from Gregor Sieböck
We climbed down a steep slope. It was slippery and more than once it was only a quick grab for a branch of a coffee bush that saved me from sliding down the entire hillside. We were looking for Pablo Clemente, who cultivates highland coffee here in the mountains close to Tingo Maria at an altitude of 1,500 metres. When we finally found Pablo, I was surprised that he picked each coffee bean individually because they become ripe at different times. He had tied a wicker basket around his waist and filled it with red and yellow beans. He told us that he grows three different varieties: Caturra amarilla, Caturra roja and Costa Rica. However, the Caturra varieties in particular have been afflicted with Roya amarilla, a fungal disease coming from Middle America, and so half of his four-hectare plot is not currently yielding a harvest. Even though he treats the plants with a mixture of chalk, sulphur and water, which partly gets rid off the fungi. Furthermore, it helps if fewer shrubs are planted because it makes the plot better aerated. But what is even more effective is replacing the Caturra coffee bushes with Catuai, Costa Rica and Gran Colombia shrubs because they are resistant to Roya amarilla. Luckily, the Naranjillo cooperative supports the farmers with cultivating seedlings, says Pablo, in order to stop the advance of the fungal disease.
We continued our journey to Don Julio, who has been growing coffee for 25 years. He cultivates a plot of 14 hectares in the middle of the cloud rainforest. Four hectares of this plot are planted with coffee bushes. The remaining area is used for the cultivation of oranges, lemons, mango, avocado, lentils and beans - for selling as well as private consumption. His favourite plant, however, is the coffee: "I love this shrub," he says with sparkling eyes. "Just look at the bright red and yellow fruit. Aren't they beautiful?" While we take a walk around his coffee plot, he starts raving about them more and more. Between the shrubs grow large trees that provide the coffee bushes with shade. Then he suddenly stops, cuts the bark of a large tree with a knife and a red liquid oozes out. "This is Sangre de grado, it's the perfect remedy for promoting wound healing. Nature really gives us everything we need to live. There is such an abundance, just look at this jungle. Isn't it magical here?" When we passed an orange tree, he picked a few oranges for us and told us to enjoy them. They tasted simply incredible fresh from the tree.
Highland coffee grows at an altitude of over 1,200 metres and his harvested between March and July. One hectare of land yields between 700 and 1,500 kg of dried coffee beans per harvest. The farmers receive 7.90 soles per kilogram from the Naranjillo cooperative. ( That's about 2.10 Euros.) The fair-trade premium is 500 US dollars per ton, and the farmers receive an extra 300 US dollars per ton for organic products. The premium for the Rainforest Alliance or UTZ certification is 175 US dollar per ton.
What makes good coffee? Mostly the climate, which is characterised by not too much sun. Trees should provide shade and only let through no more than 70 % of direct sunlight. Most suitable are high trees, as they will not disturb the air circulation within the coffee plot. The ground should not be too moist and as fertile as possible. Coffee grows best at an altitude of more than 1,200 metres, even better at 1,800 metres and higher, because then the fruit has more substance and develops a more intense flavour. It is important to harvest coffee only when the fruit are completely ripe and, when drying the beans, it is crucial that they don't lie on the ground and thus absorb the moisture of the ground. Clean processing is also an important quality attribute.
In the evening, Michael and I were allowed to come along as the coffee bags were collected from the farmers. At Naranjillo's Centro de Acopio, the beans were first washed, then peeled and finally fermented for 12 to 30 hours and then dried. I'll probably never forget how we drove into the jungle on a bumpy gravel path. It led steeper and steeper downhill, the potholes became deeper and the vegetation seemed to barely leave any room for the road. Finally, a man stood in the headlight of the pick-up truck. He wore a knitted dwarf hat from the Andean highlands, had a large coffee bag by his side and appeared to have been waiting for us forever. But that didn't seem to bother him, in fact, our appearance conjured a smile on his face and he was visibly happy and deeply grateful. His name was Silvestre, which means "wild" or "wild-growing" - his name thus perfectly suits the place where he lives.
It was a great gift to accompany the coffee farmers of the Naranjillo cooperative for an entire day and to see how much work goes into a single coffee bean. Since then, I can enjoy my coffee on a completely new level, yes, suddenly all the memories of my great day with the highland coffee farmers of Peru are packed into one cup of coffee - and that brings me great joy, gratitude and abundance!