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The rise, fall and repair of Ecuadorian coffee

by Ben Sibley

Is Ecuador reassuming it's position as a coffee-growing heavyweight?

Never before has the specialty industry been awash with such a large amount of high quality South American coffees. The catalogues of roasters from Arkansas to Amsterdam are packed full of exceptional coffees from producers across the continent.

Rich, full-bodied lots from Brazil; deeply fruity Peruvians; floral Panamanians; wildly complex extended fermentation Colombians... But rarely do you see an Ecuadorian coffee.

Fuelled by the discovery and subsequent exportation of oil from the 1960s onwards, the second half of the twentieth century saw rapid progression in Ecuador’s education, health, housing, and agriculture sectors.

Already producing a sizeable amount of coffee across several growing regions, decades of sustained investment meant that, as the millennium approached, Ecuador was the world’s tenth largest producer by volume. The future looked bright.

Ten years later, the industry was on its knees. Attempting to put the brakes on a crippling economic crisis in the early 2000s, the country’s government replaced the local currency – the Sucre – with the US dollar. The short-term impact, rising goods prices and wages, was devastating and the country’s coffee production began to collapse.

Then, in 2007, a trade agreement was passed that allowed for the import of raw products for ‘inward processing’ before being re-exported as produce of Ecuador. Quickly, a handful of the country’s largest coffee companies seized the opportunity to import low-quality beans from Vietnam (and later Brazil), convert it to soluble (instant) coffee and sell to overseas markets. 

In the eight years from 2013 to 2021, Ecuador’s coffee production dropped by 84%. While neighbouring Colombia and Peru further cemented their positions as two of the region’s coffee-growing powerhouses, Ecuador slipped away from view.

Recognising a fading participation in global coffee markets, over recent years there have been moves to repair the industry. In 2015, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock injected $200 million into projects created to renew and revitalise coffee and cacao orchards.

In 2021, the National Reactivation Plan was announced – an initiative earmarked to invest $750 million over three years to create 150,000 jobs within the industry.

Meanwhile, some of those who had left Ecuador for the US and Europe in search of work during the economic crash twenty years prior have begun to return in hope of a more stable future at home.

And with government initiatives starting to show some impact, coffee growing is slowly recovering to be considered a viable source of income for both those returning and those who never left.

Rosa Morillo

As many around her emigrated to the United States and Spain, Rosa Morillo stayed in the country to pursue a promising career in coffee. Working at a forward-thinking experimental farm that was one of the first in the country to produce Sidra and Typica Mejorado (varietals both native to Ecuador), Rosa developed deep knowledge of every stage of the growing process.

After leasing a plot of land with her husband, she began producing high-quality lots and in 2012 a Typica Mejorado of hers took home first place in a national specialty coffee competition. A year later, full of confidence and high hopes for the next harvest, the couple were unceremoniously evicted from their land.

Regrouping and rebuilding over the next five years, in 2018 they secured the funds to establish their own farm – Finca La Rosita. Working with the most basic of facilities, 2021 marked La Rosita’s first commercial harvest. Leaning on her proven expertise and instinct, Rosa’s 2022 harvest produced a number of truly exceptional lots.

Cinco De Rosa Morillo

We're very excited to share with you five of these lots as our next Limited Edition release - our first ever multi-coffee release. One-hundred grams of each coffee - three washed, two honey washed, a mix of four celebrated varietals.

You’ll discover flavours ranging from tropical fruits to black tea and nougat in between. Each unique in profile but with shared quality, complexity, and balance - Rosa’s coffees represent the diversity, depth and breadth of Ecuador’s coffee crop.

To celebrate the release, on Thursday 15th June, we're partnering with Ecuador coffee exporters Makicuna Coffee for an evening of exploration into the country's coffee landscape. We'll hear from Rosa herself, we'll brew up a selection of the coffees for tasting, and a small amount will be available to buy ahead of general release on Tuesday 20th June.

The event is hosted at our roastery in Brixton, south London and kicks off at 6pm. It's free to attend but please do reserve a ticket here.

Can't make the event but want to get early access to Rosa's coffees, and our future Limited Editions? Join our newsletter.