Many of the elements that make Ecuador an exciting region full of untapped potential are also what contribute to its being a particularly difficult place from which to source coffee. However, these same difficulties also embody much of what we believe the future of specialty-coffee holds, and they recall the vision of progress that we at Cafe Imports have folded into our mission as we develop and seek the best lots from around the world.   

For these reasons, despite the challenges, headaches, and even occasional heartbreaks, we know the coffees are worth it, and always eagerly anticipate reports back from this special coffee-growing country. We are pleased to share some of this year's story with our customers and partners, direct from the middle of the harvest.
As its name implies, Ecuador straddles the Equator, which creates both unique geographical advantages and disadvantages. For instance, the somewhat consistent and predictable day-to-day growing conditions (such as year-round 6 a.m. sunrises and 6 p.m. sunsets), are in contrast with an intense vulnerability to climate change, and an extended, rather unusual harvest season that creates logistical difficulties for exporting. Wide-ranging variances in topography and terrain -- with altitudes from sea level all the way to above 2,000 meters, and from ocean shoreline to thick jungles -- contribute to this set of challenges, and the coffees here require extremely close attention for a longer period of time during peak harvest, as it's very common to have branches bursting with blossoms, green unripes, and perfect red cherries at the same time.

Selective picking is imperative for this reason, and labor costs are already incredibly high, relatively speaking: Where the average picker in Colombia might make $4 or $5 for a day's work, or $6 to $8 in Peru, Ecuador's labor laws and local costs necessitate that farm workers make closer to $15, even as much as $18 daily, which naturally drives up the cost of production and, therefore, the price of the green coffee. 

At first blush, that might make any cost-conscious roaster wince, but it also is an opportunity for us to collectively remember that we often stand at podiums shouting that coffee should cost more, especially high-quality ones -- and the best among these coffees are unquestionably worth the price.
Ripe pick at Finca Maputo
Cafe Imports' senior green-coffee buyer, Piero Cristiani, also provides context to the atypical economics at play: "There are a lot of social costs in Ecuador. For example, they have to pay for social security and [other civic protections], and the country is dollarized, which brings up the prices as well." (Ecuador adopted the U.S. dollar as its national currency in 2000, in order to stabilize its purchasing power and to protect its oil economy, which is the country's largest export.) The government also provides other public services, such as education subsidies, which raises the cost of living but ostensibly also the quality of life.
The breathtaking beauty of the landscape naturally lends a similar "vacation coffee" mystique similar to the crops of Jamaica and Hawaii. The difference, Piero says, is undoubtedly in the cup: "In other exotic origins, the coffee is expensive but it's not so great. Here, it's exotic and you get some really good coffees. The cup really is there."

Thanks in large part to the expansion of microlot programs and special regional projects in neighboring Colombia and Peru, Ecuador's coffee farmers are seeing that there is potential to make a sustainable living by producing exceptional coffees, and are refining their craft all the time. "Producers are doing a better job at drying, which was probably always their weakest point," Piero continues. "In the past, a lot of the producers were just kind of guessing about how they had to dry their coffee. Some of them now we're seeing are taking samples to a nearby producer who has a moisture meter, and they'll test it out to see if it's good to go." 
Blossoms at Hacienda La Papaya
Still, there's the question of supply, especially of very fine coffees. Historically, Ecuador's production has been overlooked for specialty, in part because of the overshadowing influence of nearby Colombia. However, growers are increasingly inspired by the way that variety and specificity can create differentiation in a market that is thirsty for craft and quality. Producers are planting new varieties, putting Ecuador more at the forefront of the flavor frontier and pushing the boundaries of the country's reputation for commercial production. We are seeing more lots of Typica Mejorado for instance, a short and productive strain of Typica, and of course there's the up-and-comer Sidra, a Bourbon-Typica cross that Piero says is "cupping out really nice this year. It's very fruity and a little floral as well." 

New seedlings of the latter variety are being passed from producer to producer in an effort to grow the local specialty-coffee industry, especially among neighbors, friends, and within growing communities. This spirit of sharing and collective development also embodies so many of the values Cafe Imports aims to impart and encourage with our sourcing and relationships; some of our most successful partners have also been the most generous and innovative.
Juan Peña
Juan Peña, perhaps Ecuador's most famous emerging coffee farmer, is a nearly perfect example of the sort of entrepreneurial and open-minded growers with whom we are working on the ground here. Young and ambitious, he has a quiet way and a winning smile -- and winning coffees, year after year. Juan owns and operates his family's Hacienda La Papaya, a former long-stem rose farm converted to 100-percent coffee after natural disaster destroyed his flower fields. His farming is meticulous, scientific, curious, and giving: He provides neighbors and farm workers space in his nursery, along with seedlings, so that they can develop plots of their own. He also tracks the effects of different fertilizers on test plants in an "input garden" on the property, examining how certain varieties respond to mixtures of nutrients, and experiments constantly with fermentation and drying strategies, eager to learn and share.

Unfortunately, even Juan Peña isn't immune to the complications and challenges of being a very specialized coffee farmer in Ecuador: Piero says that this year, Hacienda La Papaya had a very robust production but an unexpected labor shortage, as far fewer seasonal workers, who are normally hired to pick coffee, arrived in time for the harvest. "He tells me that he lost about 20 quintales' worth of coffee," Piero says. "It dried on the trees or dropped to the soil. He's lost about 15 percent, a good amount of volume -- it's pretty significant."
Certainly it's not all bad news -- "We've tasted Juan Peña's coffees and they're great, there's a lot of 88+," Piero says -- but it is  quite frankly expensive news, as Hacienda La Papaya's cost of production is the same whether the coffees whither or not. In order to incentivize farmers to maintain that top-quality work even in a difficult year means that reliable, long-term partnerships with buyers are absolutely imperative: As a partner, we need to meet farmers where they are, which is part of the risk that comes with seeking the reward of delicious coffees. Last year, for instance, other of our partners -- Henry and Verena Gaibor of Fincas Maputo and Hakuna Matata -- were robbed of a significant amount of their harvest, which has forced the couple to install security cameras and change the way they deliver coffee to the mill in Quito, which adds labor and storage costs to their production expenses. These are considerations we need to make when we are sourcing and pricing out lots, in order to ensure the sustainability of the supply chain.

Still, Piero says that the challenges are undoubtedly worth it, especially when the magic comes together in the roaster and in the brew: Our job is to delight in the complicated details and logistical difficulties that sometimes make sourcing the world's best lots seem like an intricate 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, so all you have to do is come along and enjoy the view (and the coffee, of course).
Coffees from Ecuador are due to arrive in the fall/winter, and will be here before we know it: For more information and updates about this year's crops, as well as to request samples upon the coffees' arrival, contact us at