CommentaryTraditional Food

Peru’s Great Way of Making Coffee, Esencia de Café

While Americans are going crazy over single serve coffee brewing, such as Keurig, most of the world, including Peru, favors instant coffee such as Nescafe. Although table after table in this diverse country offers instant coffee, nevertheless Peru has a traditional method of brewing coffee that is worth preserving.

Traditionally, tables come with a little pitcher of what is called coffee essence, esencia de cafe. You add the quantity you wish to hot water or milk to make a brew as dark and thick as you wish or as light as you wish.

When done well, with some of the fine Peruvian coffees roasted appropriately in a medium or light roast, you obtain a wonderful cup of coffee.

Neto Solorzano Shows Un-roasted Coffee Beans (Wayra)
Neto Solorzano Shows Un-roasted Coffee Beans (Wayra)

The idea is not unlike that of preparing an espresso and then making an americano, although the water is not run through the grounds under pressure. Instead you have a double pitcher, the top part of which has fine holes. You place grounds in the upper part and place a tamper on it before pouring very hot water over the coffee. You then wait for the coffee to finish filtering through the grounds.

Once dripping has finished, you remove the upper portion and use the rich liquid essence that has entered the lower chamber.

The method is simple, although it can be hard to find the simple coffee essence maker outside of Peru. Indeed it is similar to the Indian method of making coffee, although chicory is not generally added here.

Nevertheless, the fineness of the holes in the upper portion cause the water to back up and the drip to be slow. As a result, the essence is quite rich, charged with the qualities of the coffee you have chosen.

As many Peruvians modernize they have left behind some of the finest traditions of their country, even if they celebrate Peruvian food. This is the case with the esencia de cafe. One can only hope that with the growth of what in Peru is simply called cultural de cafe, the culture of coffee, that they become aware of the quality of their indigenous technology and traditions for making a fine cup of brew.

Light Roast Coffee from Yanatile (Wayra)
Light Roast Coffee from Yanatile (Wayra)

In this they will be helped by a consciousness of the importance of toasting coffee. While in Versalles, near Yanatile we tried different cups made from different coffees. One of the main variables was the roast.

Around the table coffee producers spoke that they had no idea that the roast should be less than was traditional. In Peru people were used to a dark roast which negated the specific qualities of local coffees.

The traditional filtering pitcher of esencia de cafe is one important method when using a lighter roast that allows those characteristics to come through. A light to medium roast produces a very fragrant, floral coffee, that still has a good balance of acid and sugars. The notes are allowed to blossom on the palate.

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3 Comments

  1. Hi there,
    I like your site very much and it gives me an almost nostalgic feeling. I had visited Cuzco more than 20 years ago and it was one of the most impressive experiences for me. Of course, I had coca tea as well…
    And I was very impressed by the unique method of coffee brewing.
    I am just starting a blog about coffee and would like to do an article about that as well in the near future. May I ask you whether I could use your photos for that? I will certainly give credit and if you like I will also link to your site.
    My site is not ready yet at all, so don’t be too critical!

    Best regards,
    Manuel.

    1. Hi Manuel,
      Thank you for your words and feelings bout our site. Yes, you may use our photos, though with the condition that you recognize where they come from, who took the photo if available, and a link to their original place.

      Best wishes for the success of your site.

      David

  2. I’m really sorry, but I just came back from Peru and this is a terrible way to make coffee. The essence is usually cold and stale, and adding it to hot water usually resulted in lukewarm, weak and stale coffee. The machine coffee at Tambo was better than the hot water with coffee essence. This was one of my great frustrations during my trip (July 5-16): trying to find a hot, strong, flavorful cup of coffee. If Peru grows such great beans, why do they prepare it in such a trashy way? I apologize for being so critical about the coffee–I drank tons of it in many different places and situations and most of it was just really, really bad, so bad, in fact, I even considered going to a Starbucks, a place I absolutely despise in the USA, just to get some strong and hot coffee.
    You can write me off as a hyper-critical American if you want, that’s fine. I’m pretty well-traveled and don’t expect things to be the same as they are at home (if I wanted that, I would stay home) but come on, man! In a country that grows coffee it ought to at least taste good!

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