An Interview with Eric Jara, Peruvian Cup Tasters Champion 2023
In a night filled with adrenaline, Eric Jara (34) emerged as the new champion of the sixth annual edition of the National Coffee Tasters Championship of Peru; first among 51 coffee tasters from all across the nation of 34 million people. The award was determined after a technical tie, which forced the finalists to compete in a new round, in which Eric ended up winning the top prize.
Our story with Eric dates back to our first visit to Peru in the year 2019. The itinerary, like every year, is designed as a dream scenario to visit as many producers as possible, and as always it is Eric who makes this a reality. As is often the case with these types of trips, there are only a few days and many places to visit. In just a few days, Eric showed us what every coffee professional needs to see, feel, and enjoy when traveling to the origin. But in addition to the tasting tables filled with novelties, our wonderful host adds delicious meals and great company to the mix.
Working with him, we were able to witness his professionalism, which compels him to question everything about each bean that passes through his spoon.
“I believe that anyone who likes and is passionate about coffee can learn to cup as long as that person puts his mind to it and wants to do it.“
This sparked his interest in the conditions of each region in Peru and the specific characteristics of each farm. For this reason, Eric is a key component of Yellow Rooster’s objectives in Peru, as he helps us consolidate the coffees we taste during our visits.
However, Eric’s expertise goes beyond his knowledge of the variety of beans produced by the hundreds of producers in his country. He understands the importance of knowing the customer. Perhaps this has been his greatest secret — or, as he says, “the best coffee is the one you enjoy.”
VI National Coffee Tasters Championship of Perú
A Conversation With 2023 Peruvian Taster Champ Eric Jara
Yellow Rooster: First of all, congratulations Eric, how does it feel to be the Peruvian National Tasting Champion now that you’ve had a few days to sit back and enjoy it?
Eric Jara: I feel very calm. It is a great achievement and above all a responsibility because I do not represent a region or a company, I represent a whole country. And with a lot of pride and happiness I will carry my flag on my chest and represent my country well in the world ranking.
YR: There are many Yellow Rooster followers who don’t know your story. Could you tell us a little bit about your origins in coffee, where you worked, how you got here?
EJ: Well, I’ve been working in coffee since 2011. I’ve been involved in sales, marketing, and cupping since 2019. I always like to be looking for new coffees, with different profiles, different from the ones we have in our country, in the different regions, because I like to work as a country (not just as a region), and above all to support the small producer. I am passionate about coffee, I like coffee very much and that is why I will always be involved in it, as part of the commercial area.
YR: Where did you learn to cup?
EJ: A friend of mine always told me that in order to know what you are selling, you have to know first what you are offering. So this friend taught me to taste for a couple of hours and then I had the initiative and curiosity to know how to differentiate profiles, notes, flavors and above all to give a score. Then I entered the cupping school of the company Central de Café y Cacao, which is located in Lima.
YR: How were you improving your cupping skills?
EJ: Since we have the laboratory, we are constantly tasting. And as I already know the profile of each client, we assemble the lots according to the client’s profile and not according to the score. In the company where we work we cup natural and washed (coffees). At least 40 samples per day during the entire campaign and also in the summer when there is no coffee harvest. Due to the fact that our clients ask us for coffees almost all year round. We taste a lot of very good coffees, so this has been perfecting my palate and adapting to the different profiles and processes.
YR: Have you previously competed in the Tasters Competition?
EJ: No, this is the first time I participated in the competition. I entered the cupping competition at the encouragement of a friend I have known for years. He is a trainer, a judge at Cup of Excellence and has always supported me with the training workshops we do with the producers of Alpes Andinos. He was the one who motivated me to apply and that helped me (take the leap).
YR: What do you think is the main reason why you are able to differentiate coffee better than other coffee professionals?
EJ: The main reason, mmm, I think it requires a lot of discipline. And the challenge is one you have to set for yourself, isn’t it? When participating in the competition we have to limit ourselves… We can’t allow for many distractions… so if we don’t do it (set boundaries), how can we achieve what we want? So, it has been a very big sacrifice of meals, drinks, hours of sleep, hours of practice, sometimes sacrificing visiting family in order to practice. It has been a very big sacrifice which, well, now we see the result, right?
YR: How did you prepare for the competition?
EJ:My training course was two months ago, but I have been tasting coffee for five years. I had a very intensive week of preparation before (the championship) in Quillabamba, Cusco.
YR: What was the most difficult moment in this competition?
EJ: Controlling my nerves has been the most challenging aspect. I had to control my nerves. In the first round, I was very nervous, extremely nervous, to the point where my spoon was shaking, and I even spilled some coffee. I only got seven out of eight sets correct.
YR: What was going in your head while you were competing?
EJ: The only thing going through my head was concentration and saying, well, here I am. It’s time to show what I know and how I know it.
YR: After having tasted coffees from different parts of Peru, how would you classify the quality of the coffees that you represent in Alpes Andinos and with the Carranza family?
EJ: I really like coffees from different regions. For me everything is new when I find new profiles, but I am always interested in knowing how the coffee was made, what varieties, etc. I am happy to taste all the coffees from my country and from other countries as well.
With Alpes Andinos we still have work to do with implementing natural (dry) processes. And, well, the Carranza family always works with natural and very good anaerobic coffees, right? And I think they are setting the standard in the region for us to follow.
YR: We have recently purchased new geisha microlots. How do you qualify the new geisha experiments that were in this last harvest?
EJ: Geisha, well, it’s a very big challenge because we have to offer basically a 90-point coffee to be able to compete in the market. It seems like our country is infested with geisha at the moment, but there is such a wide range of quality (good and bad). That makes geishas very difficult to market. Especially because of the cost of production, right? But we are in this constant work.
YR: Are there any new areas in Peru that deserve attention from roasters?
EJ:Our country has different profiles, different regions, different flavors. There is something for everything. I cannot specifically recommend a region. I believe that each client has different tastes. The best coffee is the one that you like, so I believe that each client has a different profile and will adapt according to the coffee found in each region.
YR: What is your favorite cup profile?
EJ: My cup profile for me has always been floral and fruity, like geishas for example, especially when they are fermented, natural or anaerobic.
YR: Can anyone learn to taste, or is it more of an inherent ability?
EJ: I think it depends a lot on if you like coffee. We are not born with this ability, it is learned. When I was a child, they used to give me instant coffee, and my body and my hands always began to sweat profusely, so I eventually was forbidden from drinking coffee, but when I got into this world, I learned how to control it so I began to love it. I believe that anyone who likes and is passionate about coffee can learn to cup as long as that person puts his mind to it and wants to do it.
YR: What are the practical applications of cupping in your work with Alpes Andino?
EJ: In Alpes Andinos I am in the areas of management, commerce, logistics, certifications and cupping. With cupping, I am the one who approves the shipping of lots of coffee from each producer. I make the decision if I make a blend, a micro lot or separate for a specific market, right? Because the same producer sometimes brings the same coffee with different profiles, so according to that we separate it and I am the one who makes the decision of which market I am going to direct it to.
YR: What is next for you?
EJ: To prepare myself very hard and strong for the competition in Chicago. That’s my next challenge now. For that reason, in March I’m going to spend a month preparing with a trainer in Cusco.
YR: Is there anyone you want to thank?
EJ: I want to thank my family for being very patient because I haven’t really seen them since July. I am going to visit my dad, his birthday is this November 18th, and also the producers. I want to thank them, because thanks to them I have learned a lot and this is now where I am, right? It is because of them that I am where I am.