A History of Peruvian Coffee

Posted by Thomas Minieri on

When you think of coffee, what countries tend to come to mind? For most Americans, coffee beans that come from Colombia, Brazil, Mexico or even Indonesia might be top of mind. These countries are some of the top producers of coffee in the world, but there’s another popular producer, one that ranks just barely outside of the world’s top 10. Peru comes in at number 11 for coffee production making it a very common source of coffee for consumers around the world, especially in America.

This South American country is one of the oldest producers of coffee in the Americas. Both the people of Peru and the country itself have a rich history of coffee growing, consumption and exportation, making it a popular choice for coffee lovers. Whether or not you’re familiar with the taste of Peruvian coffee beans, understanding the history of Peru’s coffee industry is sure to help you develop a deeper appreciation of this beverage and the countries it comes from.

Early History

Compared to some other coffee-growing nations, like Ethiopia, Peru has a much younger history of coffee growing. Even though Peru’s history of coffee is younger than other parts of the world, it still extends much further back than other countries in the Americas.

Peru began to grow coffee around the mid 1700’s, though it’s not exactly understood how or why coffee plants made it to the region much faster than other surrounding countries. Why coffee plants made it to Peru earlier than others is especially odd considering that other countries in the region were much closer to the sources of coffee plants in the Caribbean. Throughout the 1700’s and most of the 1800’s coffee production rose steadily in Peru, however, the beans were enjoyed just by locals for the most part with very few being exported. While Peru did have somewhat of a coffee exportation industry, it was small and very rarely was exportation done even as far as the United States. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that Peru amped up the exportation of their coffee beans and production was done on a larger scale.

During the late 1800’s Indonesia and other Asian countries were experiencing a terrible disease outbreak. At the time, Indonesia and other Asian countries were the main providers of coffee to European countries, so when Asian exporting was slowed down by the outbreak, Europeans were forced to look elsewhere for their supply. By this point in time Europeans had developed a strong liking for coffee, so it was critical to find alternative suppliers to keep up with their demand. One of the countries that Europeans looked to for coffee was Peru.

During the early 1900’s Europeans invested into Peru’s coffee industry in order to help get production and exportation to the scale needed to fulfill their demand. It wasn’t long before Peru’s modest coffee industry grew to make up 60% of the country’s exports and serve as a major driver of its economy.

During the 1900’s though the world saw two World Wars, putting strain on the European countries that were backing Peru’s coffee industry. The loss of England’s financial support for example, reduced the connectivity in Peru’s commercial coffee industry, leaving many rural farmers struggling to figure out logistics and how to get their beans to market where distributors would buy them.

Coffee Characteristics

Peru’s landscapes produce coffees that tend to be medium bodied and smooth. A coffee with a medium body has a consistency that’s somewhere between “watery” and “syrupy.” For comparison, Mexican coffee usually has a lighter body that is more watery while Sumatran coffee is usually described as having a heavy body, one that’s more syrupy. Coffee that comes from Peru’s lower-altitude farms usually produces coffee that has a mild acidity and notes of flowers, nuts and is slightly fruity. On the other hand, coffee grown on farms located high in the Andes Mountains, such as those near Machu Picchu, usually have a brighter acidity, rich sweetness and notes of vibrant florals. Most coffee that is grown in Peru is done so at 1,200 meters or more above sea level. Higher elevations tend to be better for growing coffee, so most of Peru’s coffee growing happens on the eastern slopes of the Andes or in the highlands of the Amazon.

Once picked, the coffee cherries (or coffee fruit) then go through a process to remove any pulp from the beans before being dried out in the sun. Some Peruvian coffees are dry-processed meaning that the full coffee fruit is dried out before removing the pulp. Other Peruvian coffees are wet-processed. This is when the pulp is removed and the coffee is then fermented to help remove any remaining pectin still stuck to the bean.

Coffee in Peru Today

After struggling with creating infrastructure robust enough to support the country’s growing coffee exportation, for the last few decades Peru has seen advancements in how their coffee industry is set up. Farmers that were once disconnected and operating solo have since formed successful local co-ops. These co-ops give rural farmers the partnerships they need to distribute their beans to buyers. Farmers that are part of these co-ops may pool their resources and share equipment in order to reduce their overhead costs.

Also, support and funding from development groups have made Peru one of the world’s top producers of Rainforest Alliance certified and certified organic coffee. The Fair Trade movement has also helped support Peru’s growing coffee industry. Fair Trade basically means that the growers and workers involved in the coffee industry are paid fairly and not exploited. This is especially meaningful since much of Peru’s coffee beans are still grown on small farms.

Trying coffees that were grown in different parts of the world is part of what makes coffee so enjoyable. Real coffee lovers look forward to the subtle differences that can be experienced when trying coffee from different parts of the world. Next time you’re looking for a new coffee region to explore, try taste-testing some of Peru’s coffee!

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