Ecuador, the smallish Andean country sandwiched along the Pacific coast between Colombia and Peru, shares many of the characteristics of Peru as a coffee-growing land. These include high-altitude terroirs ideal for producing Arabica coffee and a conservative-tending industry of small-holding producers who have tended to stick to standard Latin American tree varieties, particularly Typica. The traditional Ecuador cup, to the degree that it still exists, resembles the classic Peru cup.
But Ecuador’s recent coffee history has diverged significantly from Peru’s. Through the early 1990s, Ecuador was a major coffee producer, with almost all of that production Arabica. However, Ecuador’s production has fallen to about 40% of the volume it produced in 1990. In recent decades, the leadership in Ecuador has focused on other exports like oil, shrimp, bananas and coffee already processed as instant or soluble.
Unlike Peru or Colombia, Ecuador now grows significant quantities of Robusta coffee to add to its production of low-altitude, poor-quality dried-in-the-fruit Arabicas locally called café en bola. These low-quality coffees are used to fill the needs of a flourishing in-country instant coffee industry; in 2014, 87% of Ecuador’s coffee exports were soluble coffee powder and only around 13% green coffee. Current soluble coffee production is down from that peak owing to increased electricity costs and higher wages for workers. Nevertheless, Ecuador’s internal coffee production is not enough to feed its soluble-coffee factories, so significant quantities of cheap Robustas are imported from Vietnam.
From the point of view of a coffee aficionado, however, there is a positive side to this picture. Since there appears to be no viable market for decent-quality commercial coffee in Ecuador, increasing numbers of progressive small-holding producers have focused on small, high-end lots of exceptional coffees, often using a direct trade model. To encourage this trend, the National Association of Coffee Exporters (Asociación Nacional de Exportadores de Café or ANECAFE) has organized an annual green-coffee quality competition called Taza Dorada (Golden Cup) that rewards producers of top-quality small lots.
The result has been a small but growing number of very fine small lots of Ecuador coffee, pure and increasingly distinctive. They express both the exceptional nature of some Ecuador terroirs as well as the virtues of traditional varieties like Typica.
Mainly Typica, well-naturalized to Ecuador terroirs. Also other classic Latin America varieties, particularly Bourbon and Caturra.
Newly Introduced Varieties.
At the high-market end of variety experimentation, at least one specialty grower has produced small but fine lots from SL28, the variety responsible for most of Kenya’s fine coffees. Others have planted Sidra, a rare, sweet-cupping variety that recent research suggests is an Ethiopia landrace variety.
Ecuador Processing Methods
For specialty coffees, processing is most often done by the traditional ferment-and-wash method, performed by small producers on the farm, as it is in Peru. As for the cheap coffee going to the soluble coffee factories, the norm is careless dried-in-the-fruit or natural processing, also on the farm.
Newer Non-Traditional Methods.
Some specialty producers are experimenting with carefully executed natural processing, often with impressive results.
Ecuador Growing Regions
Two Ecuador regions are best known for their specialty production: the more traditional high-elevation Loja Province adjacent to the Peru border in the south and the more dynamic north-central Pinchincha region close to the capital, Quito.
Ecuador Coffee Ratings and Reviews
Click here to view ratings and reviews of coffees from Ecuador.