Ecuador is a re-emerging coffee-growing region situated North of Peru and South of Colombia. Since it is nestled between two traditionally prolific coffee growing countries and has ideal growing and soil conditions, it has all the potential for great specialty coffee. Interestingly, it does not produce very much specialty coffee. Ecuador’s coffee production peaked in 1985 producing 4,300 containers of Arabica coffee, as opposed to 1500 containers in 2012, most of which was sold to the soluble market for instant coffee. Last year, it produced only 100 containers of specialty coffee (approximately 2.5 million pounds), as opposed to Colombia, which produced 32,000 containers, or Peru, which produced 12,000 containers. The increased demand for specialty coffee throughout the world provides great opportunity and potential. This apparent opportunity was recognized in 2010 by the Yamalaca Coffee Growers Association and United State Agency for International Development (USAID). Together, they began a movement in Ecuador to increase the quality standards and sales of Ecuadorian specialty coffee.
Nico Velez of Café Velez exporters, following the example in the south, started a grass-roots movement of coffee growers in the Pichincha region of Ecuador. Mostly a cattle-raising region, now a portion of it is transitioning to coffee. Nico and a group of farmers in the region are taking queues from the specialty coffee movement and starting farms with the vision of selling to this growing market of consumers within Ecuador as well as around the world. These farms take great care in growing carefully sourced coffee varieties including Bourbon, Typica, and SL-28 (a Kenyan variety). These varieties are kept separate on each farm allowing farmers to offer single-variety lots.
In June of 2013, I was offered an opportunity to experience a portion of these improvements through a partnership between Café Imports (our importing partner), Café Velez, and USAID. This trip offered an opportunity to taste the results of the improvements and investments made into this vision, meet the farmers, and see farm practices and processing methods. I was also able to cup coffees grown in Pichincha and Olmedo regions and visit a few of the pioneering farmers. Most of these farmers have a range of professional experience. One farmer worked with Doctors Without Borders. Another worked in the Ecuadorian Ministry of Agriculture. To hear their excitement and vision while walking through the coffee shrubs was the culminating experience of the trip for me.
Six cuppings were set up with a variety of specialty coffees from all over the country. On the table were single-farm, single-variety lots. It was a tasting of the hard work and investment that these visionary farmers had put into their farms. Some of these farms were offering their first crop, which was the result of up to 5 years of preparation. Others were a vast improvement on years of “high-yield/low-quality approach” of the instant coffee market. Among these coffees was our lot from Angelino Abad, which was very fresh. It had not gone through the important resting period that pergamino (coffee beans in parchment) goes through before exporting. Even without resting, the sweetness and texture stood out with this coffee. My notes from June read:
“berry-like acidity, toffee, and dark chocolate with a full texture”
The members of Blueprint were excited to cup our approval sample in October. At that point, Angelino’s lot had gone through resting and been shipped safely to the Café Imports Warehouse in Minneapolis, MN. During this period, the coffee had rested and we then noticed citrus zest notes, graham cracker sweetness, honey-like sweetness,and texture and a pervasive honeysuckle floral quality that is balanced and delightful. We hope you enjoy this coffee. We anticipate a continued relationship with Café Velez and the work that is growing out of Ecuador.