Tibed Yujra of Puno, Peru on Puno History & Launching An Association During Covid

We were lucky to get a chance to sit down with Tibed Yujra, a long-time partner in Puno, Peru, in the Foxhole for a conversation about his work in organizing a new producer association, Puno’s recent harvest, and the challenges posed to both by the Covid-19 pandemic. For more background on Puno’s history and Tibed’s role, click here.  

 

Aleco Chigounis: Hello everyone, welcome back to the Foxhole! We have a very special episode for everyone today. I am joined by my talented co-host Ali Newcomb. Ali is the managing director of our export and sourcing operations in Lima, Peru and Oaxaca, Mexico. Welcome Ali! How is the weather in Lima?

Ali Newcomb:  Good, very good.

Aleco: We also have a very special guest today, Tibed Yujra. Tibed is a former Red Fox employee, who left to start his own producer association and sourcing operation in Puno. Tibed has been a very close friend of mine personally for well over a decade and has a really amazing professional career history, and he’ll tell us all about everything he’s done back then and what he’s doing now. Welcome Tibed! 

Tibed Yujra: Thank you so much Aleco for the invitation.

Aleco: It is a pleasure, my friend. It has been a long time. How is everything in Putina?

Tibed: Always good, we are all good, very good here.

Aleco: It is important to know by the way folks, that Tibed is joining us from Putina Punco, deep in the Sandia Valley way out in the producer area just above town, in a little hamlet called Chorrillos. Tibed, can you tell us a little bit about your family, where you are from? I know you have gone from the plateau to the jungle and everywhere.

Tibed: My family came from the mountain range of Puno, and the majority of the people who settled in the jungle of Tambopata where I live, they are also from the mountain range. My parents settled there years ago. I was raised there and have lived there since. Then and now, my family has always been in the coffee world, and that’s why it so much.

Aleco: That’s good, and Tambopata is the jungle where you find all the coffee of the Sandia Valley, or no?

Tibed: Not only in Tambopata. We have two valleys: Tambopata, and the other one is called Inambari. 

Aleco: And that is where your family is from and where the famous area of Tunquimayo is, no?

Tibed: Exactly.

Aleco: That is good. Can you tell us a little bit about your professional story? How did you start in the coffee industry? And how did you get from there to here in the present?

Tibed: Yes, it’s a long story. Basically, it started with my parents. They started producing coffee in this jungle and I started working with them, to see how the coffee grew, how the production works, how the export companies work—the ones that existed here during those times like Cecovasa and other cooperatives. Now that my parents are older, they moved to the mountain range, to be more comfortable and take care of their health. And so, that is how I started. I then started working in Cecovasa almost 11 years ago. Sometimes I worked in the warehouses and sometimes quality control in the laboratories. After I left Cecovasa, I went to work for a nonprofit in Haiti called Veterinarians Without Borders. I helped a lot of Haitian producers to improve their coffee quality during those times. After that, I started working at Red Fox alongside Aleco, and with everyone in the team that are still working there.

Aleco: That is so good! A question, how long were you working for the group of the vets in Haiti?

Tibed: About two years.

Aleco: I remember when you and I met the first time in Putina, sampling something like 200 coffees in only two days. 48 hours cupping like crazy, and we became very close friends over there. But after, you left to go to Haiti, and to go work at other levels as more of a consultant. Then we met again in Incahuasi, right?

Tibed: Exactly! Yes, I worked at a cooperative in Incahuasi for a term as a consultant, and we saw each other then too, when I was finishing the consulting work there. 

Aleco: It made me really happy seeing you again. From there, we went together to the future, no?

Tibed: Yes, exactly!

Ali: Tibed, I wanted to ask you—we are very excited, with everything that you have initiated this year, your new project in Puno. I wanted to know if you could tell us a little bit about this project, and how it has been?

Tibed: Yes. The fact is that there are many producers, and despite all the effort that they put in at the farm level, they don’t receive the appreciation or money they deserve, and that is the reason why we have started to build an association to help the producers. So they can receive a fair price for the quality of their coffee. It’s a huge endeavor to cultivate the coffee, it’s not an easy task. I also have a farm, and it’s very complicated to produce specialty coffees. It is intense, the reality of a producer, and I think that work needs to be rewarded. That’s why we started this project: to put together a group of producers, organize them into an association, and allow them to export their own coffees, and so they can receive a fair price for the quality of their coffees and their work. 

