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Photos by Alan Jarrett ©
Volcanoes, natives in the jungle, maybe roses, but not many people visiting Ecuador today would know that coffee in Ecuador was at one time the primary export. Another good guess would be bananas or even oranges. Or because cacao is a major crop in Ecuador that could have been a good guess as well.
How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm, once they've seen the color of "black gold?" Oil. Since production began in 1972, it continues to be an important source of revenue to someone, just not to the dwindling coffee farmers still working the soil in many areas of the country. In fact, there is the problem of pollution!
Coffee in Ecuador is still a crop that is slowly but surely regaining it's importance. Specialty Coffee, along with all coffees in Ecuador, took a hard hit with destabilization of international prices in 2000, but as the history of coffee will show, there had been a drastic slide in quality and production even before that.
In 2004, coffee in Ecuador hit an all time low with exports equaling 1/10 of 1994 exports with only 200,000 bags. Over 1200 plantations were abandoned in the face of plummeting coffee prices in 2000. Coffee trees in some areas could be seen pulled up by the roots along the roadside, in favor of other cash crops. Coffee farmers were eating the grain that would normally feed their livestock because there was little else to eat, and it was a desperate few years.
In 2003 several international organizations put together funds to assist with training and education for coffee farmers in Ecuador, especially along the borders with neighbors Colombia, and Peru. Security along the borders was strengthened and public necessities such as potable water were improved. Free classes were given to farmers not just for coffee but on how to diversify crops to supplement coffee revenues. Crops such as asparagus and broccoli began to make an appearance.
In all, coffee farmers now began to regroup with the hope that change would come and coffee would rise to become a major export crop and that once again coffee in Ecuador wold be known as Specialty Coffee.
New life as a result of renewed interest spurred by this infusion, may be the cause of an abundance of new coffee shops that began to appear, sprouting up everywhere. Sweet and Coffee is a locally owned chain and has even seen expansion to Panama! Will Ecuadorian coffee be going to Panama? That would be interesting.
Along with instructions on how to make solar dryers for drying coffee, community cooperatives were formed in order to have representation with international buyers as well as with newly created government entities in Ecuador. Many changes were taking place to revive the coffee industry, and they were succeeding.
In 2006 coffee in Ecuador was making a comeback, but the road back to a Specialty Coffee classification was going to be uphill, as it would take years to reach the export levels of 1994.
Coffee farmers were shown the importance of plant nurseries, shade for those nurseries, constant irrigation, why the coffee bean had to be replanted as soon as the bean split, and the importance that the root be placed straight in the new soil.
Once the coffee plant
Photos by Alan Jarrett ©
Coffee farmers listen to Eng. Angelino Abad about the importance of plant nurseries.
reaches approximately 18” it is time to re-plant. One of the important points about re-planting they were shown is the significance of making the hole big enough and adding enough fertilizer for the plant as well as the surrounding ground.
Coffee farmers were also shown why pruning the trees as they grow, rather than letting them go beyond the height of 5 to 6 feet and why this is important to the production of cherries. Why no more than 3 trunks should be extending out of the main root was explained.
Farmer owners were now able to attend hands on training sessions about the importance of fertilizer, and the benefits of chemical as well as organic choices.
Keeping weeds at a minimum and applications of liquids to protect against insect and disease, rather than just leaving the plants to fend for themselves as was the custom. This and so much more have now become the rule rather than the exception, but change does not come easy.
Oddly enough there was no need to emphasize the importance to the environment of shade grown coffee, as this had been the tradition for decades. And since the coffee farmers income did not permit the expense of buying chemical fertilizers, the grounds remained free of pollutants, but lacked sufficient nourishment as organic compounds were not added.
Photos by Alan Jarrett ©
Agricultural Engineer Angelino Abad and 5 Family members from the city of Olmedo, Loja Province, representing 5 of the Top 10 Finalists in the 2010 Taza Dorada (Gold Cup) National Coffee Competition, Quito, Ecuador, October 28th, 2010.
