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National Arbor Day was last Friday. As the nation gathered to celebrate trees, their impact on the world, and the way they help keep us in good shape physically and emotionally, I took a moment to recall my first coffee tree. Touching it after 7 years working in coffee changed my life in many subtle ways.
Getting to Finca Timbuyacu through the northern Peruvian Andes mountains was tortuous. We crept in a rickety bus over mountains forbidding in their wildness, with sheer drops of thousands of feet and spare inches for the tires. At times, parts of the road would melt off the side of the mountain. Once I almost fainted when I looked over the crevasse.
Newly bathing in my adopted language, Spanish, and jotting vocabulary on the palm of my hands as I struggled to eat yet another boiled chicken-and-potato dish, with my mind and my heart exploding with newness and strangeness, I collapsed in the quiet hotel in Chachapoyas, deep in the region of Amazonas, relieved to stop moving and to feel the cool tiles under my feet. In the morning, the mists lifted the town into fairyland.
Finca Timbuyacu is a dream for owners Karim Rosario Araoz and her husband Alfonso Tejada, who also own Cafe Monteverde, a cooperative with around 300 farmers in the area. “Coffee is not easy,” says Tejada, who with Araoz owned a travel agency in Lima for years before returning to their home region. “When we came back here we started Monteverde with the idea of being a local broker. Once that business was up and running, we started working our own land, which was pretty much abandoned. Everyone told us the land wasn’t worth anything, but we have had success. My goal is to produce the best coffee in the country.” At Timbuyacu, Tejada and Araoz perform many tests on processes, including fermentation time, washing time, percentage of mucilage removed, and other measurables.
For me, when I cupped the green leaves of coffee trees in my hand and smelled the rich green sap running through the plants, Finca Timbuyacu was the site of my own crowning moment, a new chapter in the life of this roving coffee professional begun. I snapped a warm globular coffee cherry from its stem and popped it into my mouth, feeling the give of the dark red skin pop and the sweet mucilage cover my tastebuds. At the center of the tiny pudding-like desert was a double coffee cherry. It gave a little under my teeth. I spat it out upon the ground and watched it disappear in the undergrowth.
Trees anchor us. Coffee trees make this huge global trade possible. This Arbor Day, let’s honor the coffee trees that produce our favorite coffees all over the world, Ethiopia to Peru.