I have recently been fortunate to have visited Peru. Among many things, the country is known for its superb coffee and is the largest exporter of organic Arabica coffee; that's the good stuff. So naturally, coffee in Peru was something I was eager to experience.
The region along the Northern Peruvian Amazon has been dubbed the land of coffee, honey, and natural forests - for good reason. Peru has been blessed with land perfect for any kind of cultivation. That's why Peruvian coffee is considered quite extraordinary. In fact, it's globally viewed as a benchmark of quality.
Starbucks Peruvian Coffee
If you're a fan of Starbucks Coffee like me (check out my post on why I like Starbucks), you'll be familiar with a seasonal product called Peru. This is actually a staple in Starbucks stores located in Peru, but for those in other countries across the world, it's a seasonal offering. In Peru, the coffee is round and balanced with soft acidity and a mildly nutty flavor. For a limited time, Starbucks patrons all over the planet can order Peru as the espresso shot in their preferred hand-crafted beverage.
Peru Coffee from Starbucks Reserve
Starbucks in Peru
Now, I knew that the Starbucks stores typically adopted certain features peculiar to the host country, and I was particularly interested in seeing what makes the Starbucks stores in Peru stand out. First and foremost, many of the stores were housed in stunning structures. For instance, there's one in Cuzco on the second floor of an ancient villa that now serves as a small hotel. So you can mull the place's rich history while enjoying a Starbucks coffee option unique to Peru.
That's another notable detail about Starbucks in Peru - the menu. For instance, there's a local specialty drink called Manjar Blanco Latte. It's pretty decadent and quite expensive too. It con-sists of espresso mixed with cold milk and manjar blanco, also known as dulce de leche, which is basically caramelized milk. Ice cubes and swirls of caramel syrup are added to the whipped cream.
A Starbuck Peru offering that might pique your curiosity is Algarrobina Frappuccino. It's mainly flavored with black carob syrup, which is distinctly an acquired taste. However, when in Peru, try to do as the Peruvians do for proper cultural immersion.
History of Peruvian Coffee
Starbucks is but a small portion of Peru's coffee culture. One of the things I really wanted to learn more about was the country's organic coffee farming heritage. Being the world's number one organic coffee source, Peru must have a story tell on how that came about.
Here's a little background on coffee's history in Peru. It was introduced in the 1700s through its neighbor Ecuador. However, the country initially just consumed its harvest locally, and exporta-tion didn't start until the late 1800s. It was when leaf rust hit the crop in Indonesia, which hap-pened to be Europe's main source of coffee.
The 20th century saw Peru significantly increase its coffee production when the British govern-ment took millions of acres of Peruvian land as a loan payment. A quarter of this was developed for agriculture, including coffee production.
In the early days, it was the typical coffee plantation scene with large landholdings handled by the wealthy. However, as Peruvians from other areas moved to the coffee regions for work, they eventually started their own independent businesses.
The Peruvian dictators of the 20th century partially cooperativized them, but while the profits were channeled to the cooperatives, a significant portion of these was then funneled into gov-ernment funds. This system failed to sustain much growth and development in the national cof-fee industry.
Fujimori's regime worsened the situation by eroding the farmers' autonomy and causing much guerilla activity, resulting in violence in the coffee regions. This led to many of the coffee farmers choosing to leave for the generally safer urban areas.
On a side note, I was curious what people’s thought about Fujimori, especially because I am Japanese. An interesting point I noticed was that when I read about him in Japanese publica-tions, many positive points were mentioned; in English, the opposite. I had a chance to chat with a few local Peruvian during the trip, and the support/opposition was 50/50, almost a split in the middle which, I thought, was interesting.
Peru's Organic Coffee
The 1990s brought in the trend of "ethical coffee." With Peruvian farmers granted land for their crops but no financial aid for commercial fertilizers and pesticides, they ended up naturally pro-ducing organic coffee. The lack of resources for investing in chemical inputs inadvertently helped the farmers.
This decade was actually a time characterized by low prices for coffee, which led to the general decrease of coffee production in most coffee-producing countries, but not in Peru. As a matter of fact, it even increased, extending land used from over 400K acres to over 500K acres.
Peru's existing system of small-scale, natural production persists to date. Cooperatives continue to help the farmers mitigate the risks and access resources necessary for harvest. Nonetheless, there's still much room for improvement regarding production and infrastructure. Despite its evi-dent and lingering problems, this is how Peru, without meaning to, ended up being the largest ex-porter of organic coffee on the planet.
In spite of the somewhat unfavorable reputation that Peru has earned because of the seeming lack of progress in its coffee industry, it cannot be denied that the country has some superb ca-fés. For example, in Cuzco, I came across a gem of a coffee shop called Café D'Wasi. It means "coffee from (our) house." "Wasi" or "huasi" is Quechua for "house," and that's what the owners want: to serve coffee that feels like it came from their house. They obviously did things right since it soon became my favorite café in Cuzco.
Me at Cafe D'Wash
I quickly realized that it was very popular among locals and tourists alike. The coffee is excellent but reasonably priced even though the shop's location is right by the plaza. The food is also deli-cious. In fact, everything on the menu seems delightful, even the non-coffee beverages. The different juices are refreshingly good.
They have an appetizing array of sandwiches, burgers, and different desserts, as well as a wide variety of breakfast options and other delectable fare. Besides a splendid menu, the staff is also very polite and warm. In addition, the owners themselves happily engage with the customers, eagerly sharing the history of their business and even that of the local coffee tradition.
Café D'Wasi is very tourist-friendly with an English version of the menu as well as baristas and waiters that can carry on a conversation in English. If you're all about the coffee, the owners and the staff are always eager to talk about their beans, which come from the family farm a couple of hours away and are roasted right there at the café. If you order a traditional Peruvian-style coffee, you can watch it prepared at your table and get an explanation for the entire thing. It's a pretty fascinating production.
Coffee from Cafe D'Wash
The place is quaint, cozy, and full of charm. You can even buy their beans so you can more viv-idly remember your Café D'Wasi experience while enjoying the coffee you made from them right in your own home.
Peru's coffee story is colorful and intriguing. I'm very glad to have had the chance to learn about it and experience different aspects of the country's rich coffee culture. I was able to come home with pleasant memories of drinking distinctly Peruvian coffee in quintessentially Peruvian set-tings as well as meeting so many warm, friendly, and coffee-loving Peruvians.