Scents of coffee and chocolate swirled around Cuzco’s Plazoleta Espinar last evening, amidst a double row of white tented booths. As part of the celebration of Cuzco in its anniversary month, the enormous province of La Convención which occupies Cuzco’s lowland north organized its producers of both chocolate and coffee to come and show their products in the state’s capital, while offering the public a taste of their quality.
This is especially important because so much of the public now prefers instant coffee, rather than the perfumed and subtle products of Cuzco’s own farms. Much of its coffee production, as a result, goes into blends to produce jars of uniform instant coffee for Cuzco’s tables.
The same is taking place with chocolate, people are increasingly buying cartons of chocolate powder to mix with milk or hot water, rather than using even the traditional consolidated bars of Cuzco’s own production.
Now, producers are responding by providing bars with cacao from particular cooperative and from particular varieties, such as the native chuncho. This latter is known for its flavor and high cocoa butter content, even though the trees do not produce as much as hybrids.
This is the trend, toward small scale brands reflective of terroir and specific varieties. Of course, the issue is not simply driven by international trends towards localisms, of one sort or another. Rather it is also driven by growers attempting to obtain better prices for their products if they can somehow get rid of some of the middle men and if they can obtain certification as organic and fair trade. They look to directly market their product to people.
It was a pleasure to find a booth in the festival of cacao and coffee our friend Neto Solorzano and his family’s brand new brand of coffee. We first met Neto at El Dedalo Coffee Shop in Lima where he was working as a barista. There he told of his dreams that led him to study at Lima’s Cordon Bleu and then to think of carefully working the harvest of his family’s coffee beans, being careful to get the right level of roasting, and obtain a flavor profile of very high quality.
Neto has spent the last month and a half on his family’s land, working with his father and brothers to harvest selectively, to only get the ripest and sweetest cherries, then to carefully ferment them, and finally taking extreme care in roasting his coffee
He and his brother Carlos introduced at this festival their family brand, Esencia, which means essence.
By that name they bring together several ideas. They suggest the quality of work Neto has done to find the best techniques to allow the fullest essence of his family’s coffee to come forward in perfume and body.
However they also mean the label to refer to the traditional peruvian idea of preparing in the home and essence of coffee, esencia de cafe. They hope to remind people of their own tradition and its value.
It was fun to watch people come to the stand and check out his coffee. They would lift bags to their faces and smell and then recognize the quality. You could see the light come on in their eyes. Many bought packages of freshly ground coffee or freshly toasted beans to take home with them.
Unfortunately, while we were there, the festival suffered from bad planning for electricity needs. As a result, Neto was not able to use his espresso machine to offer people a full taste of his valuable product.
Nonetheless, his dreams are surging forward. It is always a delight to see people working hard to fulfill their dreams.
Note: If you wish, you can write to Neto via his facebook page to enquire about purchasing his coffee.