Ali: And how has it been? Because, you started this in full pandemic, and even though you’ve known a lot of these producers for years, you’ve started from zero this year. All the social parts, talking to folks about all the work that you were going to do, the logistics of it, tell us a little bit about how you’ve been working this year?

Tibed: Well, for me, it has been very complicated basically because of the pandemic, because it was really difficult to travel or even communicate with the producers. The producers themselves were afraid, so they didn’t want to receive visitors. In general, it’s helped me a lot to know many of the producers of the area of Sandia. Both valleys, in Tambopata and Inambari, and this is the reason why they have trusted me so much. I think it’s fundamental. Definitely there have been a lot of roadblocks, but I think we’ve achieved something.

Ali: Yes, we are trying the samples of the first container and they are spectacular. 

Tibed: It makes me really happy to hear this.

Aleco: You have done an excellent job getting the best producers. Better than ever before. The coffees of the producers that we have been buying for the last 10 years or so. Good job!

Ali: Can you tell us more about the challenges that come from your specific location? Because you are working in a place that is very remote, where there aren’t any banks. What challenges have you had in that area, with financials and logistics?

Tibed: Yes, indeed, it is very difficult. The financial area especially, because it’s so fundamental to try to cushion the finances of the producer. They don’t have the luxury to be able to simply give you their coffees and trust that you’ll pay them later. They need some upfront payment. So, this part has been very complicated. As you know well, this area is very far away from the city, the trip is very long, and since there aren’t banks there, we have to try to transport the money safely and avoid theft and other obstacles.

Aleco: Coffee production in Puno has a very interesting history, all the trading and commerce of the coffee, doesn’t it?

Tibed: Yes, it’s very different. I have been in various countries, and I know, like for example in Honduras, the production and transport from the farm to the port is so close that it doesn’t take more than 4 or 5 hours of travel. But this area is so remote. Imagine it, from Putina Puno to the production zone of many producers, and we are not talking about its total, some producers are 6 hours away, some others 8 hours, and then from there to the port or to the processing plant that is located in Lima. It is very far, and we are talking near 40 hours of travel for the coffee, and that is very far, I think is the most isolated part in the world of coffee, if I am not mistaken. 

Aleco: I always tell the story of one time that you and I were in Pilcopata. It was many years ago but, many years ago. We were visiting someone, and we happened to see Mr. Ciriaco Quispe taking his coffee down bag by bag in a wooden wheelbarrow. His farm is almost a whole hour of walking straight up. It is difficult. And I can’t even imagine how to bring down 100lb bags in one of those wheelbarrows. Bag by bag, it has to take hours. Even days, no? It is insane. So, it’s not just a matter of where the production is, but how to get to the town as well. It’s incredible, I’ve never seen something like that in my life. 

Tibed: Yes, the topography is rugged. And making a wrong move while carrying the wheelbarrows, one can get injured or worse. 

Ali: How do you do it Tibed, this year? Did you go and pick up? Did you have a meeting point where the producers would come and deliver to you? 

Tibed: This year we had a temporary meeting point where Silvia has helped us a lot. She is a long time friend who’s also a coffee taster. So, that is the agreement that we made in the production area. But we also had a warehouse that we rented in the city of Juliaca. 

Ali: And from your warehouse to Juliaca, how many hours are in between?

Tibed: Well, by truck, it is about 14 hours.

Ali: That means just one way, no?

Tibed: Exactly, one way only.

Aleco: Can you tell us about your famous wife? Delia, winner of a great place in the Cup of Excellence competition last year and a renowned producer of the highest quality coffee? 

Tibed: Yes, my wife Delia and I started this growing project because we wanted to know the true effort of producing high quality coffee and be able to experience it with our own hands. You can see it in a book, or you can see it in biographies, whatever is written can say something, and something different is what you truly go through and work on. It is very difficult growing specialty coffee and at the same time, it’s a passion, and this is the reason why we started with the farm so we could experience all this. And to explain what truly happens in the farms and how we can actually improve the quality of the coffee for other producers in the community. That’s why we entered Cup of Excellence. Delia’s coffee, our coffee, ended in 11th place. We hope to be able to compete again in the upcoming years and see what happens. To see if we can win, that is also the goal, no? 

Aleco: Yes, I would say we know a lot of the stories of the coffees of well-known Puno producers like Ciriaco and Raul Mamani, Benjamin Peralta, and Wilson Sucaticona of course. And Abdon and Juan Quilla, but Delia’s coffee has added a higher level of quality. That amazing coffee. It is one of the best coffees in the entire continent of South America.

Tibed: Wow! Thank you for your appreciation for our coffee, it makes me really happy, and believe me, my wife is really happy for this as well.

