Last year saw an Ecuadorean coffee enter our range for the first time; Finca San Pedro. Excited by the prospect of a new origin, in particular the challenge and reward of roasting a 100% Typica variety, it was a chance to share something a little different with you. That coffee, from Jaime and Pablo Ponce, hailing from the Pichincha region of Ecuador and cultivated at 1,350m, had an incredibly distinctive soft floral character and panela like sweetness. We knew we had to revisit offerings from Ecuador this year.
From cupping a handful of potential candidates, a coffee produced by Ruben Guagala and his family impressed us. Florals and unrefined sugar notes were present in several of the coffees we tasted, but Ruben’s cup had a lot more intensity and focus. We would venture the incredibly high altitude of 2,100m at which he farms, along with a 24-30 hour fermentation period due to cold temperatures overnight, are partially responsible for the crisp, concentrated flavour in the cup.
Ruben’s farm, Finca La Playa, lies in the small Canton of Cahuasquí, just North of the Imbabura volcano, after which the Province is named. Ecuador, a country with incredible biodiversity and rich mineral deposits from volcanic soils, means there’s no doubt to us that Imbabura Province is capable of producing exquisite coffee. Head a mere 130km Northwest from the region, crossing the Colombian border, the Nariño Department is globally renowned for producing fantastic specialty grade coffees, meaning it’s no surprise to find great coffees so close by in Ecuador.
Whilst many aspects of geography and topography are comparable, the financial comparison between Ecuador and its neighbours is not. Following on from a huge increase in their national minimum wage, as well as passing legislation requiring employers to offer more benefits to workers, wages for those employees tasked with picking and processing the coffee in Ecuador may be up to five times higher than workers in Colombia. This is a good thing; we want to pay more for coffee to ensure the producers we work with are justly rewarded for the value they create, however Ecuadorean coffees are expensive when compared on a like-for-like basis with coffee from Colombia and Peru. Also, Ecuador grow and export very little coffee so from what they produce, specialty lots are few and far between.
Ruben and his family have worked hard to improve their farm, however the 20,000 Castillo trees planted alongside 13,000 Caturra trees means there’s a slight question mark over just how good the coffee can become. Caturra, parented by Bourbon varieties, has the potential for very high cup quality, but Castillo, developed by the Colombian Coffee Federation to be hardier and more resistant to leaf rust, descends from a line of plants including Timor Hybrid, a cross of Arabica and Robusta varieties, causing a reputed drop in potential for high sweetness and acidity in the cup. After working closely with Caravela, from whom we’ve purchased this coffee, the picking and processing of Castillo cherries at Finca La Playa has improved to the point the coffee now yields very sweet cups with great acidity. This isn’t the first time we’ve been surprised when told a coffee on cupping contains Castillo. Last year we took a Caturra and Castillo lot from Astrid Medina, who famously won the Colombian Cup of Excellence with a lot comprised of the purportedly low-scoring variety. The potential for great tasting cups is there, it just needs a dedicated hand to fulfil it.
Here’s to Ruben and his family for producing such wonderful coffee offering us a welcome second foray into Ecuador.
Cahuasquí, Imbabura, Ecuador
Sweet notes of golden tobacco and dried fig compliment juicy pear and elderflower in a vibrant cup. A saturated mouthfeel gives way to a crisp, clean finish.