A poster in Macusani promoting the 1st Esquilaya Coffee Festival (I Festival de Café Esquilaya) held in Ayapata on 25 September 2016
Peru is a significant producer and exporter of coffee, with its crop primarily grown on the Andes’ eastern slopes. At 3,475 metres, the town of Ayapata is too high to grow coffee. Why then does it have a coffee festival?
Ayapata is capital of the eponymous district which reaches all the way up north to the Cusco and Madre de Dios regions. Included in Ayapata District is the coffee producing Esperanza Valley of Esquilaya. However, Esquilaya is so isolated, it takes a four hour hike plus a six hour four wheel drive journey just to reach its district capital. As the festival’s primary purpose was promoting Esquilaya coffee, hosting it in Ayapata made sense.
Funded via Peruvian federal agency DEVIDA, the festival is part of the government’s anti-narcotics effort, encouraging farmers to pursue alternative crops to coca, the source ingredient of cocaine.
Rocío and I decided to attend the 1st Esquilaya Coffee Festival after seeing event posters in Macusani. We both loved drinking coffee and Rocío had dreams of growing and producing her own coffee one day.
Held in Ayapata’s main Plaza Tupac Amaru square, the festival gave Esquilaya producers an opportunity to promote their specialty single origin coffee and have it professionally tasted and judged. Festival day, 25 September 2016, greeted us with a cool and overcast morning.
The stage and marquees on Ayapata’s Plaza Tupac Amaru with low cloud hiding the mountain in the background
Dignitaries sit on stage in front of the attentive festival crowd
Besides coffee, festival stalls sold and promoted other regional food products including cocoa and tropical fruit.
This stall features tamarillo (sacha tomate) juice, cakes, papaya, pumpkin, tamarillo, avocado and grenadilla, a sweet passionfruit variety
A San Gaban cocoa pod held by a lady; the red packets contain pure cocoa paste
Peru’s coffee-drinking culture is immature and the production-focused festival reflected this. Despite being a cold day, coffees were not available until formalities including speeches and musical performances ended. Black filtered was the only coffee option with no espresso in sight.
A marching band performs during the 1st Esquilaya Coffee Festival
This coffee stall displays coffee beans and coffee cherries from Esperanza, Esquilaya; the orange fruit is a cocona
The on stage band included an electric guitar, a 15 string acoustic charango and a 10 string electric charango; the charango is a type of lute
The vocalist/acoustic charango player with his interestingly proportioned instrument
Video of the band performing at the coffee festival
A woman in costume with roses sitting on the festival stage
As (likely) the only foreigner and tallest attendee I both figuratively and literally stood out. The local people were polite and friendly. A representative of the Esquilaya coffee association invited us to visit his farm although logistics didn’t favour such a trip. Despite appearing close together on the map, travelling from Esquilaya to the Interoceanic Highway (to continue our travel) involved a multi-day hike through sweltering jungle and mountains.
With the roaming photographer; his black bag contains a printer to print photos on the spot
The festival peaked with the coffee competition. Coffee tasters, also known as coffee cuppers, sniffed and slurped the different brews, assessing their body, acidity, sweetness, flavour and after-taste.
Coffee samples are prepared while festival attendees watch on
A coffee taster uses her spittoon after sampling a coffee
Festival purchases included Esquilaya coffee, Neve coffee spread (Manjar de Café) and a block of San Gaban pure cocoa paste; note the groovy hotel linen
The packet of Esquilaya coffee we bought stated:
“Mil escencias, mil dulzuras todo en uno.”
Café Esquilaya es un café producido a más de 1200 m.s.n.m, con manejo orgánico y cuidado del medio ambiente.
“A thousand scents, a thousand sweetnesses all in one.”
Café Esquilaya is a coffee produced at more than 1200 metres high, with organic management and care of the environment.
The coffee was good although I would like to have tried it in espresso form.
The festival was successful enough for a second event to be held in 2017. Hopefully future festivals also pay attention to the consumption side of coffee.