Coffee arrived in Ecuador quite late, about 1860 in the province of Manab. Coffee manufacturing spread across the country, and exports to Europe began around 1905 from the port of Manta. Ecuador is one of the few countries in the world that grows both Arabica and Robusta coffee.
After disease decimated the cocoa crop in the 1920s, many farmers shifted their focus to coffee. Exports began to increase in 1935, and by 1985, 220,000 bags had grown to over 1.8 million bags. Production fell due to the international coffee crisis in the 1990s, but by 2011, it had recovered to roughly one million bags per year. Coffee was Ecuador’s principal export crop until the 1970s when it was supplanted by oil, shrimp, and bananas.
Ecuadorians consume more soluble coffee than they do fresh and, interestingly, the cost of coffee production in Ecuador is high enough that soluble coffee manufacturers there import coffee from Vietnam instead of buying it in Ecuador.
Ecuador has a bad reputation for producing high-quality coffee. This is partly due to the fact that Robusta accounts for 40% of production, yet the majority of Ecuador’s exported coffee is still of low quality. Much of the crop is dried on the tree before plucking or on patios to keep production costs down, and this natural process is known locally as café en bola. This coffee generally ends up in soluble coffee, and around 83 percent of the country’s export has been naturally processed. Colombia is one of the main importers because manufacturers of soluble coffee there will pay a better price than local ones. This is because Colombian coffee
is expensive due to the strength of the national brand in foreign markets.
Despite the fact that coffee has been grown in Ecuador for a long time, some believe it is only now worth considering it as a hidden gem with great potential. Ecuador has the topography and climate to produce exceptional coffees, and it will be interesting to watch if investment from the specialty coffee business results in some fantastic new Ecuadorian coffees in the future.
It is rare to find coffee traceable down to a single estate. It is more common to see a lot from a group of producers, or sometimes a lot can be put together by an exporter. Lots like this can come from a large number of farmers, but may still be excellent.
Coffees from Ecuador are beginning to live up to their potential for quality, with sweeter and more complex coffees becoming available. They are made more interesting by pleasant acidity.
Number of 60kg (132lb) bags in 2016: 600,000
Ecuadorean coffees are coming to increasing prominence within the specialty coffee industry, and while lower-lying regions are less likely to produce great coffees, the higher altitude areas hold great potential.
Nearly fifty per cent of the Arabica in Ecuador is produced here. But with almost all of the coffee in this region growing below 700m (2,300ft), this area does not have the necessary altitude to produce excellent coffees.
Altitude: 500–700m (1,600–2,300ft)
Varieties: T ypica, Caturra, Robusta
Around a quarter of the country’s Arabica comes from this hilly region in the south, which has the highest potential for quality from a geographical standpoint. The specialty coffee industry is concentrating its efforts here. However, the area is vulnerable to inclement weather, which might result in an increase in damage from the coffee berry borer, as happened in 2010.
Altitude: up to 2,100m (6,900ft)
Varieties: Caturra, Bourbon, Typica
This coastal region in Ecuador’s southwest includes a section of the Andes mountain range and generates less than ten percent of the country’s annual coffee production. The town of Zaruma (not to be confused with the region of Zamora) is the center of the coffee industry.
Altitude: 1,200m (3,900ft)
Varieties: Typica, Caturra, Bourbon
This province is just to the east of Loja and has sufĀcient altitude to produce great coffee, although only four per cent of the country’s Arabica is produced here. Organic production is relatively common in this area.
Altitude: up to 1,900m (6,200ft)
Varieties: Typica, Caturra, Bourbon
The Galapagos Islands produce a limited amount of coffee, and proponents argue that the environment there replicates that of a much higher altitude, enabling for higher-quality coffee to be cultivated. Coffees like this can be quite pricey, and the quality in the cup rarely matches the price.
Altitude: 350m (1,100ft)
Harvest: June–September, and December–February