El Cenfro

What do we look for from our direct trade or “relationship coffee?” What does it give us, as consumers? What do we hope this kind of relationship provides for its producers, distant from New York City in miles and in lifestyle?

I traveled to Peru to meet with CENFROCAFE, the cooperative from which Think Coffee purchases its Single Source decaf coffee. Samuel and Lenin from CENFROCAFE accompanied me on visits to two producing communities near the city of Jaén—Corazón of Chirinos and Brillante Perla Andina of Huabal. Producers from these communities generously led me around their parceles, patchwork swaths of green land covering impossibly steep mountain faces where coffee plants and other trees grew. Think plantains, passion fruit, cocoa.
We tried to learn a bit about each other. They asked me how big my coffee shop was, I asked them how long they had been growing coffee. They told me about cutting back branches every few years to improve productivity and about building special barriers to protect soil from the huaycos, or avalanches, common in the sierras of the Andes. I played games with their children and they fed me fried guinea pig and lentils.
Wilson of Brillante Perla Andina assured me repeatedly that Huabal’s rainy, foggy February was the perfect climate for growing coffee, and that the washed-out road we traveled in a rattly Toyota dried up and was more easily traversable in the warm, dry summer months of May through June, when red coffee cherries were harvested and transported on trucks or burros back down to CENFROCAFE’s warehouse in Jaén. Huabal is prime real estate, and Wilson and his compañeros feel privileged to grow here. Wasn’t I impressed with their climate? Their pristine plants? I certainly was, but I was even more impressed with the knowledge, stewardship and pride with which they cultivated their land.  Sipping coffee around a full lunch table later that day, enjoying flavors of citrus and flower petals, I wondered if pride was something one could taste.
Both communities told me to share the message with my customers that their producers worked tirelessly for the highest quality beans. Corazón and Brillante Perla were unabashedly proud of their Organic and Fair Trade certifications, but prouder still of the excellent cups of coffee their work resulted in. Straight from a pot on a wooden stove, that coffee was delicious.  
So, Think drinkers, your producers are sharp, generous, happy Peruvians. But now I’ll pose you the question Vicente of Corazon asked me: What can we do for them?
CENFROCAFE didn’t need my validation, it is a strong, socially sound cooperative, a collection of skilled producers that know their careful cultivation makes award-winning coffee, coffee I serve in half-cup portions or espresso baskets each day. What is my role as a barista, and what is our role as consumers, in this producing cycle?

Perhaps it is to consider and appreciate what it takes for us to get a good cup of coffee. Or to demand that each cup we drink, no matter where we buy it, be just as tasty and responsibly grown. Or maybe we should demand of ourselves the same kind of consideration of conservation, equity and quality we demand of producers when we pay $2.49 for a cup of coffee.
I answered Vicente that I could tell people about him, and hang his picture in my café, and write “Produced by the Corazon community of Chirinos” on bags of coffee sold to customers. He smiled, big.