Whole Foods Market owns Allegro Coffee Company,our experts in the coffee and tea business. Darrin Daniel, Allegro's coffee buyer, blogs about coffee, Ecuador and the mysterious town of Vilcabamba where some of their citizens have lived to be 125+ years old.
Day One: Visit to Espindola to meet producers
Having just completed a nearly seven day journey in Northern Peru, it was time to fly from the coastal town of Chiclayo in Peru and hop on over to Ecuador. Our plan was to fly into the southern region of Ecuador’s Loja department and visit with the members of PROCAFEQ, the producers of our Special Reserve Ecuadorian coffee known as Espindola. Loja’s high sierra plateau is part of the stupendous northern Andean chain of mountains and this was our first time visiting Ecuador. For Allegro this was a great opportunity for us to show the growers our support. FAPECAFES is the larger umbrella export group that helps aid in marketing and selling coffees from not only PROCAFEQ but five other regions within Ecuador. Our plan this year is to purchase two containers (about 500 bags) of their very best coffee.
We met Roberto Jiménez, the director from FAPECAFES early on July 17th in Catamayo along with leadership from PROCAFEQ for a little breakfast and an itinerary review. Then, after a 2 hour drive, we arrived at Fundochamba, a small community high up in the department, well over 1,600 meters (5,249 ft); the perfect altitude for the prized typica cultivar. We met with a group that represents 35 of the 331 of PROCAFEQ members. This meeting gave us immediate insight into the successes and some of the struggles that growers are facing in Ecuador’s new specialty coffee market. FAPECAFES is developing their partners’ business with technical and organizational assistance. FAPECAFES is also assisting in a program for the PROCAFEQ to have an emergency fund in order to deal with loans or other potential hardships.
We were able to follow-up on the irrigation project funded by Allegro’s Special Reserve program. Some of the growers were beginning to expand irrigation lines on their farms, such as Hector Cuevas from the Fundochamba group. Nine other growers have been chosen for irrigation upgrades. Many members of PROCAFEQ have defined irrigation as a priority. After visiting two other growers in nearby La Libertad and Castillo, we ventured on for a regional Ecuadorian lunch. The coop had many questions about the relationship between our importer, Sustainable Harvest and Allegro. We explained who we are, how we sell coffee and presented them with the marketing material we use in our Special Reserve program that highlights Espindola.
Drying patios in Fundochamba atop someone’s new home
A look at the valley and regional school in Fundochampa
Ramiro López, Roberto Jiménez from FAPECAFES speaking with Fernando Seminario of Sustainable Origins
Members from PROCAFEQ with growers from Fundochampa
Hand sorting through this year’s Espindola 2008 harvest!
Hector Cuevas showing me this year’s harvest on his farm
Warehouse facility for PROCAFEQ
Our meeting with the leadership of PROCAFEQ
Oscar Gonzalez from Sustainable Origins presenting to the group
Darrin handing out Allegro hats to the current President of PROCAFEQ
Day Two: Meeting and cupping with FAPECAFES
On our second day, FAPECAFES gave a presentation in Loja, a cultural hotspot known for its passionate soccer fans. In our meeting we sampled another FAPECAFE product, their spicy plaintain chips. Later we roasted samples of coffee to cup from Espindola, Vilcabamba, as well as other regions. Vilcabamba is famous because its inhabitants have lived mysteriously long lives. Rumors say it must be the water. Since the coffee is fermented in this water, we figured we better try the coffee too. At the dry mill, prior to our cupping, we met a 91 year old man bagging dry parchment with the vigor of a 30 year old man. I would have guessed he was 70! This just might be the fountain of youth. After cupping three full tables, we found the best of the day. The coffee was from Quilanga, a sub-region of Espindola, which produces a majority of the coffee we buy. This was a perfect way to end a fabulous trip: tasting our 2008 new year’s harvest at origin.
At FAPECAFES cupping lab with José Apolo in red, Chris and Oscar.
Setting up the table for the first round at FAPECAFES