Aleco: Yes, well we thank you so much Tibed, and say hello to her from us please.

Tibed: Of course, that I will do.

Aleco: Ali, what else?

Ali: Well, I’m just thinking you’ve had so many experiences, Tibed

Tibed: Yes. It will take me a life to tell you all of them.

Ali: What has been your favorite part of the farming project that you have with Delia? It seems like you started it primarily to learn from the experience, no? What did you get out of it and what have you enjoyed from it?

Tibed: Yes. In the farm we have many varieties, so that we can see the behavior of the different varieties. There are varieties that are very demanding in the fertilization, there are varieties that are strong and resilient. That is essential to know because, as a producer, if I want to produce specialty coffees, I have to manage my geographic location, I have to look for a good variety, so that knowledge is essential. The farm has taught me all that. What I like most is seeing the differences between all these varieties. I like it a lot because we’re also the ones who apply the fermentation in wet milling, and being able to experience the fermentation to see how it helps us. It’s complicated to use this method. It is very delicate, and just one mistake can damage the entire harvest of the day. 

Aleco: A question about the varieties: what variety does best in the microclimate of Tunqui and Putina Punco and all the area of Tambopata?

Tibed: The bourbons. 

Aleco: The bourbons, yeah. It is a very popular one in the area, no? It is something so special. It has floral flavors like the ones from Ethiopia. 

Ali: Tibed, I wanted to ask you, you have 3 kids, right?

Tibed: Yes, exactly!

Ali: And they have grown there in the ranch cultivating coffee with you all.

Tibed: Yes, during the pandemic yes. They have been here together with us.

Ali: And would you like for them, when they are grown, to be coffee producers? Or for them to do something else?

Tibed: It is a little bit difficult for me to say that because, I can imagine, each of my kids may have other likes, so for me personally, I think it would be good that they would be involved in the coffee world, but I think each of them will decide their own destiny, their own likes. Maybe one wants to be a doctor, or maybe another profession, I don’t know, they might not be involved with the coffee. Maybe they don’t like the world of the coffees but at the end of the day, they will walk their own way. But for me, personally, I would really like that.

Ali: Beautiful outcome.

Aleco: Well, then, is there anything you want to ask us or say to us?

Tibed: Yes, I am very happy to be part of the coffee world. It is my passion, and what I am doing is what I love. The world of coffee doesn’t have borders or a limit, and I think that, beyond borders, we find the world of the coffee growers, of the entire world. I think that we have to communicate with producers, and help the producers to get the best prices for their coffees, and for me, personally, I would be really happy with this. 

Thanks to Aleco for helping me during the 5 years in Red Fox and for knowing so much about the world of the coffee. When I left Cecovasa, I thought I knew it all. Then, I realized that that wasn’t the case, and that there was much more. I think the world of the coffees is very ample and there is a lot to learn. And thank you very much.

Aleco: Beautiful Tibed, thank you very much. You will always be part of the Red Fox family. And you will always be my brother as well. Thank you very much for your time, and for sharing the stories with us. Ali, I don’t know if you have anything else.

Ali: No, thank you so much Tibed, I hope you have a beautiful afternoon.

Tibed: Ok, thank you so much to you too.

Aleco: Thank you! Bye!

 

To learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.

 

Puno, Better Than Ever

Puno coffee—if you’ve had it, you know it’s unforgettable. Puno is one of the most exclusive and renowned growing regions in all of Latin America, and while we buy all the volume we can from our producing partners there, there just isn’t that much. The coffees are some of the best we taste all year not just in Peru, but in the whole world. Puno coffees have a dedicated following and are typically gone before they arrive, so we may not talk about them very often. But Puno, located in the South of Peru where Red Fox started, is a huge part of our story.

Members of what is now Red Fox had been working in neighboring Southern Peru region Cusco since 2006, but were pushed out in 2007 by a large, corrupt cooperative union that ruled the Cusco region and all the groups within with an iron fist, preventing us from buying coffee at higher prices and maintaining traceability. When we were pushed out of Cusco, we connected with trade partners in Puno and started working there in 2008, meeting producers and tasting their coffees, which were (and are) truly exceptional.

After tasting the incredibly floral offerings that come from Putina Punco at the 2008 National Cafe Y Cacao board competition, which governs coffee trade in Peru and held an annual COE-style competition and auction 10 years before the inaugural COE Peru, we met with Tibed Yujra, who was at the time the head of quality control for a large cooperative union based in Puno. During that visit, we cupped through a veritable ton of coffee with the cooperative: the ten best, they sent back to auction, and the rest, we bought. We’ve been buying Puno coffees since then.

