Tucked away in the central Amazon region of Peru, just east of the Andean mountain range that runs through the center of the country, CAC Peru Pangoa (Cooperativa Agraria Cafetalera Pangoa) has been serving its members since 1977. The coop has experienced a colorful history of good and hard times. It was founded by 50 farmers from a coop in neighboring city, Satipo and grew to nearly 1700 members at its peak (in the early 1980s). With 3% of every sale, Pangoa was able to build most of the infrastructure that it uses to this day. During the period that’s known as El Terrorismo (“the terrorism”) when the Shining Path violently swept through what had up to the late ’80s the peaceful, isolated, rural areas of Peru, killing thousands of innocent people and carrying out a determined campaign of instilling paralyzing fear. CAC Pangoa lost hundreds of farmers who fled to cities to escape the terror. Since then, they have regained membership and currently serve approximately 600 members.
CAC Pangoa began encouraging its members to switch to organics through a formalized program of training and documenting practices according to OCIA (international organic certifier) standards. In 2002, they got their first certification; today, about 50% of their members are either in transition or already certified organic. Dutch NGO Green Development Fund sponsored the coop to send current manager Esperanza Dionisio and the president to go to the SCAA in the US in 2003 where they met former (and founding) Coop Coffees member Dean from Dean’s Beans. After a visit to the coop, Dean reported back to Coop Coffees that they would make an excellent producer partner and since 2003, Peru Pangoa has put forth strong efforts to provide Coop Coffees with high quality, consistent fair trade organic coffee.
The coop is involved in the lives of its members beyond the purchasing and selling of their coffee. From promoting education to gender equality to better quality of life, Pangoa provides an exemplary model of fair trade. The Women’s Development Committee (Comite de Desarrollo de la Mujer) works to benefit the female members, wives, and daughters. They organize medical check-ups for all women over 30 years old for prevention and early detection of several diseases. The committee is an integral part of the cooperative and strengthen it by forming new leaders and members with a new vision of development that includes and appreciates the female voice.
When the coop was first certified fair trade, it established two programs that continue serving members today: 1) the Educational Fund which allows members to borrow up to $2000 (US) to pay for their children’s university fees and 2) the Health Services Fund offers members interest-free loans of up to $600 (US) to cover any medical attention they might need. In 2008, Pangoa expanded its fair trade premium project list to include 5 more that cover tree renovation, improving their members’ living standards, developing individual wet processing plants and drying stations, and covering the funerary costs of any members. With these extra funding projects, Pangoa hopes to better and more broadly meet the needs of its members.
In addition to coffee, Pangoa has promoted economic diversification through cocoa production in lower elevations and honey cultivation. They export a couple containers of cacao per year and are working on improving quality and expanding their market. A roasted coffee project is fully underway with the objective of establishing a secondary source of income as well as develop a domestic appreciation for high quality (exportable) coffee to be consumed internally. In 2009, they began plans to develop a local ecotourism project to supplement incomes from coffee production.*
A member of the Peru Pangoa cooperative since 1998, producer Julia Sulca Pillaca currently serves as secretary of the cooperative’s oversight committee. Today’s coffee is from a microlot on Pillaca’s Finca Las Palmas.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping the Peru Pangoa Julia Sulca Pillaca Microlot, from Higher Grounds Trading Company in Traverse City, Michigan. Feel free to pull up a chair.
origin: Palomar, Peru
farm: Fincas Las Palmas
producer: Julia Sulca Pillaca
association: Peru Pangoa Cooperative
elevation: 1213 meters above sea level
cultivars: Caturra, Gesha
process: fully washed, patio dried
The aroma of this Peru Pangoa is much milder than I expected it would be, knowing that there’s a Gesha mixed in there. I can certainly detect its presence, though, with some sweet scents of stone fruit, citrus, and tropical fruits playing off floral honeysuckle and white tea nuances.
Up front, while the coffee is still piping hot, it’s pretty standard fare for a Peruvian cuppa. Medium body, creamy texture, citric acidity; a little earthy, subtle florals, mild caramel sweetness… But it also has an interesting nuance to its profile, too, that I can honestly say is unlike anything I’ve ever tasted in a coffee before. It’s a salty kind of sweet, and most closely resembles a combination of fennel and toast. It’s not a bad taste—it’s just a very peculiar taste that rests subtly in the background of each sip. The more prominent flavors are fantastic, though—green grape, peach, apricot, nectarine, and honeysuckle, which all round out in a crisp, clean finish.
Higher Grounds Trading Company must have made some changes to the way they approach roasting in the year and a half it’s been since they last appeared at the Table. The three coffees they sent me at the tail end of 2014 weren’t bad, but they pale in comparison to the three coffees they sent me most recently.
The last of that batch – their Peru Pangoa, from Julia Pillaca’s microlot – was a real adventure; one that provided a memorable cupping experience and really changed both my palate and my lexicon. It even led to a discussion about tasting terms on social media (which was also memorable, but in a mostly unfortunate way). Moreover, it was a really tasty coffee that didn’t last long on my shelf. Filled with brigh and effervescent fruits and subtle sugared sweetness and featuring a perfect balance, it presented a pretty complex profile in a straightforward, drinkable way.
*content courtesy of Just Coffee Coop
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Andrew is a husband, father, dog lover, craft beverage enthusiast, content creator, and niche market Internet celebrity. Formerly of A Table in the Corner of the Cafe and The Pulitzer Project and contributor to Barista Magazine and Mental Floss, he’s been writing on the Internet for years.