Journey to El Cautivo

By the time the sourcing expedition set off deeper into the Andes, their bodies were in full rebellion. The previous day had started with a 5 AM flight from Lima and ended nearly 24 hours later, when the wedding band playing outside their inn finally packed it in. As Serge tells it, he was still mildly delirious from the Yellow Fever vaccine, and now, heading off into the morning mist, he figured they’d gotten a total of six or seven hours sleep in the two-plus days it had taken to get fully in country.

Their departure point was Jaen, Peru, known as the Land of the Brave Bracamoros, for the local Indians who’d refused to be subdued by the Incas. A few hundred years later, the Bracamoros did finally fall to Spanish Conquistadors, but their descendants, it seemed, now got their revenge on foreign invaders by playing music until all hours.

Packed inside the all-terrain truck, in various stages of sleep deprivation, were Serge Picard, co-founder of Sakrid Coffee Roasters; Sam Stephens, Sakrid’s flavor profiler and veteran barista; Charles, Serge’s son and designated brand ambassador for Incan ceremonies; as well as their advance team from Costa Rica.

As the crew snaked along the edges of the world's longest mountain chain, the breathtaking views shook them all awake — as did the occasional need to break for precipitous, no-guardrail turns and the odd donkey. 

The 70-mile journey to San Igancio took four hours. It had been a long few days, which had already included tasting nearly 40 small-batch coffees. So, as they climbed the winding mountain roads, their initial mission — bringing world-class beans home — was now fully obscured by a more pressing need: Coffee; please God, coffee.

After bouncing along for a waking eternity, everybody slightly feverish but entranced by the landscape, Serge and team arrived at the small roadside headquarters of AproCassi Collective — most notable because the office clung to the side of a cliff, in defiance, it seemed, of gravity.

Inside, the AproCassi team was preparing the cupping, with their Q Graders brewing beans from around the region. Twelve varietals were lined up around a long table, with five bean selections from each to verify the harvest’s consistency. As the sourcing crew approached the overladen table, with 60 cups of coffee perched around the perimeter, the aromas began to sharpen their senses.

For an idea of the charged universe they were about to inhabit, have a look at this video, taken just moments before the team’s lives took on a whole new purpose:

You see? They’d brewed magic beans in their honor.

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Most artisanal coffee is acquired through cooperatives like AproCassi, which originally invited the Sakrid team to San Ignacio. Operating as exporting consortiums, coops provide processing, sales and other operational services for small producers, often offering micro-loans for equipment, training in planting and harvesting techniques and other capabilities that allow small growers to effectively reach the market.

Inabel Abad Jimenez is one such coffee producer. In addition to raising two sons under the age of seven, Inabel and his wife Jenny farm six acres outside of San Ignacio. Part of a broader community called Lord of the Miracles, Inabel named his farm El Cautivo after a young girl captured by pirates. Now known as the patron saint of living right, El Cautivo conveys mystical qualities on those who live right, too — at least that’s how Inabel sees it.

So, yes, he thinks his beans are magic.

Inside the cramped AproCassi office, Inabel’s brew was the last of a dozen. No doubt, it was all first-rate coffee. The Andes produce some of the most distinctive beans in the world. With organic growing techniques spreading from valley to valley, Peru increasingly offers an artisanal counterpoint to the commercial-scale plantations of nearby Colombia and Brazil. There are no bad beans here.

But Inabel’s? Those were different like ‘our lives now have a new purpose’  different.

Hear this out: We named the company Sakrid because of that moment when you inhale the first aromas and taste the first hints of transcendent beans. All coffee lovers have had that Moment With a Great Cup, when the outside world slows down and the java experience takes control of your senses.

Now imagine that ‘Sakrid moment’ in a mountain hut. With traces of Yellow Fever in your bloodstream. In the enchanted foothills of mystical mountains, where the likes of Isabel Allende and Mario Vargas Llosa conjured worlds of magical realism.

Yeah, it was like that.

After tasting Inabel’s powerhouse bean (cashew butter, milk chocolate and peach notes, with a sweet, creamy finish), Serge simply said, “THIS,” and it was clear the team would have to adjust its mission: Not only were they absolutely bringing El Cautivo home with them, they now needed to meet the producer.

The Sakrid team meets Inabel

Luckily, Inabel was in town and anxious to find out if the American coffee purveyors liked his beans. Shortly after the cupping, as arrangements were being made to ship his harvest to the US, Inabel walked into the warehouse. One could be excused for mistaking him for a teenager — he stands no more than 5’2” and, when he stepped inside, still looked a bit shell-shocked that he’d just sold his entire crop to a single buyer.

As we quickly learned, however, there’s no mistaking Inabel’s dedication to his craft. To understand it, let him introduce himself:

Inabel lives and farms roughly one mile above sea level, where simply traversing the terrain is a challenge. As the saying goes, coffee growers have one leg longer than the other from walking sideways along a mountain all day. It’s not really a joke. Inabel takes as much care with his beans as a botanist raising prized orchids, spending most of his workday with his coffee trees. Strip-picking methods harvest a coffee tree all at once, pulling everything from the branch, ripe cherries or not, plus bark and leaves. In contrast, Inabel and Jenny walk their entire farm every day during harvest, only picking beans that are ready; they spend weeks selecting the ripest, which they then dry themselves, even composting the cherry pulps.

Inabel and Jenny practice regenerative agriculture at El Cautivo, cultivating great beans through biodiverse practices, scientific research and generations of technique. They continually rejuvenate their soil by rejecting the monoculture that has taken over in other coffee-growing regions, where rows and rows of coffee trees stand without companion flora and fauna. In big plantation agriculture like that, there are no nearby jasmine or cocoa trees (thus, no distinct flavors of origin); no native insects to naturally prey on coffee pests (so, no natural pesticides); and no grazing animals (i.e., no natural fertilizers).

By contrast, farmers like Inabel replenish depleted soils by creating biodiverse, almost primordial ecosystems. As Serge describes it:

First come the banana trees because they grow super quickly, are leafy and protect smaller trees around them. Then you have cocoa plants in between mangoes, then other fruit trees that also impart different flavors and profiles to your coffee tree. They reside one next to each other. Usually they're beneficial, and there's quite a bit of research these growers and cooperatives undertake to know what goes with what. It's a back to nature symbiosis that costs more but is easy to taste.

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At El Cautivo, everything, from planting and composting to pest protection and harvesting, is done naturally. If the big industrial farms elsewhere are dominated by single-purpose plantations, growers like Inabel and Jenny believe they are cultivating complete ecosystems that give each bean a unique, indelible flavor. Indeed, if you want to hear what biodiversity actually sounds like, check out this amazing video Serge shot at dusk on a nearby farm:

Coffee may drive the economies of communities like San Ignacio’s, but not, solely, the farms. This back-to-earth philosophy, in turn, imbues the beans with their own regenerative properties, and at some point in the process, a little magic happens. Through a blend of traditional techniques and agricultural science, with knowledge passed from valley to valley, generation to generation, a one-of-a-kind unroasted green coffee bean is produced. 

Sakrid is dedicated to bringing an authentic cafe experience home, which starts with transcendent beans. To order El Cautivo for home delivery or place a pickup order from our Princeton, NJ shop,click here

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