Coffee Origin Story: Peru

Steve Mangigian, Managing Partner of Zingerman’s Coffee Company, chronicles his latest globetrotting adventure to where the coffee is grown.


Zingerman’s Coffee Company Managing Partner Steve Mangigian, with one of the highlights of his trip!


At Zingerman’s Coffee Company, our mission is to source and roast the best coffees on the planet, and to present them to you, the coffee consumer, with as much detail as possible. That way, we can draw you into the experience of not just tasting what makes these coffees so special, but understanding the journey of the bean in a way that is approachable and accessible.

Origin travel has become a standard part of our approach to sourcing great coffee. We regularly receive samples from the importers we work with, but it’s only after we find a “keeper” that we will consider traveling to that origin.

Typically when I travel to origin, I am all about business; I endeavor to complete my work and then get back to the States. There is always work that needs to get done back home! Travel does not inspire dramatic romanticism in me as it does for others. I have never traveled well internationally, so the prospect of traveling to new and different places never appealed to me. Coffee origin travel is hard work, probably the hardest of all the work we do at Zingerman’s Coffee Company.

Every trip to origin – whether it is the first time or tenth time – always feels like a brand new experience. Seeing different cultures and learning new things keeps me captivated, even after close to a decade and a half of traveling. Visiting the most remote areas of the world in search of high-quality coffee – and finding it – makes it all worthwhile. This trip to Peru was no exception.



When the opportunity came to visit Peru – which would be a first for me – I considered whether or not I should accept it. When trips to new countries present themselves, language barriers, access to food and water, and cultural differences need to be considered. Upon reflection, I realized I tend to favor visiting countries I have navigated many times before, like Brazil and Costa Rica.

Peru is home to a section of the Amazon rainforest and Machu Picchu, an ancient Incan city high in the Andes mountains. The region around Machu Picchu, including the Sacred Valley, Inca Trail and colonial city of Cusco, is rich in archaeological sites. On Peru’s arid Pacific coast is Lima, the capital, with a preserved colonial center and important collections of pre-Columbian art.

In the end, an opportunity to visit Machu Picchu (one of the wonders of the world) is what made me decide to take the trip. Although I have not studied this legend very much, the stories told to me intrigued me to experience it first hand.


Steve at the WONDER that is Machu Picchu.



So, off I went to South America. Detroit to Lima to Cusco via Air Lima, then a train ride and, finally, a bus trip. At about 11,000 feet above sea level, Machu Picchu is not the easiest location to travel to and unless you frequent high altitudes, altitude sickness pills are a must. Hotels in the area even cater to the altitude challenge by providing pure oxygen and tea prepared with the leaves of the coca plant to offset symptoms.

Photos only capture one dimension of the beauty of Machu Picchu. We hiked the entire area, traversing challenging terrain to see Machu Picchu’s full wonderment. The intricacy of the architecture, the knowledge of what the site once was, and the labor it took to accomplish truly incites the imagination.

After about four hours of exploration, it was time to make our way back. I would be remiss if I did not mention that we left our hotel in Cusco at 4 a.m. and did not return until approximately 11 p.m. that night. Suffice it to say, the day trip was worth the time and effort.

When the Cusco leg of our trip ended, it was time to travel almost 1,200 miles north to coffee country, where we would spend the coming week. We arrived in Chiclayo, a bustling city with a population of about 700,000 and some of the most outlandish traffic and driving I have ever witnessed. Chiclayo, located in northeast Peru, served as the center point of our daily travels, providing relatively easy access to the four communities we’d visit across the mountainous Lambayeque region:

Day 1-Corral de Piedra Cruz De Mayo, Colaya
Day 2-Tallapampa
Day 3-Villa Rumi
Day 4-Aspro La Florida, Agua Azul

Each day started early in the morning, accompanied by a caravan of visitors travelling along with us. It took us four to five hours one way to get to each daily destination, which meant eight to ten hours on the road every day, varying between sea level and 4,000-7,000 feet above sea level. On average, the drive along paved roads would last over an hour and then, the rest of the trek took place on dirt roads plagued by ruts which seemed to swallow our vehicles as we traversed up the narrow, steep paths. Along the way, we saw breathtaking scenery of some of the most beautiful landscapes and waterfalls with vistas. We would ascend above the clouds, seeing nothing but never-ending mountain ranges.


Left to right: Victor Rojas Diaz, Isabel Uriarte Latorre, & Steve.



During our stay in Chiclayo, we were greeted every day by our hosts Isabel Uriarte Latorre and her husband Victor Rojas Diaz, owners of the exporting company, Proassa, which exports coffee to Organic Products Trading Company (OPTCO), who then imports the coffee into various coffee consuming countries.

Isabel co-founded Café Femenino, an organization dedicated to empowering women on the front lines of the coffee industry, with OPTCO. Together, they created a social business program that provides a framework for women coffee producers to gain access to their full potential through financial and social incentives. This program now operates in eight coffee-producing countries around the world.

Every community we visited on this trip had a strong group of women who not only worked the land, but owned the land. In many of my origin visits, this is typically not the case, but it’s a growing trend, particularly in developing countries. Café Femenino was developed for the purpose of empowering women who grow coffee in very isolated, impoverished, rural areas.

As the Café Femenino website states:

“Women in remote and rural coffee communities face a host of challenges that keep them trapped in poverty. Many of these isolated women live in male-dominated societies and have very little financial control or decision-making power. In 2003, 464 women farmers in northern Peru decided to change this dynamic by separating their coffee production from the men’s. In that moment, for the first time, this group of women created their own product and income. Their coffee cooperative CECANOR joined their commercial partner Organic Products Trading Company (OPTCO) to create Café Femenino—a gender-focused program to support social justice and empowerment for women coffee producers worldwide.”

Café Femenino started in Peru in 2003, and has spread to eight other coffee producing countries including Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Rwanda and Sumatra.



On day five, after experiencing these amazing communities, it was time to taste their coffee. The cupping table saw about 18 coffee samples and many were from the different areas we visited. Overall, the coffees showed a lot of promise. I have since received many samples based on this cupping exercise, and am happy to say we will be adding a Peruvian coffee to our roster of coffees!

Although this trip has ended, our journey into the coffees of Peru is really just beginning. As we explore the possibility of working with different communities within Peru, I am captivated by the hard work of the women in this country. We here at Zingerman’s Coffee Company desire to support this work in the future. The people of Peru are warm and hospitable, and the country is beautiful. I will be back!


Freshly picked coffee cherries.



This February, we are thrilled to feature a rare Peruvian Peaberry that I sourced on this trip as our Roaster’s Pick of the month. What’s so special about this coffee? To start, it’s comprised of peaberry beans, which make up less than three percent of all coffee beans. It’s grown near the Cerra Condorpuna, host to one of the largest old-growth forests in the Amazon. The altitude and ample shade of this area makes for an ideal environment for growing high-quality coffee. Peruvian coffee is hand picked and, after processing, is transported by foot or mule by farmers into town via mountainous trails. Indeed, this coffee tastes as exceptional as its origin. It will only be around for a limited time, so be sure to stop by the café or order it online through Zingerman’s Mail Order!

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