Our green coffee specialist, Sharon Jan, travels to Peru to visit our long-term coffee partner Dionicio Aguilar at Finca La Encañada. The coffee produced here is a key component in our Gusto Manana blend, and we also offer it as a single origin throughout the year.
Located in Rioja, Peru, on the Andean slopes of the Amazonia region is Finca La Encañada. A small family coffee farm owned and run by Dionicio Aguilar and his family.
Seven Miles started buying coffee from Dionicio in 2011, and for the last 5 years have also invested with Dionicio towards improving the quality of coffee he produces.
La Encañada was originally owned by Dionicio’s parents, but 23 years ago Dionicio took over the running of the farm after his father passed away. Up until recently, it was a traditional coffee farm, however in more recent years Dionicio discovered specialty coffee. This led him on a journey to continually improve the quality of his coffee and processes.
After the long, nerve wracking journey along narrow mountain roads, it was great to see Dionicio and his family again. It feels like such a long time since I last visited Finca La Encañada in 2013 – their baby Jhared is now 6, and their boy Franco now stands taller than me!
Dionicio was very excited when showing us around and was quite emotional having someone from Seven Miles visit again.
Progress on the farm
It has been great to see the coffee quality increase over the years.
This year, the coffee Dionicio is sending us obtained an impressive 85.75 cupping score.
Even so, Dionicio is still searching for ways to improve quality even further.
The improvements are due to many changes and investments on the farm. Some of which were relatively quick to show results in the cup, like new processes and equipment. While others take much longer, like replacing trees with new varietals, and waiting for them to grow and produce coffee.
Then some investments do not yield any positive results, like trialing expensive Gesha varietals where very few trees reached maturity.
Despite this, there have also been lots of small improvements. Like a new cupping room built from bamboo grown on the farm and the new sample roaster which we gave him last year so he can assess his products on the farm.
Importantly, last year Dionicio was finally able to have a road constructed to his farm.
It sounds like a basic requirement, but for all these years they have had to walk in and out to their farm with all materials and supplies, including Dionicio’s mum who is now in her eighties.
But the road still requires a lot more work as it is not usable all year round and even then only by 4WD. I can see why the road becomes unusable during the wet season. Our visit was during the dry and there were some boggy and muddy ditches that made it tricky at times. Unfortunately coffee harvest is during wet season so they still have to walk and carry the sacks of coffee out on their back and by donkey, as they always have.
Improvements for the future
Next year Dionicio is expecting the first harvest from his planting of a Maragogype varietal. These were special seeds from Mexico but the low success rate of planting means that it will be a small harvest.
They are also trial planting in different configurations in the hope that this will help control disease. They are also experimenting with different fermentation and washing processes to continue improving flavour.
Drying is difficult as the humidity increases during harvest time. To help with this, Dionicio is planning to install a passive solar dryer to assist the drying.
The struggles and challenges
When we last visited, Coffee Rust (a disease that devastates coffee plantations) was sweeping through Central and South America. We saw rust throughout the farm and large areas of dead trees. It looked devastating but La Encañada eventually got back on its feet.
Now ‘Broca’ (Coffee Borer Beetle) is currently a problem in the area and is proving much more difficult to control.
It is also becoming increasing difficulty in finding seasonal workers for the harvest. The farm provides accommodation and food but due to the remote location, it can take up to 3 days for people to travel to the farm, especially if they come from the jungle as the only way is by boat.
La Encañada is also struggling with companies coming in and harvesting river stones on an industrial scale (then used for infrastructure construction). The companies are causing environmental damage by changing the course of the river in order to gain access to the riverbed. The diverted water is now causing parts of his land and soil to wash away. These companies also remove the river stones with diggers and large trucks which further destabilises the river. This is an ongoing problem, and Dionicio is currently powerless to stop this happening in Finca La Encañada.
However, nothing seems to phase Dionicio, despite all the challenges. You can see Dionicio grew up working on the land. I notice his skills and familiarity with all the plants and animals, as he casually handles a terrible caterpillar which had sent a child screaming in agony. And as we walk through the farm, he automatically weeds every plant he passes, giving each one a few quick flicks with his machete.
While Peru may be a long way from the Northern Beaches of Sydney, our connection with Dionicio brings him closer to the cafes where his coffee will eventually be served. We think that’s a good thing for everybody.