Over time, we struggled with the cooperative union in that area, and they dealt with high turnover. Tibed left and did consulting and QC work elsewhere, and we met back up with him in Cusco after that region reopened to us, coming to work for us shortly thereafter. We discovered that the cooperative union we worked with in Puno wasn’t paying the full prices back to producers that we had promised and paid to the organization. After a few years navigating the situation in Puno as best we could and trying to get money back to the producers, Tibed left Red Fox and started his own company in Puno, helping us connect with producers and make sure they get paid the prices we promise them as well as helping them maximize the coffee’s potential. This year, we’re more excited than ever about Puno.

Puno, and specifically the subregion of the Sandia Valley where the producers we work with live, is home to some of the original Bourbon the UN brought there in the 80s in order to combat the growing coca trade. Because the UN isn’t a coffee organization, they brought Bourbon instead of the hybrids that became so ubiquitous throughout Latin America, a decision that was key to the coffee landscape as it currently exists. Most of the farmers there are smallholders, growing on an average 2.5 hectares of land.

The reason there’s so little coffee coming out of Puno each year is that despite the UN’s efforts, the coca trade has since reclaimed most of the Sandia Valley. The farmers we work with are some of the last coffee growers in the area. While some farmers are coerced into growing coca, others are understandably attracted to the faster, multiple growing seasons and higher prices coca promises. We’re excited to see Tibed organizing to make sure fair coffee profits get back to the farmers remaining in Puno and we see many good things on the horizon for this unique subregion this year and into the future.

In addition to Putina Punco, we buy coffee from Massiapo, Quiquira, and Yanahuaya, all within a relatively close vicinity within the Sandia Valley. Sandia Valley flavors are extremely dynamic, more so than any other region in Peru. The Caturra coffees in the area have a prolific combination of sweetness and acidity, with dark fruit character like both red and black currants and a crisp, apple character with both weight, sweetness, and a refreshing malic acidity like both apple and pear. When you roast them, they’re complete and balanced as well as nuanced and dynamic. That’s what the Caturra is like, but when you hit pockets of Bourbon you find coffees that come with flavors you associate strongly with East Africa: floral, complex, and intensely sweet, like honeysuckle and hard candy. They may not have the level of complexity to the acidity as Ethiopian coffees, but the dynamic of sweetness is unmatched.

 

Interested in sourcing coffee with us? Reach out at info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.comTo learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.

Newsletter: Harvest Update & Delivery Schedule Peru 2016/2017

Greetings from the Fox Den, where we are in the thick of the South American shipping season. Lots from Colombia and Peru that we approved earlier this fall are starting to arrive on both coasts, and we’re sprinting to keep up with the influx of new samples from later in the harvest. In Colombia, where the harvest season lasts much longer, our offerings are spread out more evenly and ship more consistently. We already have coffees available in the warehouses on both coasts and will continue to ship a couple of containers per month throughout the winter. The buying season in Peru is much more intense and compressed. With our primary focus on the southern departments of Cusco and Puno, the vast majority of what we buy is from the peak harvest in August/September/October. Our time is devoted to filtering and approving Peru samples in both Lima and Berkeley from September through November. We just received our last batch of Peru offer samples in our Berkeley lab and, if all goes according to plan, we’ll finish cupping and send our instructions to the cooperatives by the end of this month.

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2016 POST-HARVEST REVIEW

We have put a new system of filtering samples in place in Peru for the 2016 harvest. It’s designed to make us more efficient at analyzing and approving samples, bulking lots and selecting micro lots, and, perhaps most importantly, at ensuring that stable coffees are milled, packaged, and shipped in the most timely manner.

The work begins with our field agent, Tibed Yujra, who is based in Puno and engages daily with the producers, cooperative leaders, millers, and exporters that we work with in Peru. Beginning right around the halfway point of the harvest season, Tibed begins collecting parchment samples from receiving stations throughout southern Peru. He takes physical measurements of all the samples to analyze water activity and moisture content, and excludes any samples that fall outside our specs. After this initial filtering, we meet up with Tibed in Lima to conduct a first round of cupping. All the coffees that we determined are “clean” at that point are brought back to the Berkeley lab for final analysis, where they are again measured for water activity and moisture content and cupped for a final time. It’s at this point that we determine which lots should be kept separate as micro lots, and which can be bulked by cooperative or region. Results and milling instructions are immediately sent back to the the cooperatives, and coffees are dispatched to be prepared for shipment. Tibed is waiting for these lots as they enter the dry mill to assure that a proper job is done. So far we’ve found this new system to be faster and better organized, and we’ve trimmed 2-3 weeks off of the entire process compared to last season.

