My story with Jose began back in 2016 on a visit to a few of my roaster friends back at my former employer Intelligentsia. While standing there on the production floor talking to (if my memory serves me correct) Stanley Slater (who now works for Origin Coffee Lab) and Sam Sabori- two wonderful coffee professionals who I still call friends today. During my visit, there stood Jose, at distance but still within earshot as my conversation with the latter two progressed, I could see Jose out of the corner of my eye, inching closer and closer until he stood within arms length from me. After our conversation concluded, Jose, who at the time seemed painfully shy, introduced himself to me and asked me where I worked. Back then, Metric was a 3 year old Company, and while our business was growing, we were still a very small operation with just 4 people at the time. After a few surface questions about myself and what I do he then proceeded to ask me what kind of machine I roast on to which I said “a Probat UG15”. Just then, his eyes got wide and He professed that those machines were his favorite. He asked me if I could show it to him and thus began a friendship that eventually grew into a partnership. (Over the next year Jose would help us grow and learn. What he might be most fondly remembered for is his sly wit that always kept us on our toes.)
You see, what I didn’t know about Jose at the time was that he was working at some capacity with Intelligentsia on a project that would later become “Rayos del Sol” (among others). What brought him here was connecting roasters to great Peruvian coffee but also having family that resided in the city. So, after I accepted his request for a quick tour, we briskly walked down Fulton Street over to our roastery which is a short walk away from the Intelligentsia Roasting Works and onto Metric- a slightly smaller warehouse with far less coffee at the time but with a ton of grit and purpose.
On the floor stood our UG15 roaster and for what I can recall, Jose drooled over the machine for what now felt like a period of 3-4 hours, Jose was instantly smitten and asked me if he was allowed to come back. Of course, after speaking with him for that long and connecting with him on a human level, I really enjoyed him and immediately welcomed him for a visit anytime. After we wrapped up, I told Jose to pop in whenever he was around, which to him meant “I'll come back tomorrow!” The following day, arriving shortly after 8:00 am, there stood a man by our front door, holding a backpack (he brought his own lunch) ready to help us with whatever we needed, which eventually resulted in Metric hiring Jose for the season. While at Metric he did everything from periodic public cuppings, inventory, roasting, account management and almost everything in between.
There was a particular situation where Jose led a group of Chefs in a cupping where the topic of fermentation came up- a topic that Chef’s know all too well but were not aware that coffee too underwent a fermentation process. After 10 minutes of explaining and peeling back the layers, I could visibly see these guys inching closer and closer, hooked to every word Jose had to say and that experience made an impact in the way we approach education today. After a period of time, Jose and Mariagracia decided to move back to Peru so that they could launch what later became Origin Coffee Lab.
Origin Coffee Lab was founded in 2018 by Jose Rivera & Alex Julca with the mission to support and empower coffee producers in Northern Peru by offering sustainable pricing along with a commitment quality and education to all of their members. Origin is a smaller operation in comparison to many of the cooperatives in the area, their focus is on quality over quantity. Since day one, Jose and Alex established a solid reputation in their region, leading to many producers becoming a part of their fold. Our first visit to Jaen, a city located in Cajamarca, a high jungle region of northern Peru, was with a few great friends of mine (Josh Hockin from Transcend & Brandon Thiessen from Royal). We were all blown away by the potential in cup quality from coffees of this region which certainly made us all believers in Peru standing tall among the best of them. Historically, at least if you ask us, Peruvian coffees come with a reputation of being great blender options but are rarely are they as esteemed as some of their neighbors to the north. As Jose explained back when we first met, many of the challenges that marred Peru’s name were challenges that Jose and His team were determined to champion. All along, Jose (much like many who preceded him) has known that Peru is a prime region for producing quality coffee, but historically it has come up short on transparency and general supply chain challenges. For Jose, establishing Origin meant tackling those challenges along with a myriad of other micro challenges that held Peruvian coffee back from being regarded as a quality producing country. We couldn't be more proud to work with quality people doing quality work. On our visit, we got to cup hundreds of samples- all with their own unique flavor characteristics with my favorite options showing a lovely florality and sweetness that makes for a stellar drinking experience.
Today, Metric works exclusively with Origin Coffee Lab for all of our Peruvian offerings and just as we could not have imagined, Jose’s coffee “El Rejo” became available and will hopefully be a fixture in our menu for years to come. El Rejo which roughly translates to “The Point” was a farm that Jose inherited from his grandfather after he passed away. It is located in the village of Alto Ihumaca and sits at an elevation of 1,700 meters growing a mix of Bourbon and Caturra. Along with the mainstay varieties, Jose has Gesha & Ethiopian Landacre plots which he hopes to have in full production within the next 1-2 years. Most notably, El Rejo took 11th place in this years “Cup of Excellence” with part of this lot undergoing a special prep and while this isn’t the winning lot, Jose shared that he prepared the larger lot similar to the CoE lot. After depulping, the whole cherry was submerged for 12 hours, depulped and left in the mucilage for 36-72 hours after which the coffee was washed and transferred to African style raised beds for a period of 18-24 days. The resulting cup is a beautiful sucess, with notes of lemon custard, bittersweet chocolate, and graham cracker, this coffee checks all of our boxes for a balanced coffee that offers a radiant edge.
We are so proud of the achievements made in part by Jose, Mariagracia, Alex and the entire team at Origin Coffee lab and can’t wait to see what they do next in the areas most important to us- innovation, quality and sustainability. On a personal note, I would like to add - how cool is it that a chance meeting has led to partnership founded on quality and equity? When we launched Metric, we could only dream about these types of meaningful transactions but never imagined they would manifest themselves at our doorstep. Having someone who we consider a dear friend on top of a producing and export partner is a real honor and we hope you’ll enjoy Jose’s coffee as much as we do. Stay tuned for the following releases- all sure to be stunners and affirmative of the quality work in part by Origin Coffee Lab and their producing partners.
Jose picture with his sister Maricarmen in El Rejo