In early September Bean Hunter Jon Ferguson left Kansas City to journey to South American in search of the world’s best coffee. After a few days visiting farms and developing new relationships in Colombia (read parts one and two), Jon headed to Ecuador.
September 9, 2014 – September 14, 2014
I left Bogota early Monday morning to Loja, Ecuador. On the way I had a lay-over in Guayaquil, Ecuador with a few hours to pass, so I decided to take a taxi downtown to the water front to visit the free Archeological Museum. After a quick tour of pottery and miniatures from the past, I returned to the airport to catch the last leg of my trip to Loja, Ecuador.
Historically, the city of Loja was known as the departure point for the Amazon Basin for Spanish Conquistadors. It’s very high in altitude and has become a culturally rich center for the southern part of Ecuador. Below is a photo taken near Loja, demonstrating its vast scenic and semi-arid environment.
I arrived later in the evening to the airport, and as I was landing, I noticed the drastic differences in landscape as opposed to Colombia. Ecuador has “majestic” mountains, similar to the lower Rocky Mountains in Colorado, yet the elevation of the Andes surpasses the Rockies. Loja rests at 2060 m (6758 ft) above sea level, which is about 1500 feet (460m) higher than Denver, Colorado!
Coffee is grown in two distinct areas within the southern region of Ecuador. The Andes Mountains have created two environments, a semi-arid coastal area which is located near the Pacific, including; Catamayo, Cariamanga, Quilanga, Fundochamba and Espindola. On the other side of the Andes, where the city of Loja rests, begins a more tropical environment, heading south to the Province of Zamora-Chinchipe, near the coffee growing areas of Palanda and Zumba.
These environmental conditions have developed a few distinct cup profiles, yet they are still in the early stages of clearly defining the attributes. In general, coffees from the semi-arid growing areas tend to have more acidity and less body, while areas within Chinchipe province tend to have more body. Both areas have done very well within an internal competition known as the “Taza Dorada”, a coffee competition held in the area to highlight quality tasting coffees. During the visit, I had the opportunity to visit both climates and visit several award winning farms and producers within both very distinct opposing climates.
September 10, 2014 – Morning Farm Visit: Cariamanga, Ecuador
The first farm visit within Ecuador was to a farm owned by Manuela Valareso, outside of Cariamanga, Ecuador, located in the Loja Province. The distance from the hotel in Loja to the farm in Cariamanga was about a 2 ½ hour ride through winding roads similar to the terrain of south eastern Colorado.
When we arrived, I was taken aback by the fact that coffee would even be able to grow in such an arid environment, let alone gain place 2nd in a coffee competition. But since I am not an agronomist, nor coffee farmer, my perceptions were quickly changed seeing the physical evidence of coffee shrubs at hand. We were greeted by the producer, Manuela Valareso, who has lived on the farm for most of her life, yet has only begun to invest in coffee production within the last decade.
Sugar cane is a main staple crop for Manuela Valareso, along with plenty of vegetable and fruit production. They also tend to sheep and other small livestock.
Coffee production on the farm has been hit by coffee rust in the past several years, but they have taken measures to help control the spread and reduce the impact coffee rust has on their farm. Manuela, unlike traditional farmers in the area, has heavily pruned and “stumped” (manner of cutting the entire tree down and allowing it to fully regrow) her coffee shrubs, which greatly reduces the ability for rust to spread. They are also located in a semi-arid environment, perhaps not ideal for rust to spread either. Ecuador suffered a great decline of harvest, as much as 70% reduction of harvest two years ago, but things are slowly getting better, achieving only a loss of 40% of harvest this year. Most of the coffee rust spread from Peru several years ago, and Ecuador has been fighting it back ever since.
After our three mile walk to her coffee farm, we stopped for a sugar cane break, where she harvested a stock, quickly preparing it for our group to share. Soon after, we returned to her home to depart to our next farm visit.
September 10, 2014 – Afternoon Farm Visit: Fundochamba Ecuador
Our next visit was to “El Subo” in Fundochamba, a farm managed by Micaelina Romero and her husband, Segundo Nicolas. They placed 4th in the Taza Dorada last year, and farm in similar environmental conditions as our earlier visit of the day, although his slope of land carries slightly more vegetation and forested areas. She and her husband manage four coffee farms throughout the area for the FAPECAFE cooperative.
He has a small investment in livestock, several tropical fruits such as oranges, bananas, lemons, along with staple crops like corn and beans. His plantation is spread out alongside a few mountain sides, and as a traditional farmer of coffee. He has decided not to prune or stump his coffee trees. Micaelina and her husband have also faced the difficulties of combating coffee rust for several years.
