Sunday, September 5, 2010


One of my English students is the manager of Cafétal, the organic coffee plantation in the highlands of San Cristobal. He has been offering me and the other teachers a tour for a while now, and Saturday we finally got to visit.

We met at the office in town, riding in the back of the work truck up to the parte alta, highlands. There is an endemic coffee pant found on this island, but you can't harvest it, so it's not really coffee. He explained that the coffee grown and harvested here is all Arabica.

The hacienda is around 400 hectares, making it the largest coffee farm in Ecuador. The climate of the highlands, the elevation (about 230 meters above sea level) and the lush fertility of the area make the coffee one of the highest rated blends in the world. He told me it was a similar quality of Kona coffee from Hawaii.

The harvesting is done in November and December, cycling the plots every three years. Cafétal has three organic and shade-grown certifications (United States, Germany, and the Netherlands). In order to adhere to the strict regulations of such certifications, they add only organic fertilizer from the same land to the plants.

Speckled throughout the coffee plants are miconia bushes, orange trees, and avocado trees. There is a small garden to feed the workers (nearly one hundred fifty during harvest season, but only a few this time of year), and a small greenhouse for starters. About ten workers live in a wooden house on the property, to maintain and care for the area. During cosecha, harvest time, nearly forty persons share the space and work long days: four-thirty in the morning until midnight.

The red berries are collected by hand, taken to the mesa para seleccionar, where the good are removed from the bad. Basic machinery is used in the next steps: to wash and sort the beans according to size. Finally, the best beans are brought back down to Puerto Bacquerizo, where they are spread out on burlap in the parking lot. Here, they are raked like sand in a zen garden and dried by the sol equitoriano.

At last, the dried beans are shipped to Guayaquil, where they are finally processed and roasted and packaged, to be exported. Ecuatorianos don't drink their own coffee. It's too expensive, and they don't drink much coffee to begin with. Every local I have seen who does like java, drinks dehydrated coffee crystals with a little hot water, a lot of milk and a few spoons of sugar.