Ecuador is a brand-new origin for us so you can imagine our excitement! It’s also a country I find you don’t tend to hear about much and one that you may perhaps not associate with coffee that much either.
But…Ecuador is one of the top 10 most bio-diverse countries in the world! That sentence alone conjures up images of cloud forests, colourful birds and exotic flowers, doesn’t it? It also includes the Galapagos islands….ahhh…Oops, completely digressing there; travelling with my mind! Do you blame me? We haven’t been able to get far lately, have we? 😉
So, back to reality and of course, coffee.
This unique biodiversity of the region and the rich volcanic soil is simply perfect for producing tasty coffee and this is why it still baffles me why it isn’t more popular than it is.
ECUADORIAN COFFEE, when did all start?
Coffee in Ecuador arrived in 1800s specifically in 1860 when the first coffee plantations were established in the coastal, low altitude areas of the Manabí Province where 50% of the country’s Arabica yield is produced. However, naturally, the better-quality coffee is found in the higher elevation plantations of the country.
Although introduced much earlier, coffee wasn’t actually commercialised until the late 1920s when disease hit the cacao industry. However, coffee was still not a main part of the economy and during the 1990s right up to the early 2000s coffee production plummeted. Ecuador’s economy relies largely on oil (petroleum) and not so much on farming and agriculture in comparison to other coffee growing countries in the region.
It’s also an extremely strange fact that Ecuador actually imports more coffee than it grows and sells! Yup, you read this correctly! A large instant coffee industry in the country means that Robusta coffee which is largely inexpensive is purchased from Vietnam to meet Ecuador’s domestic consumption needs, whilst Ecuador, sells their own green Robusta at a higher price to neighbouring Colombia for example for their instant coffee needs! Baffling huh? There we go, who said the coffee world is not interesting?
WHY IS ECUADORIAN ARABICA COFFEE UNIQUE?
The Equator and climate change
I know I seem to be repeating myself - if you’ve read any of my previous blogs - in saying that pretty much every coffee I have written about is unique. It’s so true though, each one is unique for its own reasons. It’s not the only great coffee but there is always something special and different that makes us choose our coffees.
Digressing again, so back to Ecuador.
One of the main reasons why its unique is the position of the country in relation to the equator. So, being in this location means that coffee is harvested throughout the year. In fact, you can get all of the coffee cherry stages on one branch at the same time: getting green, ripe and blossoms side by side! You can also imagine that labour costs for the farmer must be much larger, and it also forces the farmer to ‘hold’ coffee until there has been enough harvested and processed for exporting. Quite a challenge!
Altitudes where coffee grows in Ecuador ranges from sea level right up to 2000 masl. The proximity to the equator as mentioned above has its own challenges for the growers but climate change is another significant one when it comes to Ecuador and coffee growing.
The altitude shifts, the Equator, the jungle to the East and the Ocean to the West means the country experiences delicate weather variations and climatic changes which significantly impact the farms.
Climate change has meant that regions where the early morning fog disappears in the sunny afternoon are now cloaked in mist and fog all day long. How does this affect the coffee? Drying the coffee on patios which is the norm becomes difficult or pretty much impossible as the sun isn’t there to dry the coffee and the moisture content in the air is constantly high. On the other hand, areas and regions that have seen regular sun, climate change has made these areas even hotter which means the coffee is now exposed to higher temperatures.
All these issues mean that the challenges the growers face are constantly shifting. For these people, adapting and responding quickly is the only way for them to be able to produce the same quality coffee as in previous years.
THE SPECIALITY SCENE
During the 2000s the speciality coffee scene reached a high and at the time, Ecuador’s neighbour Colombia and even Peru were becoming a big part of that. This was a good thing for Ecuador, and it inspired some of its forward-thinking producers to become more entrepreneurial with coffee growing, which meant seeking investment, improving practices and processing methods, and using marketing strategies to help their coffee business. This meant that the Arabica coffees being produced gradually gained momentum in terms of quality and single-farm coffees, single variety coffees and innovative processed coffee lots started to be acknowledged by equally forward-thinking mills, exporters, importers and last but not least roasters!
Since, coffee as an industry has become of the most important sectors of Ecuador’s economy. As of June 2012, Ecuadorian coffee was exported to 29 countries worldwide. Currently there are 105,000 families involved in coffee and farm sizes average between 1-4 hectares and there are 640,000-680,000 bags of green coffee exported annually.
OUR COFFEE, Hacienda La Papaya – lot 8
Ecuador’s coffee growing regions include Carchi, El Oro, Loja, Galapagos, Manabí, Pichincha, and Zamora-Chinchipe. Coffee processing methods in Ecuador include mainly washed and natural coffees however some honeys and experimental processes.
Talking about experimental processes, our coffee comes from the Loja region; a high-altitude region which specialises in their own strains of Arabica coffee. It is also interesting to mention that even the Ecuadorians themselves say that coffee from Loja is the best in the country!
Hacienda La Papaya is the farm and estate owned and operated by Juan Peña, who is perhaps Ecuador's most famous emerging specialty-coffee farmer. Juan is a multi generation farmer, but he's relatively new to coffee: A former long-stem-rose producer, he started experimenting with coffee plants in about 2010, after disastrous weather wiped out his flower fields.
Turning his energy entirely to coffee, he has worked to develop as healthy, hardy, and horticulturally intentional a farm as possible, with a very well-nurtured plant nursery and a "garden of inputs" on the property. (The "inputs garden" is interesting and shows Juan's dedication to science and methodical experimentation. He has coffee trees planted several yards apart and labelled with the nutrients inputs they're given, to track the impact of them on growth and cherry development. Juan grows several varieties on this land and is actively engaged with processing experiments as well.
His farming is meticulous, scientific, curious, and giving. He provides neighbours and farm workers space in his nursery, along with seedlings, so that they can develop plots of their own.
So, we applaud Juan Pena as a producer! He chooses quality and craftsmanship over quantity of exports. We feel, we are remarkably similar in our approach, as you know, we love experimenting, we go for quality, and we value both the science and craftsmanship that coffee needs in all its journey from plant to cup.
This lot is a microlot (Lot 8). If you want to know more about what a microlot coffee is, my blog post ‘ Microlot Coffee – what is it and why should roasters support it’ is a short read away to find out! 😉
So, without further ado…Hacienda La Papaya, Loja, Microlot, Lot 8
Altitude: 2100 masl
Tasting sweet and citric with a smooth mouthfeel. Fruity with toffee, cocos, lemon and cane sugar flavour notes.