Storage conditions for our coffees in Peru are ideal. The coffees are kept in very dry, cool climes prior to milling — between 2800 masl (Andahuaylas) and 3400 masl (Juliaca) — and most coffee is milled in Juliaca itself. Many of you who have bought Peruvian coffees from us in the past have remarked at the impressive longevity of these lots. We think the explanation is the excellent milling and storage conditions, along with Tibed’s ability to move coffee from the interior to the dry mill to port at what seems like the speed of light.

We spent time this season trying to solve the water activity issues that plagued some of our coffees from the 2015 harvest, and on our first trip to Peru this year we discovered some excessively fast drying practices in La Convencion, Cusco. Coffees were being dried on patios in direct sun in just 3 to 4 days and, while the coffees were reaching the proper moisture content in that time, it was wreaking havoc on the stability of those coffees. Even drying is more important for overall longevity and quality than a target moisture level, and water activity is a far greater measure of stability for us for this reason. We find that drying coffee at such an extreme rate doesn’t allow for an even distribution of water within the coffee bean, and we think slower drying times — we recommend a minimum of 8 days — equate to lower water activity, a longer lifespan, and greater freshness for green coffee.

At our request, the cooperative in La Convencion has installed raised beds in most of the washing stations they operate, and they are covering the parchment at midday to protect it from the ultra-intense sun. Where raised beds couldn’t be installed in time this season, they are drying parchment in larger piles to slow down the drying times. Overall, the results are markedly improved. We have adhered to a strict protocol with water activity this season, and only accept coffees that measure between 0.50 and 0.59. All coffees shipped this season are within this range.

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CUSCO

Cusco is the future. It’s like a brand new origin for the ultra quality-focused buyers out there. We’ve written before about the monumental implosion of the old cooperative union. Now a handful of new cooperatives have risen from its ashes, and they’re looking to connect with the specialty market. We have built strong relationships with two of these cooperatives, and hope that more will come with future harvests.

Altitude in Cusco is supreme. I don’t know a region in Peru that has more 2000+ masl producing zones. Scratch that. I don’t know another coffee producing region in the world with as much 2000+ masl coffee. Our focus to date has been in the La Convencion area of Cusco, an absolutely gigantic swath of coffee-producing land. We’ve spent days on end driving in and around the producing valleys within La Convencion, seeking out the hidden crevices. They are the most epic areas in the coffee lands that I know.

The two cooperatives we currently work with in the department of Cusco are both on the southern end of La Convencion. Though they seem close to one another on the map, the distance between is quite far in reality. They’re separated by a rugged 10+ hour drive across altitudes upwards of 15,000 ft.

On one end of the journey, just over the Cusco/Apurimac border, is the Incahuasi Valley. The valley has an otherworldly beauty, like being on another planet. The feeling of escape from the rest of the world out there is unlike any other place I know. It’s just the producing community, the coffee, and us when we visit. No interruptions. After a long hiatus buying from this group, we got back into the swing of things two years ago. The connection between the producers, the cooperative leaders, and Red Fox is strong, and this year they will be our largest provider in all of Peru.

The three main communities within the Incahuasi Valley are Pacaybamba, Amaybamba, and San Fernando. Each has its own centralized wet mill where producers can deliver their cherry. A smaller portion of the associated farmers process cherry at their own farms in a similar fashion to what you’d encounter in Colombia: manual depulping, fermentation in small tanks or buckets, washing by hand, and drying on raised beds. Baseline altitude for most of the valley is 1900 masl, and the peaks above San Fernando are home to some of the 2200-2300 masl farms. Being isolated from most other coffee production in Peru means that the farms in Incahuasi are planted almost exclusively with Caturra and Typica. Small pockets of Bourbon still exist as well.

At the other end of the long drive is Quillabamba, Santa Teresa, home to the Sacred Valley itself. The cooperative we work with in Santa Teresa is just 12km from Machu Picchu. While visiting farms this past June, Joel, Tibed and I were introduced to farms hidden along a secret trail built as an escape path down the backside of the old Inca fortress. The path was “discovered” by the western world in the 1980s, but was well known and farmed by three generations of producers whose coffee we now buy. Altitudes are enormous here as well, exceeding 2100 masl at the top of this path and in the region in general. Small pockets of Bourbon and Pache can be found in greater Santa Teresa, though, like in Incahuasi, Caturra and Typica still reign supreme.

