Across the street from a truly unnerving wart removal shop (complete with lurid illustrated signs) and surrounded by the honking rush of Lima’s legendary traffic, Origen Tostadores de Café maintains an air of curious repose. Against its whitewashed walls, a coffee tree growing in the small front yard glows rich green. Wendy, one of the baristas, sweeps dust from the sidewalk into the street in soft pale puffs. In a city where ten million people—one third of Peru’s population—live stacked atop each other and share clothes-drying lines on apartment building roofs, there is a calm here that invites the traveler to sit, order an espresso, and then order yet another while the world lurches by outside. Inside, Star Wars memorabilia betrays the cafe’s equal fascination with coffee and Darth Vader—“What? I was born in the ’80s!” shrugs co-owner Gino Kanashiro Asato.
Asato and his partner Jessica Tejada Torres switch off behind the cafe’s bright orange La Marzocco FB/80, turning out competition-level espressos, cappuccinos, and lattes. The partnership makes sense: after all, he was her barista trainer, and he looks as proud of her 2014 Peruvian AeroPress Championship title as she does. Asato was trained by Roukiat Delrue, who (among any other credits) also trained 2012 World Barista Champion Raul Rodas of Guatemala. Asato and Torres met in 2013 over their mutual plans to open a coffeehouse, and after looking around the city for retail spaces for some time, they settled on the middle-class district of Pueblo Libre to open their first cafe. It’s a strategic decision: there aren’t many coffeehouses of this caliber in Peru, and most of them are concentrated in the tourist districts of Miraflores, Barranco, and San Isidro. By opening Origen in this west-central area of Lima, the two ensured themselves the chance to create a new market for specialty coffee.
As is common in coffee-origin countries, Peru produces beautiful specialty-grade coffees from regions like Cajamarca, Villa Rica, and San Martín, but experiences an embargo on imported green coffee from other countries. In addition, the coffee-drinking culture is strong but not quality-focused: one can find café pasado, a cup of strong, bitter (often instant) coffee concentrate with hot water in a small pitcher for dilution, on most menus, but the coffee enthusiast quickly learns to skip the request for espresso or pour-over (known as café filtrado in Peru). Into this culture, Asato and Torres with their five employees have been advancing the cause of specialty coffee preparation as most of us know it.
Roasting only Peruvian coffees on a 2.5-kilo roaster, or tostadora, from a Peruvian company called IMSA, Origen sells around fifty kilos of coffee a week, a demand which is set to expand with the opening of a second shop in the central Lima district of Surquillo. Coffees from Finca Timbuyacu, in Amazonas, and Finca La Encañada, in San Martín, along with other regional selections, are presented on a hand-lettered chalkboard with the farmers’ names front and center and body, aroma, and flavor notes rounding out the descriptions.
The cafe uses two Anfim Super Caimano espresso grinders along with a Yama cold brew tower for iced coffee, and offers a wide variety of brew methods from pour-overs to moka pot and Clever dripper. A broad range of pastries, sandwiches, and even, betraying Lima’s strong Italian influence, lasagna, anchors the menu on the comestible side, but one of the cafe’s strongest players is the affogato. It’s made with artisanal gelato and presented with a tiny brownie square atop the melting espresso wilderness. Other original cafe creations include shaken cold brew concoctions, the Café Sour and Café Orange, along with a riff on one of Peru’s classic drinks, the Chilcano. Crafted from the national grape alcohol, pisco, along with ginger ale and lemon, Origen’s version adds beautiful columnar ice cubes of frozen Yama cold brew. As the drink melts, the coffee infuses it so each sip tastes richer than the last.
With business steadily on the rise and another cafe close to opening its doors in Lima, Origen Tostadores de Café continues to redefine the national coffee conversation on a global level. The result is simple: visitors come back, over and over. The force is certainly with Asato and Torres.
Emily McIntyre is a Sprudge contributor based in Portland, Oregon. Read more Emily McIntyre on Sprudge.