Simon Bolivar´s Mobile Cupping Lab Workshop Part II

Ccop members at the workshop

Ccop members at the workshop

Roberto, cupping for the first time

Roberto, cupping for the first

The drive from Tingo Maria to Ignacio´s farm is about 45 minutes, up mountain. All along the way you see simple wood and mud brick houses with lines of drying clothes outside, brightly coloured drying corn under eaves, wandering chickens, tethered small pigs, imaginative children and many lazy dogs. You also see the occasional mound of polypropylene bags of coffee: pergamino (parchment coffee) waiting for a coyote to buy it at the proverbial farm gate.

The members of La Divisoria work farms ranging in size from as small as 2 hectares, to as large as 30 hectares. There are just a handful of farmers with larger farms: most hold between 3 and 5 hectares, and the average farm size is 7 hectares. Ignacio has 30 hectares, and has a modest two-storey house constructed of wood set close to the road. Adjacent to his house is a covered concrete patio, alongside his washing shed and solar dryer. His farm offered a great venue for the mobile lab workshop.

We didn´t know what to expect from the workshop, and were overwhelmed when after making the short climb from the road to Ignacio´s farm that there were nearly 50 farmers waiting to greet us. They were all gathered in a circle on the covered patio, surrounding the sample roaster. When our group entered the crowd grew very quiet, and all you could hear was the sound of the drum in the sample roaster whirring around and around. Starting with the first grower beside the door we moved around the circle, and each grower greeted us with a warm smile, a handshake, and a kiss on one cheek, as is the Peruvian custom. The energy on the patio built and built. Wow. While the group was mostly men, there were also several women there.

watching our video at the workshop

watching our video at the workshop

After we met everyone there were presentations made by the leaders of the two micro-coops, Ignacio, and also by the head of the women´s project (La Divisoria has supported a women´s flower-growing project-flowers are grown interspersed with coffee trees-with the income going directly to the women). The growers all sang the Peruvian national anthem, and then shared a prayer of thanks for coffee quality and (gulp) buyers. Pam and I each spoke briefly to the group, thanking them for their commitment to quality and their hard work, and how we looked forward to sharing the story of meeting them back home. Oscar and Romulo then told the group how we had made a video for them and how emotional the showing of the video had been the night before. And then to our surprise they told the group that they would see it before the workshop began—they had brought a projector and had set it up inside Ignacio´s house! On our way to the house Oscar told us that he´d only seen such an emotional response from growers one other time, the other time being when a coop in Cuzco met buyers for the first time ever (the buyers had hiked in twelve hours to meet them). The growers all nodded approvingly during the video (there are high levels of literacy here, so everyone could read the Spanish sub-titles) and clapped heartily at the end.

The workshop – 3 parts
The group was divided into three. One group worked with Katty, one of the five newly qualified expert cuppers, to perform technical analysis of the parchment and green coffee, examining the parchment, removing the parchment and examining the green on screens, visibly inspecting both for defects. Aside: the growers are so focused on quality there are very few defects (!). A second group worked with Julian, the head cupper, to sample roast the green coffee. They discussed the two types of sample roasting, very light roasting to be able to detect defects, and darker roasting to be able to evaluate the desireable characteristics of the coffee. The point being, if coffee is clean (tassa limpia, or T.L.), you need only darker roast to be able to establish a cup´s profile and offer a description to prospective buyers. The third group worked with Mario, assistant to Julian, to cup the coffee, and yes, just the way we do it. The group was introduced to a simplified cupping sheet, but also to the Cup of Excellence rating sheet. The groups all visited each station. All of the growers took each step very seriously, especially the cupping. Many were nervous to clean the cup after breaking the crust, or to slurp from the spoon, but by the end their confidence was beginning to show. Two images that will stick in my mind: two women cupping beside each other sharing a giggle, and three sets of muddied rubber boots visible below the cupping table.

Ignacio the Convert

Ignacio bravo (the convert) with mulch

Ignacio bravo (the convert) with mulch

During the workshop Pam and I joined Ignacio on a tour of some nearby parts of his farm. He told us that he was a convert to organic production, and an enthusiastic one. He told us how when he took over the particular land we were visiting that he had been told that nothing would ever grow on it, that it was bad land. He planted new coffee trees and mulched actively, applying organic fertilizer (coffee cherry pulp mixed with microorganisms from the jungle and leaves). Sure enough, the coffee trees were healthy and productive. The coop is actively educating its members about the use of microorganisms—not only does it deal with the problem of the cherry pulp—it increases yield—from 14 quintales (60 kg) per hectare to as much as 25-30 quintales per hectare (conventional cultivation, prior to technical assistance being provided by the coop had seen farmers´yields in the 8-9 quintales per hectare range). At one point Ignacio picked up a giant scoop of mulch and breathed it in, telling us he hadn´t believed organic practices could be so effective, but that he was now convinced, and that it was good for the soil, good for his family, and that his children (he has two sons and a daughter) and their children would be able to grow coffee on this land in the future.

Social Benefits
After the workshop was complete, all of the members shared a meal together that several women had prepared in Ignacio´s kitchen. It was a sad day for chickens, but a celebratory day for the coop members. The women made huge pots of chicken soup flavoured with herbs from the jungle. Delicious. La Divisoria has a strong social mission—many of its members are former coca farmers who turned away from growing coca under pressure from drug traffickers or guerillas—and have elected to earn less and have significant financial pressures—and many of whom are still under pressure to return to coca farming (such as Roberto, the president of the Simon Bolivar coop)—and so the social aspects of being a member of the coop—emotional support—community ties and bonds—is really important.

We were sad when it came time for us to leave these courageous, special people.


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