The First Festival of Esquilaya Coffee, Ayapata, Carabaya, Puno, Peru

2016 Ayapata Festival of Esquilaya Coffee poster, Macusani

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.

Overview of coffee festival, Ayapata

The stage and marquees on Ayapata’s Plaza Tupac Amaru with low cloud hiding the mountain in the background

1st Esquilaya Coffee Festival stage, Ayapata

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.

Fruit, juice and cake stall, Esquilaya Coffee Festival, Ayapata

This stall features tamarillo (sacha tomate) juice, cakes, papaya, pumpkin, tamarillo, avocado and grenadilla, a sweet passionfruit variety

Cocoa stall, Esquilaya Coffee Festival, Ayapata

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.

Marching band, Esquilaya Coffee Festival entertainment, Ayapata

A marching band performs during the 1st Esquilaya Coffee Festival

Coffee beans and cherries, first Esquilaya Coffee Festival, Ayapata

This coffee stall displays coffee beans and coffee cherries from Esperanza, Esquilaya; the orange fruit is a cocona

Band on stage, 1st Esquilaya Coffee Festival, Ayapata, Carabaya, Puno, Peru

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

15 string charango, first Esquilay Coffee Festival, Ayapata, Peru

The vocalist/acoustic charango player with his interestingly proportioned instrument

Video of the band performing at the coffee festival

Woman on stage, 1st Esquilaya Coffee Festival, Ayapata, Puno, Peru

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 photographer, coffee festival, Ayapata

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 testing, first Esquilaya Coffee Festival, Ayapata, Peru

Coffee samples are prepared while festival attendees watch on

Coffee cupper with spittoon, I Festival de Café Esquilaya, Ayapata

A coffee taster uses her spittoon after sampling a coffee

Coffee festival purchases, Ayapata, Carabaya, Puno, Peru

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.

Translated:

“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.

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