After sourcing some lovely coffees through the Valle Inca Association last year, we decided to visit Peru’s Cusco region with José Prudencio, the association’s president, to get to know some of their members first hand and taste through many more samples to make this year’s selections. Last year the Valle Inca group had around 100 members, a number which has almost doubled this year. This is predominantly thanks to word of mouth, with producers telling their neighbours of the premium prices that they were able to receive, having been able to access a more discerning coffee market through the association.
All the members are working organically and are certified as such via the Valle Inca group. For a member to join, there needs to be a baseline of quality met, dictated in part by altitude and the type of varieties planted, but ultimately it is down to the desire of each member to improve their quality through hard work. The group provide agronomical advice and training as well as pre-financing, so the farmer members are supported in multiple ways.
We were initially looking solely for espresso selections, but when we cupped with José and his team at their lab in Calca we tasted some really interesting small lots which we didn’t want to pass up on, and this coffee from Yolanda Cabrera Álvarez was our favourite coffee of the trip. Yolanda has been working closely with the agronomists and quality control team from Valle Inca to adapt her pre-and-post harvesting protocols. She uses organic compost on her farm in the Palmira Valley, which is situated at a staggering 2,200 metres. Her Typica and Caturra trees are between four and ten years old, and are kept separate during harvest. After manually depulping the coffee cherries the sugary, mucilage covered parchment coffee is bound up in plastic bags, which are then left to ferment for an extended period. If they leave the fermentation uncontrolled the hot days and cold nights experienced on Yolanda’s farm mean that the fermentation profile is stilted, and can swing from 24C to 60C over 24 hours, leading to alcoholic, banana-like aromas developing. This year they have held the sealed bags of coffee in a tiled tank, which is drip-fed natural spring water that acts as a cooling mechanism, to maintain a more consistent temperature throughout the day. At night they remove the bags from the tank and keep them close together, to maintain some residual warmth from the day. After anywhere between 35 and 49 hours they open the bags and check the aroma and feel the parchment, and rather than banana they experience more fruity pineapple and passionfruit like aromas using this fermentation method. Once the parchment is slippery and smooth the mucilage is deemed sufficiently broken down, and they fully wash the coffee before drying from 10 to 15 days on raised beds in covered polytunnels.
Several of the producers working with Valle Inca are experimenting with this kind of processing or using another method of sealing the coffee into barrels with an airlock system that allows CO2 to escape, and they’re calling it anaerobic fermentation. This term “anaerobic” seems to be a current fad in the specialty coffee world. Whether or not a truly anaerobic environment is created, or if the term “anaerobic fermentation” is actually meaningful, are both debatable, but for us it is interesting to note that the group and their more willing coffee producers are taking steps to control more parameters that ultimately affect how the native microbiome of bacterias and yeasts go to work on their depulped coffee. Given how their lots are cupping this year we think they’re doing a great job of improving quality across the board using these controls and protocols. The next step is to look for an alternative to GrainPro sacks, so that the processing is not so wasteful.
We really hope you enjoy the richness and deep fruitiness of this coffee, marking our first ever filter release from Peru!
Umapata, Lares, Calca, Cusco, Peru
Resinous & heady, look for flavours of black cherry, fig leaf & vanilla. A long, rolling finish leaves an aftertaste of chocolate coated raisins.