Food Culture

A Young Barista’s Dream for Cuzco

Neto Solórzano V. Making a Latte Design (Photo: David Knowlton)

Young people dream. One world becomes another when their dreams take on passion, character, and reality.

One such dreamer on the edge of changing the world is Neto Solórzano Vizarreta. From a coffee producing family in remote Yanatile, of Calca Province, Cuzco, Nesto came to Lima to learn the art of coffee and to be a barista in order to make his dreams come to pass.

Neto’s hands move with passion as he talks about the troubles faced by coffee producers where they have little technical training and merchants decide quality and price.

The buyers arrive and look at each producer’s coffee. The growers and their families, owners of just a few hectares, think their product is good quality and should get a premium price. After all they have put much work into it and been very attentive to it all year round. Almost all of Peru’s coffee comes from small, family farms like those celebrated by the Food and Agricultural Organization this year.

Cafe Latte (Photo: Neto Solórzano V)
Cafe Latte (Photo: Neto Solórzano V)

Neto’s eyes flair when he says the buyers almost inevitably say, “this coffee has too much humidity and as a result cannot get the best price.”

Those who have cared for the coffee plants, watched the growing fruit, and then harvested, fermented, and dried the beans carefully often feel cheated and do not have the technical skill to question the buyers’ judgment, much less a means of selling their beans independently. They feel trapped, and at the mercy, of outsiders.

Neto wants to change that. The youngest of six children, he left his family’s coffee farm and went to Chile at the age of 18 where he worked as a bar tender, before returning to Peru. Back in his home state of Cuzco he worked in a few high-end restaurants, thanks to the intervention of a family friend who opened the door for him.

Making an Espresso (Photo: David Knowlton)
Making an Espresso (Photo: David Knowlton)

That is where his dreams, like red coffee fruit, began their maturation into a brew with body and balance.

Once he had put together some money, Neto now just over the edge of twenty-one went to Lima to study in the famed Cordon Bleu. He joined a current that other young men had dreamed, once-upon-a-time, of people with culinary training leading the edge of development throughout the country, only Neto´s studies focused on coffee more than on general culinary arts.

As he says, Cusco has great coffee but it lacks technical assistance and marketing. In Peru, the focus is on the coffee from Chanchamayo and Cuzco gets little attention. Furthermore, there is almost no culture of coffee in Cuzco, Neto adds. People drink a simple brew and their beans join the ranks of so many to make the ordinary mixtures that fill cups throughout the country, instead of being chosen for marketing as named brands of high quality.

Steaming Milk (Photo: David Knowlton)
Steaming Milk (Photo: David Knowlton)

Neto wants to see the people of his home community and his whole region become aware of the qualities of the varieties of coffee they grow and have the technical means to not only grow but to process, and know they produce the finest coffee.

Neto wants them to know how good coffee tastes––its balance of sugars and acids––as well as how to make the range of coffee products, such as a good espresso, a macchiato, and so on. He talks about the technical qualities of coffee like many young men discuss cars, computers or girls.

He wants to teach them about the qualities of different roasts and how to get the best from the well perfumed coffees of Cuzco. While speaking about their need for a medium to light roast, he also explains the “virtues”, not without irony, of Starbuck’s preferred dark roast: it forgives the sins of low quality beans, by focussing on a uniform, almost charred taste.

So many young men let their dreams dissipate through days and days of working jobs that slowly steal their energy and ability. Neto does not want that to happen. He is a young man in a hurry.

Brewing the Perfect Latte (Photo: David Knowlton)
Brewing the Perfect Latte (Photo: David Knowlton)

Soon he will return to Cuzco to begin making his dreams reality. Already he is making the connections with local government organizations to obtain official support and financing for a local school of coffee. At the same time, he has developed networks of supporters.

Neto is part of a group of trained baristas who are working to develop taste for fine quality coffee, and not just marketing flair, in Lima as well as elsewhere.

He looks for the day when Yanatile’s coffee will compete for the best of Peru and when fine coffee houses are found in the capital of his native state, the great Inca city of Cuzco.

This is a young man to watch, whose efforts will soon bring fine cups of joe to locals and visitors alike.

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