hotel. I hired a surf guide and took one day to explore the various surf breaks near Lima. I surfed at Playa Caballeros & Puerto Viejo. The water was a cool 60 degrees here in Peru so I brought along my wetsuit. The waves were 3-4ft and super fun; not too scary and not too weak either, just right for my preference. After the surf, we had an amazing meal of Peruvian style ceviche. It was easily the best ceviche I’ve ever had.
From Lima I traveled to Jaén. A bustling small city at the center of the Northern Peruvian coffee scene. The first day we headed straight to the Finca Churupampa coffee lab on the outskirts of Jaén. A coffee cupping was waiting for us on arrival and I was treated to a quick lunch of delicious locally caught fried fish with rice and yuca. Afterwards, we cupped coffees and talked shop in the coffee lab. We finally left the lab at about 8pm and headed to a local Peruvian coffee legends house for dinner. His name was Angel, a super jovial big guy that embraced me as one of his own. We went to Angel’s apartment in Jaén and were treated to a home cooked meal (prepared by his wife) of what seemed to be like a rice tamale of sorts, filled with chicken. This was easily one of my favorite meals of the trip. Angel’s apartment was completely coffee geeked out. On the walls hung paintings of various coffee imagery, one of which he had tattooed on his left shoulder and arm. He had sample roasters, a 3 group espresso machine, various types of brew methods, and a shit ton of Agua Diente. A preferred liquor in much of South America. After dinner Thomas took me to the city center where I stayed at a seedy little hotel for $20/night. It had A/C and a decently clean room. Luckily, Thomas scored me a bit of weed from a coffee farmer and I was able to roll myself a proper joint and went outside of the hotel to enjoy it. The streets of Jaén reminded me of Bali. Motor cars, people, police, traffic, and just an overwhelming amount of buzzing happening all right there. I was a bit paranoid as I smoked my joint on the street but kept my head on a swivel and encountered no problems. I retired to my hotel and caught a decent night's sleep.
The next day I did my yoga ritual and enjoyed breakfast at a local cafe. Thomas picked me up and we headed back to the Jaén Churupampa cupping lab. Once there, we cupped about 10+ coffees. After cupping, the caffeine rush had me going so I busted out my skateboard and began skating on the patch of concrete outside the lab. A small boy, maybe 8 years old, the son of one of the workers at the lab was watching so I invited him to join me. Together we skated for the next 30 or so minutes. By the end of it the kid had got the hang of it and was skating to and fro by himself. Thomas and I enjoyed another fish & rice meal and then headed to Chirinos where the original (& closer in proximity to the coffee farms) Churupampa cupping lab was at.
On the drive out of Jaén we stopped by a small roadside stand and got a fresh batch of Purple Pineapple juice. Possibly the best glass of pineapple juice I’ve ever had.
Once we were on the road again it wasn’t long until we were stopped. A checkpoint run by local police checking registrations and insurance asked us to pull to the side of the road. I had thought that this may happen so I was prepared and already had the small amount of herb tucked under my leg. The cops held us there for over 20 minutes as Thomas tried to explain the vehicle belonged to a friend but all the paperwork was legit. Eventually, upon the suggestion of the owner of the vehicle, we bribed the police officer. The cop was leaning into my window and I was a bit nervous because he began asking me all kinds of questions like where I was from and what was I doing in Peru. I was concerned if I moved around too much the aroma of the weed would draft up to him, and that would be it! For a moment, Thomas was chatting away with the officer trying to get the bribe we were fixing to pay lower but I had the cop leaning right over me and I just told him to pay the man so we could go! Thankfully, Thomas conceded and we paid the cop $20 and we were off!
About 1 hour later we arrived in Chirinos, Peru. A small coffee town that is surrounded by coffee farms. Finca Churupampa had a coffee receiving station and cupping lab there. It was a bit late so we said hello to all the employees of the lab and headed to the farmhouse where we slept for the night. My room was as simple as could be. Two queen sized beds, a plastic chair, concrete floor and that was it. Before bed, Thomas, his buddy Rene, and I smoked a spliff overlooking the beautiful Andes mountains and the many coffee farms it encompasses. I laid down to sleep but around 3am I was awoken to the most thunderous lightning storm. The lightning struck the house and when that occurred I awoke startled. The smell of smoke was in the air. That loud “CRACK” I had heard came from the thunder and simultaneously the lightning striking the house caused my phone, which was charging, to almost explode and smoke was billowing out of the charger. I was shaken up to say the least. The storm outside was raging on. In retrospect, I was lucky it didn’t explode on my head as the charge port was directly above my bed. I reminded myself that these things happen, that it was truly an act of God, and you’ve just got to go with the flow. Eventually, I was able to fall back asleep. I awoke and performed my yoga ritual overlooking the beautiful Andes mountains as the clouds hovered below. We were at such a high elevation the clouds were literally below us. The vastness of the Andes is hard to describe. Afterwards, we enjoyed a pour over coffee Thomas had made. The coffee was from a local coffee producer we were possibly going to visit. We were treated to a delicious farm breakfast of eggs, rice, chicken, and yuca. All of which was grown there on the farm (minus the rice). After breakfast we headed back to the coffee lab in Chirinos and spent the day cupping through samples. Each day Thomas & the Churupampa coffee employees were hustling hard to ensure the coffee auction got off to a successful start.
