Coffee may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the gorgeous South American country of Ecuador. Most think of sweeping Amazonian countryside, pristine beaches, and the flora and fauna of the Galapagos rather than coffee, but listen: the coffee here is outrageously delicious, and fresh lots are landing in our warehouse as we speak!
For most of the 20th century, coffee was Ecuador’s largest export, reaching a peak of almost 2 million bags produced annually by the 1980s. Since then, coffee volumes have been in sharp decline, overtaken by other products that are easier to produce and export. Production volume in 2021 was around 260,000 bags. This decline is despite the unique fact that Ecuador is one of only a few countries who produces both Arabica and Robusta.
Annual production remains lower than it was last century, but coffee professionals in-country are committed to turning the industry around. It’s no accident that Ecuador is becoming a producer of top-tier specialty coffee: since 2007 they’ve hosted the national cup quality competition Taza Dorada (Golden Cup) with the goal of promoting Ecuadorian coffees of extremely high quality to an international market. This auction process aims to motivate producers to focus on quality and create a sustainable pricing model that doesn’t depend on the C market. Last year, the Taza Dorada was joined by another international cup competition, the Cup of Excellence, which was executed perfectly and to great acclaim in 2021 after being forced to postpone in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Fifteen years into this concerted effort to focus on quality – these two national quality competitions are joined by several regional ones, including Best of Quito – there are tangible results. Ecuadorian coffees are becoming the superstars of the specialty coffee world, visible on most World Barista Champion competition stages and featured on some of the best coffee menus. This wave of exceptional quality is led by pioneering experimental producers like Galo Morales and Juan Peña, two exceptionally detail-oriented farmers whose processing methods create truly extraordinary (and radically delicious) cups of coffee.
Galo Morales of Finca Cruz Loma and Sensum Coffee is the most recent arrival at Royal’s warehouse. He’s won regional cup quality competitions before, and it’s common to see his name in at least the top three winner’s category in the national scene as well. But this year, Morales is the proud first-place champion of Taza Dorada, making him a national champion. His winning lot blew all previous price records out of the water, fetching an astounding $100 per pound.
Morales has been working in coffee for more than 20 years now, learning first by his mother’s side before pursuing a degree in International Business. He’s fully dedicated to the coffee industry, having completed the SCA Barista track course and becoming a certified Q grader. Like so many of Ecuador’s best coffee producers, he is works hard to push the boundaries of what’s possible and strive for better results. Constant experimentation between altitudes, soil types, and cutting-edge plant care techniques are part of what makes his farm successful.
In 2021, Morales and his wife Maria Alexandra Rivera founded their own coffee exporting company, Sensum Coffee, allowing them to integrate vertically and have an even better grasp over their product’s quality. They’ve begun working with some of his coffee-producing neighbors to create carefully curated lots from both Pichincha and neighboring Imbambura, curating some of the best coffees in this region just outside of Quito.
Ecuador is a fascinating coffee origin, with tons of history and an exciting outlook for the future. The coffees are so delicious, complex, floral, and immaculately processed as to be almost irresistible. These producers are at the forefront of both innovation and impeccable execution, and the results are in the cup: irresistibly clean, juicy, and straight up delicious.