Wrapping up our second year of work with these folks, it’s safe to say that there is a lot of room for improvement, both in the infrastructure for coffee storage and drying and in the organization. A prior history of commodity buying means that this producing culture is just beginning to learn about and be motivated by quality. But we believe in the potential here, and we think this season’s offerings make that potential clear.

 

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PUNO

I would love to have started this segment by saying that if Cusco is the future for Red Fox, then Puno is our old faithful. Unfortunately, the entire Sandia Valley, home to all coffee production in the department of Puno, has been ravaged by roya. In light of the large risk that roya presents, many producers have pulled up their coffee trees and replanted their farms with coca, which has a higher monetary value compared to coffee, and yields multiple harvests in a single year. The producers who have maintained their coffee production are delivering a third or even a quarter of the volume they used to produce.

If there’s good news in Puno this year, it’s that the farmers who have stayed true to coffee have galvanized their communities towards a greater commitment to coffee production. The Inambari Valley in particular, home to the Inambari and Tupac Amaru cooperatives, is still producing strong volumes of beautiful coffees. The San Isidro and San Ignacio areas of Tunkimayo are still producing beautiful coffees as well. Staying true to our commitment to these producers has allowed us to increase the volume of our purchases from 650 bags in 2015 to 800 bags this year. It’s not much coffee in the grand scheme of things, but we hope that number will grow as harvests stabilize and yields increase.

Though the climate in Puno may be slightly wetter than Cusco, the peak altitudes are similar. The Sandia Valley is home to a wealth of 1900+ masl coffee. Caturra and Typica are the common varietals, though Bourbon plays an even stronger role in the genetic makeup of coffee here, thanks to a UN-funded replanting project in the 1980s.

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QUALITY

What we love most about Peruvian coffees are their unique flavor profiles. These are not Colombias and they’re not Bolivias. I’m hardpressed to compare Peruvian profiles to any other origin, unless it’s those floral Bourbons that remind me that the Ethiopian harvest is just around the corner.

Many of you have bought Puno coffees from us before, as that is the region that really put Red Fox on the map when it comes to Peru. These coffees are so so sweet, creamy, and balanced, with crisp but subtle malic acidity and elegant dark fruit character. ‘Honeycrisp apple’, ‘raisin,’ and ‘creme brulee’ are common descriptors for me. I’ve always found these coffees to be crowd-pleasers at well-roasted production levels. And they behave well in blends with other coffees, too. Punos are versatile and built to last for the long haul through winter.

The Cusco coffees are the lively ones, showing off that racy, ripe-fruit character that is so appealing on the cupping table. The Incahuasi lots demonstrate the whole range of yellow fruits from peach to mango, along with dried fruit notes of golden raisin and apricot. The sweetness of these profiles runs from brown sugar to wildflower honey. These are our brightest coffees from this origin.

I can’t stress enough that these are the coffees that always surprise people in late spring, when they help to bridge the gap between the winter menu and the arrival of new crop centrals. The high-altitude storage, swift shipping, and our extra attention to ensuring stability make these coffees something to count on year after year.

DELIVERY SCHEDULE

The first wave of shipments has arrived on both coasts and will be clearing into Continental Terminals and The Annex in the next week or so. These coffees were dry-milled and packaged in Juliaca at 3400 masl in early October before being sent to the port in Lima.

The second wave of shipments, which represents the bulk of our purchases from both regions, is either afloat or in the dry mill now, and will begin arriving on both coasts in early December. The second shipment of Puno coffees was milled in Juliaca in mid-November. The second wave of Cusco lots was prepared under Tibed’s careful supervision in Lima. These coffee spent a total of 12 days in Lima before being loaded and shipped from Callao.

A third and final shipment, exclusively from Puno, will ship in December. This coffee will also be milled and packaged at 3400 masl in Juliaca and will arrive just after the new year.

Most of the coffees on offer are organic certified, and many also have Fair Trade certification. Please inquire with us about which lots are certified.

Newsletter: Peru 2015 Shipment & Delivery Update

Back when Red Fox Coffee Merchants was still a daydream of mine, one of my more lucid visions was that Peru would become the defining origin for a nascent sourcing business. No other producing country fulfills the core ideals of our mantra so seamlessly: coffee-producing communities so far off the grid that they have been left behind by much or all of the specialty market; quality that has the potential to change the way people think about coffee. Getting around Peru is more difficult than any other origin I’ve ever worked in. And, yes, that includes Ethiopia, Indonesia, and everywhere else. The south is particularly tricky to traverse. Each trip involves several flights, dozens of hours in the car, challenging hikes to get in and out of the producing valleys. Visiting one farmer often takes an entire day.