After a long day of preparing for the competition we headed to dinner at a local nearby restaurant. It was probably 8:00pm. I had rice, sampled bulls balls, cerdo (pig), fried rice with chicken, and french fries. Throughout these meals in Chirinos we were with a group of about 15 people. All farmers, judges, and employees of the competition spoke Peruvian style Spanish and I understood very little, but I just tried to listen in and see what sentences I could piece together. Regardless, everyone treated me so kindly and the food was fantastic. That night we headed back to the farm to sleep. My phone had been kaput the entire day and it showed no signs of coming back to life. I accepted the fact that the first few days of photos & video content were lost and that my phone was destroyed before I had time to connect to wifi and upload to the cloud. Luckily though, Thomas had a nice Nikon camera and he lent it to me over the next couple days to capture photos and content.
The following morning I awoke to screaming. It sounded as if an animal was dying because it really was. At 5am the Farm helpers were slaughtering a pig that would be used to feed workers of the farm and the rest would be sold off at the farmers market. The screaming was a bit unnerving but it was far less intense than the lightning storm so I fell back asleep. I awoke to do my daily ritual of yoga and thanked my lucky stars to be alive, to be there in Peru, having this unique and epic experience. After breakfast, Thomas and I headed to visit 3 different coffee farmers (the Toyota truck captured below is what we traveled in).
Our first visit was to coffee farmer, Clever Acosta. He had a unique situation on his farm. He was conducting various coffee experiments with natural and honey processes but also had a mini cupping lab decked out with a sample roaster, a grinder, and all the supplies to conduct cuppings. Not something one usually sees at a small farm of no more than 4 hectares. Having this type of setup really gives Clever the ability to hone in his coffees. We toured the farm and cupped 4 different coffees from Clever. All were outstanding. Easily 88/100 point coffees. We thanked him for his hospitality and continued on to visit other farmers.
The next stop was to visit a farmer named Gracelia. A competition winner from the 2020 auction. We had purchased her coffee and featured it through our wholesale partners, Foxtrot in the past. Her coffee had been a hit for us and so I was excited to meet the woman behind the coffee and to thank her. I should note, all of these houses we visited were made of local clay with only a few small windows and a tin roof. Most but not all of the houses had doors. These were coffee farmers living very humble lives. Graceila, age 55 greeted us with a warm smile and welcomed us into her home. The kitchen part of the house was about 400 sq ft and the corner was blackened from the stove and smoke that traveled up as she cooked. A large wooden table with a pretty table cloth was sitting there waiting for us. Gracelia prepared us a meal of rice, potatoes, and Quid. Quid being Spanish for guinea pig. On these visits to farmers I always try to eat the entire meal out of respect. Fortunately, the food was really tasty and I finished most of it. The “Quid” tasted just like chicken. Graceila and her two sisters joined us for lunch. As we enjoyed the quid Thomas provided guidance on her farming techniques. Asking questions about her approach and offering techniques to improve the quality of her coffee which in turn will bring her more income. After lunch we took a tour of her farm and checked out the drying racks where she had coffee laid out. Thomas provided advice on ways to improve her technique and she was grateful. Simple things like creating more airflow in the drying station/green houses can go along way. The hot air gets stuck inside the greenhouse causing the cherries to ferment. This in turn negatively impacts the quality of the cup. Other suggestions were positive encouragement on her approach and to continue to pursue quality when she was processing her coffees. Upon leaving, I gave Gracelia a Vigilante Coffee T shirt, a tie dye design with the Vigilante VW Vanagon on the back billowing out smoke. She was really happy about the kind gift and we hugged and snapped a few photos. I was grateful to meet her, to see her home, meet her family and learn a lil bit about her coffee journey. To show our appreciation & gratitude for the hard work this woman puts into her coffee. We said our goodbyes and were off to visit the next farmer!
As I make my way home from Peru I reminisce on the journey, the wonderful people I've met here, and the amazing coffees we'll be bringing to the cups of all of our customers. How grateful I am to have the opportunity to connect with our farmers, our partners, and tell the story of how we came to source these coffees.