Rayos del Sol Peru
- January 2017
- Written by : Jay Cunningham
Sales Executive / Green Coffee Buyer
Closing the Circle
I was enjoying some coffee on a grey winter morning in 2013 when I met Jose Rivera, a coffee farmer from Peru who was visiting Chicago. I had no idea at the time that Jose would become a friend, a regular at our Chicago Roasting Works and the source of some stunning coffees.
Our former QC Director introduced me to him, somewhat awkwardly, while we were in the middle of a team meeting. I felt a little bad for Jose as he stood there, patiently waiting, while we worked through a long meeting filled with internal minutiae. I got him some coffee, and we chatted briefly. Jose ended up hanging out for the duration of the meeting then sat with us for a while in the lab talking coffee.
We learned that Jose isn’t just a farmer. He’s also a cupper who works for his family’s exporting company and operates a small coffee roaster in Lima. I was excited to hear he was also roasting malts for a local cerveceria.
Coffee buyers meet with farmers all the time. Few of those meetings lead to lasting relationships. Sometimes, a farmer never turns up again. But not Jose. Over the past three years, Jose has visited us in our Roasting Works over and over again -- he comes to taste coffee, drop off samples, discuss roasting approaches, and explore possibilities for collaboration.
Recently I came to better understand why Jose showed up out of the blue on that winter morning in 2013. Years ago, while Jose was working at his family’s dry mill, his father returned from the annual SCAA event with a bag of our Cruz del Sur single-origin coffee from Peru. It changed the way Jose thought about Peruvian coffee, inspired him to return to the farm and marked the start of a long period of restless experimentation driven by his belief that his community could produce coffees every bit as good as our Cruz del Sur. Jose’s patient engagement with us has been about closing the circle, and bringing coffees from his community into the Intelligentsia lineup.
During the harvest that year, Jose sent us some samples. We were pleasantly surprised. The coffees were clean, with complex acidity and a sweeter attack than what we were used to from Peru. He sent some lots that were separated by variety, something we had struggled to get from our previous partners in Peru, where most coffee fields are planted with multiple varieties that most mills mix as they bulk large lots for export. We provided some feedback on the coffee and promised to stay in touch.
Every year, Jose has brought us more samples, every year the coffees have gotten better, and every year we have deepened our interest in buying coffee from Jose. I’m proud to introduce Rayos del Sol, a beautiful single-variety Bourbon lot that represents the first tangible results of our partnership with Jose and the Pintado brothers.
Rayos del Sol
Jose’s family has been farming coffee since the 1940s in San Ignacio, one of Peru’s best coffee-growing regions, near the northern border with Ecuador. Not far from the tiny village of Iguamaca lies a small farm called Rayos del Sol. It belongs to Percy Pintado, one of Jose’s cousins. Percy produced this spectacular Bourbon lot together with two of his five brothers, Octavio and Olivio Pintado.
The coffee was wet milled and fermented in a small, tile-lined tank, then dried for two weeks on covered raised beds. The dried parchment was shipped by truck six hours to Jaen for milling, where it was hulled, sorted electronically and bagged for export.
I met Percy for the first time when I made my annual visit to Peru in mid-2016. It was the first time he had ever had direct contact with a roaster. He seemed a little incredulous about it all, to be honest, and motivated by our conversation about the coffee’s potential to get working on next year’s coffees. He has already committed to use some of the proceeds from our purchase this year to upgrade the wet mill and drying facilities. After this year’s success, his neighbors are starting to ask how they can get involved, too.
In presenting this coffee, we draw on symbols and concepts used by the Inca empire once anchored in Peru and the indigenous culture that still thrives there.
The snake represents a connection to the Pachamama that indigenous Peruvians honor, and her capacity for regrowth and renewal. Rainbows are a common sight in the misty Andean mountains. Peru’s indigenous community use the rainbow’s colors in their flag; we use this concept to represent the fleeting beauty and unpredictability of nature.
We are also inspired by the minga, the practice of collective labor and burden sharing still active in the Quechua nation, the largest indigenous group in Peru, descended directly from the Incas. On small and remote family farms across Peru, coffee is harvested with the help of neighbors and family. Communities or cooperatives organize mingas in which neighbors help one another out with the coffee harvest.
My meeting with Percy, which took place in an area once ruled by the mighty Inca and where Quechua is widely spoken today, was inflected with the minga concept -- we spoke of mutual commitment and helping each other out however possible as we begin to build a relationship based on quality. I can’t wait to visit Jose, Percy, Octavio, Olivio and their neighbors this summer to take the next steps together.
The coffee itself is delicious and reflects the land of Peru well: gorgeous and big, tropical but still hefty and really sweet.