Being a coffee farmer from the Sandia Valley in Puno or from Incahuasi or Huadquina in Cusco is as grueling a proposition as anywhere I’ve seen. Note the photo of Ciriaco Quispe and his homemade wooden cart, which holds 2 bags of parchment coffee — bags that weigh somewhere around 40kg each. Ciriaco’s farm is a 90 minute hike off of the main road on a rugged dirt trail at what feels like a 90-degree angle, and it yields roughly ten 69kg bags of 1st quality exportable green coffee a year. Let’s use the standard translation of 70% parchment to 1st quality green to estimate that Ciriaco makes this trip at least 12 times a season to deliver all his coffee to the mill. This is the standard for coffee farmers across the greater Sandia Valley.

We think it’s important for everyone to understand what the reality is for these folks. We pay a whole lot of money in Peru because we love the coffees, because we know what it takes for farmers here to deliver their coffees to market, and because we think there is even more potential to develop.

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As many of you know, Red Fox added a full-time field agent, Tibed Yujra, on the ground in Peru going into the harvest this past spring. Tibed and I have cupped together since 2009, when I first began working in the Sandia Valley of Puno. Back in those days, Tibed was Quality Control manager for the entire cooperative society that we worked with.

We brought Tibed on board to help us acheive our vision for the country. There are more obstacles to overcome in Peru than in almost any other coffee producing country in Latin America, but the potential for top quality is equally as large. What are the prerequisites that a coffee buyer looks for when venturing into new territory? Elevation? Varietals? Microclimate? Processing technique? Peru has everything we’re looking for and in spades. Elevations soar well over 1,800 masl across the country and reach 2,200 masl in a few specific regions. Caturra and Typica are commonly found top to bottom in the Peruvian Andes, and one of the south’s best kept secrets is the abundance of Bourbon. The Peruvian Andes are more arid than most, allowing for proper drying and storage conditions. We are often conditioning parchment at over 10,000 feet. Processing in our projects is similar to Colombia in that it’s done very simply with manual techniques. Drying on raised parabolic beds is also a commonality.

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This year Red Fox is working in three departments of Peru. Coffees from two of these regions are arriving now on both east and west coasts:

PUNO

Peru started for us in Puno. We were initially, and still are, attracted to the potential for micro lots with dramatically floral character. I sometimes refer to them as ‘Junior Yirgacheffe.’ People occasionally confuse them for Geisha. They’re neither — I mean what is? — but that delicious confusion is thanks to the United Nations. In an attempt to rejuvenate coffee production in the Sandia Valley, a UN-funded project brought the aforementioned Bourbon seed stock to producers in the region during the 80’s and 90’s.

Along with these unique, floral-driven coffees we also find coffees that are filled with fresh cream, fine chocolate, black walnut, toasted sugar and a range of fruit from red apple to apricot to raisin. They cup very solid on the table, but they brew even better. We encourage you to put these samples through your harios and kalitas after you cup. It adds perspective.

Within Puno is the Sandia Valley, which is due north of the department capital of Juliaca, saddled right up along the border of Bolivia. Within Sandia are several other valleys that we work in, from Inambari at the southern entrance to Tambopata further north. There are thousands of farmers producing in the valley, but we work with a select number who have the elevation and varietals we’re looking for. Our selection process is ultra-intensive. We’ve screened well over 1,000 samples this fall, with an approval rate of approximately 10%. We’re more strict this year than we’ve ever been when it comes to cup quality, water activity, moisture content, and physical preparation. These lots are clean and stable.

CUSCO

My very first trip to Peru was centered around an adventure to the Incahuasi Valley of Cusco. It’s a 10+ hour drive to get out there from the city of Cusco; a drive that takes you from the Department of Cusco into Apurimac before winding its way back into Cusco. It’s one of the more epic rides you can take as a coffee buyer, especially the crossing over the altiplano at 15,000 feet. Breathing is not to be taken for granted up there.

I took two trips to Incahuasi in the summer of 2006, but the outcome was disappointing. A large trade organization that was not open to outside buyers working directly with farmers pushed us out of the region. They were an immovable obstacle in the road to transparent sourcing.

