It’s the very end of our visit to the Chirinos co-op. We’re about an hour away from hopping into our car to travel the many windy, graveled roads back down the mountains to the city of Jaén in northern Peru. As we gather in the cooperative’s cafe space to say our goodbyes and sip some coffee liqueur, I’m handed a fork and a bowl of egg whites. I have no clue what is going on. But as I take a look around me, I see that all of the friendly people from the past few days—Chirinos' president, Edwin; the cupper, Miguel; the head of the women’s committee, Carmen; and the serious-faced Homero who runs the co-op’s organic fertilizer plant—all have a bowl of egg whites too. And they are all whipping them furiously with their forks.
As the din of clacking forks gets louder around me, I yell across to Carmen, who is furiously cracking and separating eggs, “What are we doing?” Turns out we are making Rompope, a traditional egg-nog-like drink made for celebrations such as weddings and birthdays—and at Chirinos, to conclude visits from roasters.
I am egg-white-whipping side by side with Liz Clark from Gimme! Coffee and Cody Kinart and Mickey Comerford from Colectivo Coffee, roasters who have relationships with Chirinos and are buying the co-op’s coffee this harvest. For the past two days we have been treated to the glorious hospitality of the Chirinos team: being fed delicious meals at the group’s café; cupping through tables of micro-lots; visiting producers; and receiving an in-depth tour of the fine workings of the co-op. While the visit has granted everyone the opportunity to talk about coffee quality and flavor face to face, it has also given us the chance to get to know each other, and to take the stories from this far-away place near the border of Ecuador back to the cafés of Ithaca, Milwaukee, and beyond.
What is special about Rompope (besides the dark beer and aguardiente added to it) is that it requires many hands to make. The batch we are crafting has 40 eggs in it, and each white needs to be whipped by hand. The people in the room are from different continents, speak different languages, and, as we find out later, have pretty different dancing styles. But we all have to finish this thing together. When my forearm muscles inevitably tire, I pass my half-whipped bowl of whites over to Liz, Mickey, or any of the 15 Chirinos members that have trickled into the cafe to help out.
The whipping is complete once the bowl can be held upside down under Carmen’s watchful eye and nothing falls out. The whites are then added to a mixture of egg yolks, sugar, and spices—which are mixed into a bucket to accommodate the volume—and stirred diligently by a handful of helpers.
Tradition has it that after a glass of Rompope, a shot of aguardiente—in this case Pisco de Chirinos, the local moonshine made from sugar cane—is necessary to help digest the raw eggs. It may not be best thing to do right before a bumpy car ride, but I see only smiles as we climb into the van to leave. On this trip we cupped, we calibrated, and we climbed up steep pathways between coffee trees. We strengthened our business relationships. But at the end we also made something together. There’s nothing sweeter than that.