Juan Heredia Sanchez is a coffee producer who owns a 3 hectare farm in the village of La Flor in the Huabal district of Cajamarca. Juan won the first ever Cup of Excellence in Peru last year, with what he claims was a secret fermentation method. The farm is planted with Caturra and Bourbon and sits at 1850masl. All of the coffee is picked by Juan and his family and is processed and dried at his house. This lot comes from Juan’s early pickings, and was fermented in bags for 40 hours, which contributes to the unique cup profile.
When Juan was crowned winner of the first ever Cup of Excellence Competition in Peru in 2017, he was given a large premium from the competition win, which he has been investing in his farm. However, one year on from his victory, he was left without a buyer for his coffee once again. Before entering the competition, Juan had been selling to a number of cooperatives and private buyers, who had blended his coffee away into regional or certified blends, and he only ever gained premiums for certifications. He was worried that after all his investment he may not have a long term buyer for his coffee and be no better off than before.
We met Juan at a producer meeting in the village where he lived, as he had heard that we were buying in parchment and forming direct relationships with producers. After the meeting Juan stayed behind to talk to us and we went to visit his farm and wet-mill where he explained his approach to farming and coffee quality.
Juan’s approach to farming is rooted in tradition and techniques that have been passed down through generations; an approach that many producers in the area share, but one that is suffering as more chemical concoctions are marketed as the solution to pests, diseases and low production. Juan is determined to stick to his ‘chacra natural’ approach, which revolves around using what he has on the farm with some natural, organic inputs to produce compost to fertilise his plants. He refuses to use any form of pesticide or fungicide. He explains that the chemical fertilisers destroy the soil and make producers dependent on the product, constantly having to maintain inputs, whilst the herbicides and fungicides are harmful to bees and animals and all of them contaminate the local water sources. The soils in the region are naturally rich and with the right management, cover crops and compost use, it’s possible to have excellent production, minimise pests and diseases and protect the environment. Juan and his family live next to the farm, are very connected to the environment around them and feel responsible for protecting it for future generations.
Juan's ethos in the field is mirrored in his approach to fermentation; one of tradition fused with creativity and using what his farm provides him with. One of the reasons that Juan’s coffee was so successful last year in the Cup of Excellence was because it had a very distinct cup profile, noticeably different to all the other coffees. He explains that this is an expression of terroir and fermentation. Over the years Juan has been experimenting with fermentation methods, and has developed his secret recipes, which involve measuring time and temperature and adding some herbs he grows in the farm. This undoubtedly gives the coffee a unique profile, one that beautifully combines sweet and slightly savoury or herbal characteristics, much like a great Kenyan coffee.
Through taking part in our Project in Peru, Juan accessed premiums for his coffee, based on the high quality he delivered to us. It has meant that he no longer has to sell to local middlemen at lower prices, or have the dedication he puts into his farm undermined by struggling to find a quality focussed buyer.