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What is Certified Biodynamic Coffee?

February 10, 2017

| By Greg Luli |

Café Virtuoso soon will introduce a Peru single origin coffee that is certified Biodynamic®. Although, this certification is more common in other agricultural products, such as wine, it is much less common in coffee. In fact, this coffee is from the only certified Biodynamic farm in Peru.

Biodynamic agricultural practices date back to the 1920s and the efforts of Rudolf Steiner who sought to harmonize science and spirituality. He believed that the spiritual world was both intellectually comprehensible and directly accessible. He founded the philosophy of anthroposophy that holds spiritual research can be expressed in the same way as natural science.

In short, biodynamic agriculture views all parts of the farm as being interconnected into a living, spiritual organism. And thus, the health of the farm/organism is based on the health and integration of all the parts. The soil health is maintained in a healthy state through nutrients produced from compost prepared from various materials grown or raised on the farm. No materials are brought into the farm from outside sources. This was the first type of organic farming and goes a step further than organic in that nothing (even certified organic components) can be brought into the farm system.

The production of the compost and nutrient amendments are prepared according to methods described by Steiner. Also important to these practices is bio-diversification. For example, the concept of growing other trees on the coffee farm to provide shading and nutrients for the soil is common practice, known as “shade grown”. Many coffee farms only use one type of shade tree. The Marins have taken the biodynamic approach and provided a wide diversity of trees, including something rare for coffee farms: evergreens. This diversity improves the soil quality and balance.

(Shade diversity on the Marin farm)

(Shade diversity on the Marin farm)

Although, biodynamic practices have been considered pseudoscience by some due to the mythical/astrological connections, and the lack of hard scientific data on efficacy, farmers using these methods have reported increased yield and quality. Otherwise, why would they go to this effort?

The origin of our current Peruvian certified Biodynamic coffee is a small farm in the Villa Rica region, high in the Andes, owned and operated by the Marin family, and named La Chacra D’Dago after its patriarch Dagoberto Marin.

Ground cover

(Dagoberto demonstrates the improved ground cover on his farm)

After visiting the farm in October 2015, we decided to develop a “direct relationship” with the Marin’s and purchase some of their 2016 crop. This is not technically “direct trade” because we purchased the coffee based on FOB from Lima. We partnered with a local San Diego importer, InterAmerican Coffee, to handle shipping, customs and storage of the coffee in San Leandro.

Dago Factory

(The factory)

Dago farm

(The Marin Farm pond)

I recently spoke with two of the three sons of Dagoberto, Cesar and Hector, about their farm and what biodynamic means to them. They explained that biodynamic practices are more comprehensive than organic because they include the health and viability of the entire farm – trees, plants, animals, bees, and of course people.  While there, I witnessed how connected the Marin family is to their farm. They greet each animal and plant as a friend. Dago says “hello” to his bees as he visits them to harvest honey. The honey, by the way, is some of the most amazingly sweet, rich, fragrant I have ever tasted.

Dago bees

(Dagoberto introduces us to his bee friends)

Dago bee hive

(One of the local hives)

Dago Farm table

(The Marin family table)

Back in 2000, as organic farmers, they had problems with their crop due to soil pH. They had to amend the soil with organic materials to maintain yields. By 2006, Dagoberto decided to embrace biodynamic practices. When they converted, their first yields were lower as the farm adjusted. But since then, their both their yields and quality have improved. The coffees have improved from SCA scores of 84 to 85+ now. The flavors are more pronounced and more balanced.

Dago Compost

(Dagoberto tests his compost)

One of the common pests for coffee in that area of Peru is the coffee borer beetle. Hector reports that the farms local wasp population keeps the beetle under control.

They also commercially produce lemons, avocados, and eggs to broaden the biodiversity of the farm.

In part two, we will talk about the coffee we’ve received and how it turned out after we begin roasting.

If you’re interested in learning even more about this farm, be sure to check out the following videos below:


Note: Biodynamic® is a registered trademark of Demeter Association Inc.

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Greg Luli

General Manager
An industrial microbiologist—both by education and for 30 years by trade—Greg is intrigued and challenged by the endless intricate nuances, methods and scientific knowledge needed to roast and brew specialty coffee. If he’s not outdoors hiking with his dogs, he can most certainly be found helping to perfect the roast levels of the newest coffee bean varieties to arrive.

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