The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center has just announced that it has certified Hacienda El Cafetal coffee from the Galapagos Islands as Bird-Friendly, the most eco-friendly certification for coffee. Galapagos coffee has been on my “to try” list for quite awhile. SMBC has just given me more impetus to get some and give it a sip.
This is obviously an exotic origin, and the story is interesting. Hacienda El Cafetal is grown on the easternmost Galapagos island, San Cristobal. With around 7,000 people, San Cristobal has the largest population, and is also the only island with fresh water springs. Hacienda El Cafetal grows arabica coffee of the heirloom bourbon variety at the unimpressive altitude of 500 meters. However, the microclimate there offers conditions that are equivalent to 1200 to 1300 meters elsewhere, owing to the cold Humboldt ocean current which sweeps past the islands. Of course, the soils are volcanic on the Galapagos, some of the best for growing coffee.
Coffee was brought to the Galapagos Islands around 1870 — and these are the some of the same trees that are still producing beans. Hacienda El Cafetal covers about 400 ha within the small area — roughly 3% of the entire archipelago — that is not within the boundaries of the national park and thus where agriculture is allowed. As most chemicals are prohibited anywhere in the archipelago, the coffee is certified organic (which is also a required criteria for Bird-Friendly certification).
Hacienda El Cafetal is not the only coffee producer in the Galapagos; coffee is also grown on the island of Santa Cruz. Typically about 200 metric tons of coffee are produced annually (although not all is specialty-grade), and the legal limit is 300 metric tons. Organic agriculture is an important source of income for island residents, especially as fisheries become depleted, and organic crops help reduce the need to import so much fresh food and minimize the introduction of invasive species that arrive in these shipments. Conservation organizations also hope that diversified organic agriculture can help with native plant restoration. Coffee grown under native shade trees is a perfect fit for this goal. A short article on the sustainability of the coffee industry in the Galapagos is available in the spring 2008 newsletter (pdf) of the Galapagos Conservancy.
Galapagos coffee isn’t too terribly hard to find, but not all of it is great, and it is often a bit expensive. Most is certified organic, but so far Hacienda El Cafetal is the only farm certified Bird-Friendly. Our friends at Barrington Coffee Roasters have carried Hacienda El Cafetal in the past but it is currently out of stock. A Google search for it should turn some up, though. We’ll review it here in the future!