Highlights of Peru: Part I - Lima
By Lance Nichols
After an exciting, three-week adventure touring multiple coffee farms and growing regions of Peru, I am back stateside, and it’s good to be home. I joined fellow Q Grader, consummate roaster, former barista, and budding coffee guru Michael McIntyre and his wife Emily (freelance writer for Fresh Cup Magazine, Barista Magazine, and Sprudge.com, etc.) of Catalyst Coffee Consulting in Portland, Oregon. They were brought onboard for their quality control and marketing expertise by trip organizer and entrepreneur Juan Atkins of Peru Global Imports (also based out of Portland), specializing in trade of Peruvian specialty coffee and cacao.
As a preview of the upcoming trip, Angel Garcia Noriega of Mikel Coffee -- bowling ball of a personality, Q Grader, coffee maestro, jokester, and Juan’s QC guy at origin (who would join us for the first, weeklong leg of the trip) -- invited us to a cupping at his coffee-centric man cave (aka, the ground floor of his condo), and we jumped right in. We scored coffees from the first three regions that we planned to visit, two lots each from Finca Encañada in San Martín, Finca Vidurrizaga in Villa Rica, and honeys from Finca Timbuyacu in Amazones.
Emily, Michael, me, Juan, and Angel (L to R). Photo courtesy of Catalyst Coffee Consulting.
Lima at night.
Lima is sprawling, urbane, a melting pot. Relatively clean and well run, it is home to a teeming 10 million -- a full third of the country’s population. Yes, Lima is the capital of the country, but it is also the epicenter of haute cuisine in Latin America. What defines the cuisine of Cucina Novoandina is fusion -- both of multicultural traditions and of a stunning indigenous biodiversity. Blending elements from the descendents of West African, former slaves, a sizeable population of Japanese and Chinese heritage, colonial Spanish and European influences, and a number of indigenous ethnic communities, the cultural net is flung wide. Sourcing endemic ingredients from nine climate regions within the country subdivided even further by a range of elevations (reportedly, 28 distinct climates all together), the contemporary Peruvian palate is overflowing with an unrivaled wealth of diversity. Peru hosts an array of native crops such as potatoes and tubers, corn (often purple), Amaranthaceaes (including quinoa), peppers, and legumes (Lima bean anyone?), and an abundance of tropical fruits (of which around 20 species are native) including citrus, papaya, passionfruit, guava, banana, star fruit, maricuyá, camu camu, chirimoya, the pepino, rocoto, and ají peppers, cactus pear, and my all-time favorite, the creamy, pecan-like flesh of the lucuma. A bounty of seafood is sourced from Andean streams, Amazonian rivers, and the coast.
Ultra-fresh tiradito* of pejerrey (silverside) in leche de tigre and ají amarillo at Gastón Acurio’s original restaurant, La Mar Cebicheria. The first bite deserves a national holiday.
*note: Google tells me that tiradito = ceviche without onions
Chicha morada, the national soft drink of Peru (well, after Inca Kola), made of purple corn and infused with clove, cinnamon, citrus, and sugar.
Caramel affogato* with cocoa nib brownie from Origen Café y Te in the Pueblo Libre district of Lima.
*See a photo of this photo being taken in Emily’s piece on Origen Café posted on Sprudge.com.
K.C. O’Keefe grows his own coffee and roasts it on this Otto Swadlo heirloom roaster live in his shop, Café Verde, in the Miraflores district of Lima.
Traveling to origin in search of coffee can be tough on the very habit that drives the quest. In producing countries, it is rare in my experience to find anything more on the table than a finger-smudged jar of instant Nescafé next to a bowl of sugar. Not this time! My suspicion is that the blooming availability in the last couple of years of whole bean coffee sold in corner shops and café pesado brewed in cafes in urban centers throughout Peru can be attributed to demand generated from a sense of heightened gastronomy pulsating from Lima. We found our home away from home in specialty shops such as the legendary K.C. O’Keefe’s Café Verde in Miraflores, Origen Café y Te in Pueblo Libre (owned by husband and wife Gino Kanashiro Asato and Aeropress Champion of Peru, Jessica Tejada Torres), and Café Bet-El in Mayobamba (run by the gracious and inimitable Daniel Flores Noriega).
Breakfast of champions at Café Bet-El in Moyobamba.
Our last night in Lima, we dined lavishly at the family home of our host, Juan Atkins, treated to a splendid feast prepared by his mother, Amelia, and countless jokes which I can’t repeat here (and glasses of pisco and scotch) from his father, Bobby (Juan Roberto). And with that, we were off!
Fleeting snapshot from the van window capturing a bucolic creek and copse of trees, some 1,000 ft. or so below the edge of the road.
We headed first to coffee regions in the north. Our itinerary the first week included farms in the San Martín, Amazones, and Cajamarca departments. The second week, we returned briefly to Lima to venture over the mountains to Villa Rica in Junín. In all, more hours were spent on the road than in any single location. We encountered washouts and mudslides, delayed and cancelled flights, road construction and traffic, harrowing roads and hairpin turns above heartstopping precipices with loaded semis, straddling the yellow line between two very narrow lanes of highway, bearing down on us fast and furious from around a blind turn -- surprise! Many such trucks were adorned with inspirational sayings such as, “We ride with Jesus”. I don’t blame them. We adjusted to a hurry-up-and-wait pace of unanticipated delays followed by intense efforts to catch up with our plans. Bones rattled and bladders distended after many hours bouncing along sawtooth roads of drastically varying altitudes. Services on the road were infrequent and usually required some degree of humility, breath holding, and a wide stance on tiptoes. More than once, I blindly clambered into the van not knowing where we were headed or how long the drive. I left behind hotel rooms with no sign that I had been there other than trace DNA, a bedsheet folded back, and an indentation in the pillow.
I avidly embrace the adventure of travel, but, truth be told, traveling is a challenge! The first morning waking in my own bed back home, it took a good four or five seconds to process what hotel room I was in. Dreams were contorted, vivid, and strange. I still feel a twinge of hesitation properly disposing of toilet paper in the bowl, rather than in the wastebasket. Despite compromises of creature comforts, I would emphatically sign up for it all over again. The experiences and perspective gained are invaluable. I got what I wanted out of the trip and so much more. The people with whom I travelled and those whom we encountered along the way hold a place forever dear to me. Bless your seatbelt, and join me for the next installment of highlights as I recount stories and insights garnered on our whirlwind tour of the coffee farms of Peru at prime harvest.
Backs of heads: our intrepid driver, Jorge, and Dionisio Aguilar of Finca Encañada in the front seats. Michael and Emily McIntyre of Catalyst Coffee Consulting behind them.
Over my shoulder: Angel Noriega of Mikel Coffee, Daniel Noriega of Café Bet-El, and Juan Atkins of Peru Global Imports (L to R) mugging my selfie.