Editor’s note: Among his many careers, Curt Madison has been a sailing instructor in Hawaii, a documentary filmmaker and boat builder in Alaska and university professor in Maine. He moved to Ecuador in 2014 and planted his first coffee trees at Finca Alaska Sur in La Papaya, Loja Province, in 2017.
By Curt Madison
Ecuadorian coffee selling for $97 a pound? Yes, that just happened at the auction completing the competition of La Taza de Excelencia Ecuador 2021, or Cup of Excellence Ecuador 2021.
The Cup of Excellence, is internationally known as the most important contest for coffee producers. It has been held in most of the world’s top coffee producing countries beginning 21 years ago in Brazil.
This is the first year the competition was held for producers in Ecuador and I was one of competitors.
Ecuador is no stranger to coffee production. It has been grown here for more than 100 years with varying degrees of success. The climate is perfect, but disease and economics have forced many producers to change to other crops over the years. Now, with the advent of third wave specialty coffees, tens of thousands of small producers are planting an acre or two and occasionally turning a profit.
The Cup of Excellence kicked off publicly in May of this year. Some 100 producers entered with their samples for judging in August. Forty-three of the 100 entries passed the first tasting stage and submitted 600 pounds of coffee to the contest warehouse in Quito. The 43 was reduced to 29 in a second round of cupping — the tasting technique used by coffee judges — then sorted into National Winners, International Winners, Top 10 and Presidential Circle after three more rounds of cupping.
The final cupping sent samples to judges in eight coffee research centers in Germany, Norway, South Korea, Japan, China, United States, Taiwan and Ecuador for final scoring. The top three coffees, all from Loja Province, scored over 90 points, considered the elite level internationally. For the record, I came in third with a score of 90.07. The first place winner was my La Papaya neighbor Abel Salinas — it was his coffee that sold for $97.10 a pound. Second place went to Loja grower Pablo Eguiguren.
Almost all specialty coffee grown in Ecuador historically has been exported, leaving little to be had locally. Part of the reason is the cost and part is the general taste preferences of local consumers. This year marks a significant shift and I believe we are at a turning point for coffee producers in Ecuador.
Farmer and exporter José Luis Eguiguren, Pablo Eguiguren’s cousin, puts it like this: “A couple years ago in a coffee auction the #1 ranked Ecuadorian coffee would sell for $25 to $30 a pound. Last year the #1 reached $70. This year it crossed $100. It is definitely increasing year after year and I believe this tendency will continue for the next years.”
Coffee sold at or near $100 a pound before it is even roasted will probably always be exported. Mine is going to Boston, London, and Australia this year. But that is only a small percentage of the coffee produced on any given farm in Ecuador. The bulk of the high quality coffee will now be available locally for less than $20 a pound.
For more information about the Taza de Excelencia competition and coffee production in Ecuador, check the following links: