Ecuador’s Dark Secret: World Class Coffee

When you think of coffee and where it’s grown, countries like Brazil and Colombia are usually what come to mind. And why not… Brazil is the world’s largest coffee exporter with up to one third of all coffee produced in a good year. Colombia is also a major exporter, and has benefited from a series of successful marketing campaigns (can you say “Juan Valdez”?) to boost their coffee’s reputation. Not many would mention Ecuador, yet this small Andean country was once one of the world’s leading coffee exporters.

That was then, and this is now. Other producers, blessed with greater amounts of arable land and better processing, transportation and shipping systems, have outpaced little Ecuador. Even so, Ecuador’s coffee-growing tradition stretches back to the early 19th century and the country’s best coffee ranks with the best in the entire world. The mountainous province of Loja is where prized Arabica coffee is grown, while the lowland provinces of Manabi, Guayas, and the eastern jungle province of Amazonas produce Robusta coffee. Robusta is usually sold to large commercial roasters for processing into name brand blends. The upland Arabicas display that distinctive Ecuadorian taste that coffee aficionados treasure: slightly acidic with overtones of cocoa and cardamom.

Some of the things that have until now kept Ecuador’s coffee out of the limelight are now being turned to its advantage. Most Ecuadorian coffee is grown on small farms. Fertilizer and pesticides are used in relatively low amounts compared to growers in other countries. In the past, this has restricted the volume of coffee grown in Ecuador, but today’s specialty buyers see these practices as being good selling points. Organic coffee sales are on the rise, as is the popularity of coffee grown on “estates” as opposed to anonymous blends. The higher prices these types of coffee bring helps farmers improve their processing methods, and at the same time the Ecuadorian government is steadily improving roads and ports so that coffee grown in the uplands can get down to the shipping ports without losing its quality and freshness. Next time you’re shopping for a specialty coffee, try one from Ecuador… you’ll find that Juan Valdez isn’t the only one who knows the secret of growing great “mountain grown” coffee!