Coffee Review: Caribou Coffee Ecuador Changaimina

by on February 17, 2007

Plainspoken Coffee. A Coffee Review for Ordinary People by Ordinary People, #17.

Coffee from Ecuador is something you don’t see every day. In fact, I think I’ve seen more places offering coffee from the Galapagos Islands (which are Ecuadorian) than from the mainland. So I was surprised to see it offered at Caribou Coffee.  Their limited edition coffees are known as the Roastmaster’s Reserves, and the current selection is Ecuador Changaimina, from the southern province of Loja (red on map).

Coffee has been grown in Ecuador for generations.  The lowlands produce robusta, but the high mountain regions produce decent  arabicas. Most of the high-grown coffee, from Loja province, is grown on small farms with very little use of chemicals. The major co-op in this area is PROCAP (Asociación Agroartesanal de Productores de Café de Altura Puyango), an
organization of 380 families of which about two-thirds are certified organic. The organic coffee from this co-op is sometimes marketed as shade grown Puyango (Puyango is a canton, or subdivision, in the province, and the most important coffee-growing area in Loja, if not the whole country). Typica, bourbon, and caturra are the most frequently grown varieties, usually all grown on the same farm.

The lack of Ecuador beans in the market has been due to a lack of attention to proper harvesting and processing, and the expense of transportation from the highlands to the ports. A lot of Ecuadorian coffee goes to making instant coffee, so the large corporate coffee roasters are major buyers of Ecuadorian coffee. Improvements have been made in production methods, and farmers are aiming more for the specialty coffee market, hence we may be seeing more Ecuadorian coffee in the coming years.

Based on this Caribou Ecuador Changaimina, we cannot say the region is quite ready for prime time.  This wasn’t bad coffee, just unremarkable. At the first tasting, three of us sat there sipping silently, unable to come up with much to say. The next day, I sent the Kingfisher off with it in his travel mug.  I asked him later what he thought of it.  He sort of summed up the whole experience when he replied, “I don’t remember.”  Not a strong endorsement, but considering you tend to remember bad coffee, not a strong condemnation, either. 2.25 motmots.

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Revised on June 8, 2011

Posted in Caribou Coffee,Coffee reviews,Latin America,Retail and specialty roasters

Alan September 3, 2007 at 9:22 am

I would be interested in knowing if your information is first hand or from someone else concerning Ecuador and the coffee producing provinces?

Ecuador has been undergoing a tremendous revitalization of the coffee farms since the coffee bust of 2000.

Approximately 30 years ago when I operated 3 coffee shops in Quito, there were some small farms that produced some of the best coffee, or at least what I believed was good at that time.

I discovered many years later I knew nothing about coffee, which is not the case any longer.

Strangely enough, there has been a huge increase of Robusta production since much of what Ecuador produces is sold to Colombia for internal consumption and to help satisfy their need for instant coffee demand. That was an interesting discovery, in addition to learning that it is prohibited by law to grow Robusta in Colombia since 1986.

The coffee from the northern city of Intag in the province of Imbabura, has proven to be a very good coffee, typically mild with fruity overtones but still lacking anything to make it really stand out. I have managed to get some of the last two crops, both from Zaruma in the Loja province, and Intag.

At this point, neither of the coffees would measure up to the weakest Colombian Supremo.

It's typical and sad that the Ecuadorian government, like that of Honduras and Nicaragua, do nothing to assist their coffee farmers. As a result the coffee industry in Ecuador is still in recovery from 1200 coffee farms that were abandoned after the crash of 2000.

PRONORTE has had 4 years, the last ending this September. I don't know if they have been given another limited extension, but they were working hand in hand with the farmers in Imbabura province and the Oriente to increase not only coffee production but a diversity of other crops as well to eliminate total dependency on coffee.

They have assisted with the development of solar dryers to give the farmers that advantage of being able to dry their own coffee, eliminating the heavy fees paid to intermediaries who have taken advantage of the farmers for decades.

They have also assisted in making direct connections with the International Marketplace, to again eliminate middlemen, allowing the farmers and Coops to receive more profit for their coffee.

Even though the effort by PRONORTE can be admired, it must be noted that the primary goal was not so much to assist the farmers, as to create an environment where the farmer would pursue a living growing licit crops rather than the illicit crops which obviously offered better income, coupled with all to apparent dangers and risks, often life threatening.

This may be more information than you care to know, but there you have it. Ecuador is on the road to recovering their place in the World of Coffee. It is a sad note that such a place with absolutely every environmental advantage for any plant or food, should have fallen so low. It's exciting to see that change.

BirdBarista September 3, 2007 at 1:38 pm

Alan — No this is not too much information, but just the type of "inside" data that is great to have published here. I take it, then, that it is a good thing that a major roaster like Caribou has taken an interest in Ecuadorian coffee, as it can serve to encourage and support movement towards quality coffee. Please, keep us informed about progress in Ecuador, and I'll be happy to post an update. Thanks for commenting!

CAROLINA DONOSO June 4, 2008 at 11:40 am

I´m ecuadorian and I care about my people more than if my coffee is good or bad in the morning. Is great to have a nice cup of coffee in the morning but is horrible to think that this farmers are living from nothing, receiving for what they harvest less than costs productions!!! Read "MUGGED POVERTY IN YOUR COFFEE CUP" http://www.maketradefair.com and get to know what are farmers receiving for your 4 dollar coffee now a days. And about Colombia, you have to realize that many farmers of your tasty Colombian Supremo are changing their ptoduction to coca´s production because they could not feed their families other wise. Alan put some consciousness in this. We are taking about extreme poverty and un fair trade and you are talking about the inconvinience of the flavor of your coffee!!! I know that this is page for coffee drinkers but please take into account poverty in you coffee.

BirdBarista June 4, 2008 at 12:41 pm

Carolina, thanks for your comment. If you read the rest of this blog, you will see that while I don't spend a great deal of time on Fair Trade issues (since many other web sites cover that exclusively), I frequently discuss the link between poverty and coffee farmers not making a decent living as being a critical part of the sustainable coffee equation. You can see some of what I have written specifically on this topic under the "Fair and Direct Trade" category. You will note that the definition of sustainable coffee that I highlight at the top of the page includes the quality of life for farmers as a component.

I have not ignored this issue at all on these pages, even if I don't bring it up in every single post. I will also add that poor quality/bad tasting coffee will not get farmers any better price for their crop, either, so the taste of the coffee is, in fact, relevant.

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