From Chontali with Love
In Peru, Genuine Origin’s Prodelsur is working with producers to change global opinions about Peruvian specialty coffees.
Here’s a hard truth: Most people don’t hold Peruvian coffees in very high esteem.
Another truth: It’s our goal to change that, starting with Café Chonta, a sugar-sweet, fully washed coffee from 13 producers in Chontali — a forested mountain region ringing the Chunchucas River Valley in the province of Jaén.
(Chonta is a species of palm tree — the peach palm, in English — that’s common in the region and immensely useful, from fruit and shade to timber, medicinal roots and leaves used for weaving.)
Working with us toward that goal is Prodelsur, our operation in Peru, and Harry Odio, its general manager.
“Believe me, you will lick your lips when you cup that coffee!” Harry told us back in December, as the coffee was being prepared for shipment and we called to ask about his work in Peru. Six years ago, he transitioned to Prodelsur from Volcafe’s operation in Costa Rica, and since then he’s been helping to implement the Volcafe Way.
“Peru had quality issues. And there was the question of how to differentiate our coffees. The answer? Quality and sustainability.”
The latter is personal to him. “Sustainability means, to me, a better world for my children. It’s very common sense.” And it’s also good business.
“In the last four years, coffee volumes decreased by 40 percent, due to roya — coffee rust,” said Harry. “Only the Genuine Origin coffees increased in volume, because of Volcafe Way and our focus on the farms. The producers weren’t necessarily more efficient, it was that the plants were producing higher volumes. … And thanks to this focus on sustainability and quality, we’re able to provide better prices to the producers.”
Peru was a country devastated by terrorism. Once it became peaceful, Harry explained, people were anxious to begin doing business. In that climate, creating a differentiated coffee market has meant encouraging some cultural changes.
“Peru has never been known for customer service,” he laughed. “Even things like offering producers a cup of water, or a chair, when they come into the office — this feels like a very big difference to them, and they appreciate it.”
Prodelsur also examines the communities it works in, to understand what their needs are.
“We look at, do the kids have access to a school, or do they need a school closer by? There were schools where, when it would rain, the water would run right through the classroom. Or they didn’t have desks.”
Over the last few years, Prodelsur and several roasters have together spent more than $1 million building 10 schools, and they have plans to build one to two more each year.
“Producers really look at you differently, when you’re doing these things,” said Harry.
Still, the greatest challenge has been enforcing quality.
“Producers want to grow coffee, they don’t want to cup coffee,” he explained. “When I arrived here, there was only one lab. Now there are seven.”
Prodelsur encourages producers to cup their own coffees (and offers them opportunities to do so and to improve their cupping skills) and to experience the outcomes of their different farming practices.
It also encourages them to embrace environmentally responsible practices — not only to meet various certifications, but because it’s the right thing to do: for the Earth, for their businesses and for their families.
Harry gives the example of purifying the water that coffees are washed with, before returning them it a water source.
“We tell them: ‘Clean the water. It’s good for you, it’s good for your children.’ And really, if they’re not on board with these ideas, we don’t want to work together.”
He continued, “It’s not a matter of certified. Being certified is really about accomplishing all the social ideas we believe in. It should be done for every product in the world, not just for coffee. We are all human beings, and we want a world we can live in.”
This standard of quality also applies to the way Prodelsur runs its own operation.
Chontali is in the north of the country, and Lima is the south, on the coast. It would more efficient and economical to ship coffees from the north — it can take six days for a truck from the mountains to reach Lima. But Harry insists that they make the journey and that all coffees leave through Lima, so quality is absolutely verified and consistent.
“We’re setting ourselves up,” he laughs. “We’re helping them to grow great coffees — then we have to pay a premium for it.” •
Click here to order free samples of Café Chonta Peru.