As are most farmers in Ecuador, most choose not to use or apply chemicals to control coffee rust because it sacrifices the organic certification extremely popular and commonly expected from producers within this region. Regardless of the rust, his success has been found in the cup quality, giving him plenty of international exposure within the specialty coffee industry.
On our return to Loja, Romero Lopez gave us a tour of the PROCAFE (acronym for “Association of Coffee Producers from Espindola and Quilanga”) quality control lab near Catamayo. He explained the documentation process for traceability and quality control, further explaining the importance of the organization within the coffee producer’s area.
It was an informative day learning the capacities and qualities that are available from Ecuador.
September 11, 2014 – Catamayo Cupping Lab Visit
On our way to the cupping lab in Catamayo, we came across a field of sugar cane workers, so I had to stop and ask to take a photo. This was an opportunity to remind myself that the amount of labor which goes into our food are often not seen. If we are exposed to more realities, witnessing the hard work, it may help justify the expense of a sometime costly appearing product, like coffee.
By late morning we arrived at the quality control lab run by FAPECAFE (Regional Federation of Associations of Small Coffee Producers in the South of Ecuador). I was honored to find one of the only Q Graders in Southern Ecuador, Sr. Jose Apollo Espinoza, who runs the lab for FAPECAFE. We cupped numerous samples from the region and was pleasantly surprised with the results.
Most of the samples scored a clean 84-86 cup with vibrant acidity and a delicate body. The entire country of Ecuador only exports approximately 18 to 20 containers of arabica coffee on an annual basis. Ecuador is a great source for finding small separated lots with diverse and exotic profiles, yet more difficult to find larger quantities. The prices are generally slightly higher than the average differential and are not strictly tied to the C market. Most of these mirco-lots are in relation to the cost of production and quality of life, not necessarily where the C market lands at the end of the day.
September 12, 2014 – The road from Loja to Chinchipe, farm visits in Palanda, Ecuador
The road from Loja to the Chinchipe Province is one of environmental transformation. Loja, although surrounded by high altitude mountainous terrain, still lacks the lush tropical environment seen in Chinchipe. After heading south from Loja for about 3-4 hours (they said, “about an hour” and I lost track after realizing it’s been well beyond 2 hours) the environment changes to semi-arid to cloud forest, and then to a near tropical jungle. When seeing this type of transformation, I was hoping to see some very lush coffee plantations within Chinchipe.
Once we arrived to Palanda, we visited the offices of APECAP (Coffee Grower’s Association of Palanda and Chinchipe) to meet with Cosmel Merino, Administrator of the organization based out of Palanda, and also a small coffee producer. While we were there, we toured the offices and Beneficio located near the offices.
After a brief introduction to APECAP’s operations, we started our trip to visit Juan Calva, a coffee producer located in Irache, a small village near Palanda. Our drive up the mountain was fascinating, cutting through a layer of clouds, crossing a sudden rain shower and shallow river, edging past a fresh landslide on a thinly formed mountainside road, and finally clearing above the cloud cover to see a very lush environment, which was a stark contrast from the prior farm visits within Loja earlier in the week.
We met Juan Calva at his home in Irache, and he welcomed us with a tour of his farm. We hiked a few miles across a slightly muddy path to his coffee fields, on the steep slopes of a mountain at around 1400 meters.
Juan Calva, like most other farmers in the area, has been hit severely with coffee rust, and has continued to plant more trees in addition to his surviving varieties. His coffee shrubs are grown extremely high with little pruning, maintaining a traditional practice within the area. He also uses an aqua-pulper for depulping his cherries, all done directly on his farm, and dried on covered raised beds. The aqua-pulper reduces the amount of water used in the process, which is healthier for the environment.
After our return to Palanda, we re-grouped with Cosmel Merino to visit his farm south of Palanda. He is a younger producer, implementing progressive techniques on his farm, and his diligence and progressive agricultural management practices have paid off. Without the use of chemicals, he has been able to control coffee rust, and has successfully eradicated the spread of rust from his plantation, mainly attributed to his stumping and heavy pruning practices.
His fields were quite lush and green. Across from his mountain slope, he pointed to a rich canopy of heavy jungle covered terrain and said, “There are quite a few monkeys over there”. Not surprisingly, since this area of Ecuador nears the beginning of the Amazon river basin.
Once we said our goodbyes to Cosmel and staff at APECAP, we drove back to Loja where I ended my trip. From there I flew back to Bogota for a night to catch a flight back to Kansas City the next morning. While in Bogota, I enjoyed the many displays of street art that is famous in Bogota.
The trip to Colombia and Ecuador provided a wealth of information and clarity, gaining a better insight on long term relationships The Roasterie has fostered in the past, and opening doors to new relationships for our future.