The Taza Dorada national competition began in 2006, to encourage the various coffee districts to improve their crops, which have led once again to the classification of Specialty Coffee. These competitions, plus the formation on a national level of organizations committed to education and training at the grass roots level began to have an impact.
Even though the rains were late and the coffee crop in Ecuador suffered as much as a 75% drop in production in 2010, what was harvested met the test of bouquet, aroma, acidity and body in the cup to receive the points to qualify for Specialty Coffee from a panel of International judges.
Specialty Coffee in Ecuador is on the rise! But don't look for it in the largest coffee consumer country in the world! That would be the U.S.! The "ordinary" stuff that all the big roasters use, called "corriente," is the only Ecuadorian coffee that makes it to U.S. shores. And this is used to blend with other ordinary coffees from other countries to make the stuff you buy in cans and bags at the grocery.
"Corriente" class of coffee is when those picking the coffee, simply wrap the hand around the branch and clean leaves and all. Coffee doesn't ripen all at the same time, so this gets the green cherries right along with yellow and red. This coffee is then put out to dry with no pulping or sorting.
Photos by Alan Jarrett ©
"Corriente" lines the street for drying in the village of Olmedo! Everyone seems to have some.
Photos by Alan Jarrett ©
Here it is obvious to the naked eye that there is more green than red or yellow!
So the quality of the beans inside those cherries should not be compared to that of "specialty grade" coffee. The corriente is later pulped and shelled long after this stuff reaches any port for export.
Coffee like this is far cheaper by at least 1/3 compared to beans that have been selected ripe, pulped, washed, dried, sorted, shelled to remove all outer skins known as parchment, polished, hand sorted for size and quality, and finally bagged for export.
This coffee is far better quality, and has the potential to classify as "Specialty Coffee." But even then, the handling, storage and shipping can ruin a good crop. But this never makes it to the U.S., as 80% of this coffee goes to the second largest coffee consumer in the world...Germany!
"Why," just could be a question that pops into your thoughts. It all has to do with importers and roasters. There are over 70 countries cultivating coffee in the world, with the largest majority being those near the Equator in Central and South America.
There are roughly 20 popular varieties that every roaster is going to have, and to add to that number amounts to money. With economics being what they are, a roaster has to find something very distinct about a new coffee to be influenced to add this to his list.
Consider that the smallest roaster has to roast a bare minimum of 100 bags of green coffee per year. At current values each bag weighing 100 pounds would cost at least $350 as an average. All this depends where it comes from, as Jamaican Blue Mountain will bring a higher cost than Panama Boquete from Panama, or Mexican Altura, or even the standard for Arabica coffee from Costa Rica, Minita de Oro.
Add to this cost of transportation, which a roaster must bring at least 8 or 9 bags on a pallet to get a reasonable transportation cost and the cost per bag can increase dramatically. Then you have the shrinkage of 20% that evaporates as humidity when the coffee is roasted. Add overhead, and even a small roaster has to make nearly $100,000 per year to have a chance to survive.
So adding even 1 more variety, unless it's extremely exceptional, no matter how good, it doesn't make it to the U.S. market. While the Ecuadorian coffee is light, full bodied with wonderful acidity, it is too much like it's neighbors of Colombia and Peru. These countries have managed to build a much more stable coffee industry and therefore out maneuver Ecuador for the U.S. market.
So the only likelyhood of Ecuador entering the U.S. will be through direct purchases from grower cooperatives to roasters interested not only in great coffee, but investing in the people and communities that have been denied the fruits of their labor for centuries!
Some do exist, such as Cooperative Coffees in Americus, Georgia. A fascintaing partnership compromised of 23 partner roasters at last count, who are all committed to foster direct purchases from grower co-ops, AND reinvest in those communities. These are "relationships" and not just the typical buy/sell business deals!
So motion is in the air to see this evolve in Ecuador as well, empowering another "people group" to be as sustainable, as others have become having taken advantage of this movement.
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Cover photo courtesy virtualcoffee.com
Cover photo courtesy of dailyshotofcoffee.com
Cover photo courtesy markpendergrast.com
Coverphoto courtesy drinks.seriouseats.com
Cover photo courtesy eater-com