Ecuadorian coffee gets some respect in Brooklyn
If you told Diana Aguilar last year that she would be opening a quaint Ecuadorian café at the height of the pandemic, she would call you crazy. But that’s exactly what happened this past March when the proud Ecuadorian immigrant and her family set up shop in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood.
“I didn’t know we would be where we are today, even a year ago. But it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” says Aguilar, crediting low rent prices as the impetus behind Zaruma Gold Coffee, which she operates with her four adult children. “I still pinch myself. It’s a dream come true.”
Zaruma Gold Coffee sells specialty, single-origin coffee that’s grown and roasted in Ecuador and boasts an impressive 83-84 points, “cupping scores” that are determined by seasoned coffee experts who evaluate a fresh batch’s scent, flavor, and mouthfeel, as well as its growing conditions and harvesting processes. To put it into perspective, the world’s highest rated coffees have previously garnered scores of at least 94 points — an outstanding feat that comes with a hefty price tag. (The more premium the coffee, the more expensive it is.)
“I always felt Ecuador was never given the praise and recognition it deserved when it came to being a leader in the coffee space,” says Aguilar, who hails from Zaruma, a town in Ecuador’s southern province of El Oro. “People have always been quick to name Colombia as the best.”
And there’s a good reason for that. Ecuador’s neighboring country has garnered impressive accolades over the years, including the lauded Cup of Excellence, the industry’s highest honor, which not only spotlights delicious coffees but also prioritizes the well-being of small farmers and workers who harvest and select the beans before they’re roasted and packaged for delivery.
Aguilar was determined to change the narrative — with no intention of downplaying Colombia’s offerings. Instead, she aimed to help improve Ecuador’s reputation when it came to coffee while also ensuring the livelihood (i.e. working conditions and fair pay) of those same farmers and workers.
So, a few years after finding success with her first stateside business, which sold Ecuadorian-made clothing in 30 New York and New Jersey stores, Aguilar rolled up her sleeves once more and launched Zarucoffee, an e-commerce business that first found its footing online before making its brick-and-mortar debut at Zaruma Gold Coffee this past March.
Zarucoffee is unique in that it offers specialty coffee from all four regions in Ecuador: Coast (where the town of Zaruma is located), Sierra (home of the Andes Mountains and the province of Pichincha), Amazon, and Galápagos. Each of these regions are known for its unique altitudes, climates, and soils — all of which are in ideal conditions for growing coffee. It’s what makes Ecuador the perfect purveyor of coffee, according to Aguilar.
Coast is a medium-light roast coffee that has flavor notes reminiscent of chocolate, brown sugar, and citrus. Sierra, a medium-light roast coffee, takes a much more fruit-forward approach, thanks to its honey, peach, and berry flavor notes. Galápagos, a medium roast bourbon coffee, puts chocolate, nuts, and stone fruit at the flavor forefront. Hazelnut, caramel, and spice notes come through in the Amazon offering, which is considered a medium roast coffee.
The end result of the bean-to-brew process? A really good cup of coffee.
As for the café itself, Aguilar is still dreaming big. “We want to have Ecuador’s best coffees [in Zaruma Gold Coffee],” she says, adding that these offerings would need to come from microlots and have a score of at least 86 points to be awarded that designation.
For now, however, Aguilar is counting her blessings and connecting with those who regularly visit Zaruma Gold Coffee, which also sells traditional Ecuadorian dishes like tigrillo (fried green plantain scramble with eggs and cheese), yuca bread, and bolón de verde (green plantain fritters) on the weekends.
“I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me in tears, telling me how proud they are of what we’re doing,” she says, referencing a recent interaction with an Ecuadorian patron. “It’s their own little piece of home.”
Credit: Food & Wine