In 2014 that group disintegrated, a moment I had personally been waiting for since my initial visits, and now not only are we able to trade directly with farmers in the Incahuasi Valley, but Tibed and I are focused on scouring the rest of the Department for its finest coffees. Our search has taken us to the Yanatile Valley as well as to Ocobamba and Santa Teresa. There is a treasure chest of amazing Cusco coffees that we can’t wait to bring to market in the coming years.

Elevations can reach well over 2,000 meters in the region, and there are small pockets of Bourbon to be found, along with more widespread Caturra and Typica. These coffees are exciting and demonstrate an entirely different cup profile than their neighbors to the south. The range of flavor begins with a bounty of yellow fruits from mango to peach and apricot to meyer lemon. Muscovado and darker sugars and honeys drift through the profile from start to finish.

We’re really proud of where our projects in Peru are now, and we’re very happy about the qualities we’re bringing in. These are coffees that will bring a whole lot of life to your menus throughout the winter. Please email info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com for samples.

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Newsletter: Peru Puno Tupac Amaru (Organic)

Few coffees brew as consistently clean, sweet, and balanced as coffees from the Puno region of Southern Peru. Sandia Valley is a more specific area within the region, and the Inambari Valley, within Sandia, is just about as good as it gets. The Tupac Amaru Cooperative is one of two associations located in this valley. Tupac is the coffee people ask for the most each and every season from Puno and for good reason — it’s often the sweetest, juiciest, and creamiest coffee in any given container. We’ve held the last 30 bags aside from the last arrival to offer through the newsletter today.

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The Tupac Amaru co-op has a membership of well over 500 farmers. Elevation ranges from 1400-1800 masl and farmers grow Caturra, Typica, Catimor, and even some Bourbon. Farmers are small in terms of their landholding. Average farm size is 2.5 hectares in the entire valley. Coffee is typically picked by the farmers themselves and their families. Processing is par for the course as far as rural South America goes: hand crank depulping machines, fermentation in concrete tanks for 16-20 hours with washing done in the same tanks. Climate, although fairly dry in the summer, can be rainy in the second half of the season. Parabolic beds are used to dry coffee parchment which takes on average anywhere from 6-14 days.

Tupac is a densely sweet coffee, think fine cacao and muscovado sugar, that will be its most brilliant when brewed. Its balance is unparalleled, with a subtle apple-like acidity and heavy cream finish; 87.5 points

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Travel Journal: South America Update

Perfectly ripe stone fruit. Tart green grape. Juicy red apple. Fragrant floral aromatics reminiscent of wildflower honey and Queen of the Night. Toasted pecan. Toasted almond. Macadamia. Sugars ranging from cane to muscovado, turbinado to panela. High percentage fine cacao.

These are the things we love about the very best South American coffees. And these are the coffees we’re searching tirelessly to discover. Finding them and the people who produce them is not easy, though. It’s taken years of travel and a constant focus on development to bring the top Inzas and Punos and Pichincha coffees to market the over past decade. We spend a good part of our spring, summer, and early fall making the journey to Colombia, across the border into Ecuador, down to Peru, and over the altiplano to Bolivia. We do it several times over to make sure we have a strong strategy in place, to check in during harvest time and select lots, to ensure that our work isn’t all for naught in the dry mill. It’s my favorite time of year. South America is often the overlooked continent in our specialty coffee industry. Sure, Colombia is on the radar, but Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador often are not. One of our primary aims at Red Fox is to change that; to give the smallholder farmers of these origins a voice in the marketplace.

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I’m hopping a plane to Peru in just a couple of hours and will be making the trek from Puno to Cuzco over the course of a couple weeks. The harvest is just past peak, meaning it’s the perfect time to get our spoons into some samples.

I personally have been working in the Sandia Valley of Puno for five years now, in a handful of different communities. These are the most special coffees in all of Peru, in my opinion. Elevations soar here, reaching over 2,000 masl in certain areas. Caturra and Typica are grown across the valley, but the secret here is the Bourbon. A UN-funded development project in the 80’s reintroduced Bourbon to the valley, and it’s the best explanation I have for the wild floral flavors, layered acidity, and saturated sweetness we find in the top lots.

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Cuzco was my introduction to Peruvian coffee back in 2006, but, after purchasing from an isolated community deep in the valleys of La Convencion the first year, we lost the coffee when a mega-sized cooperative took over the region and made transparent buying impossible. This year, farmers in Cuzco are once again able to trade freely and directly, and that means we’re right back into the fray. We’re hoping to select a handful of top lots during my trip next month, and are looking forward to building our relationship with this community again.

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