February 26, 2020
4 Minute Read
Carlos De ValdenebroIn 1835 aboard the HMS Beagle, arrived the most celebrated visitor to Galapagos Islands: the young Charles Darwin. While the man and his famous destination are now practically inseparable in the popular conscience, it was not a case of love at first sight. Observing rather harshly in his diary, Darwin noted “The black rocks heated by the rays of the vertical sun like a stove, give to the air a close (humid) and sultry feeling. The plants also smell unpleasantly. The country was compared to what we might imagine the cultivated parts of the Infernal regions to be.”
Country Manager Colombia and Ecuador
However, after exploring the islands more thoroughly, Darwin’s opinion rapidly and radically evolved, his initial disdain eventually yielding to a profound sense of wonder that this remote and seemingly inhospitable place could host such an immense variety of birds, fish, reptiles (of course including the tortoises) and trees. At Caravela, our relationship with the islands and their coffee had a similar rocky start when samples first arrived at our lab in Quito four years ago; island coffees often tend to be more known for their name rather than their quality.
Despite samples having moistures above 11% (our maximum accepted level), the beans were a deep, vivid green and exhibited a surprisingly fresh smell, so we dried them further and cupped them. Roasting was a challenge early on, as is the case with most Ecuadorian coffees consisting of very dense, small beans, but some of the samples cupped with hints of floral notes, cherry cola, malic acidity and their now-famous mineral water finish… not bad at all... it was a captivating cup! Galapagos had our attention and we sent someone from our PECA team to assess the ground and understand the supply chains of Galapagos coffee.
The Galapagos Archipelago is a province of Ecuador, located about 560 miles from the mainland, covering a total area of 3,100 square miles with a population of about 25,000 people. Agriculture has been a significant economic activity on the islands for over a century, but less than 3% of the islands’ total area is currently authorized for farming, and is divided between crops such as corn, guava, oranges, coffee, and cattle pastures.
Despite the introduction of Bourbon and Typica varieties during the 1800s, most coffee farmers on the islands make a living via tourism; coffee cultivation was an inherited activity that received little attention or investment. During that first visit we learned how the Humboldt Current1 creates almost perfect microclimates for coffee to be grown and harvested at altitudes below 400 m.a.s.l. and we also saw farms with trees over 20 & 30 years old and farms growing mostly only heirloom varieties such as Typicas and Bourbons. According to a 2010 report by Conservation International, there are about 214 ha planted with coffee on Santa Cruz Island, divided among 50 farmers. Unfortunately, our PECA team reported very low productivity, with an average parchment yield per hectare below 280 kg (compared to almost 1,500 kg per ha in Colombia), and substantially higher costs of production; the latter hardly surprising given the low yields and greater expense of labor and fertilizers, both of which needed to be imported into the islands.
From a quality perspective, over 60% of the coffee analyzed that year scored below 82 points and did not meet any of the cupping standards of Caravela. From a physical standpoint, coffees had very low yields from parchment to green due to immature beans, and improper fertilization and fermentation practices. The bar was so low, we were happy instead of disappointed when we saw a 55% parchment-to-green yield.
As Caravela is always into coffee for the long run, we leveraged the love coffee farmers have for their product and began hosting multiple training and workshops with PECA.
Our achievements over the last three years include:
- Over 40 individual farms visited and quality improvement plans by our PECA team
- 8 Farmer workshops on farming practices and challenges attended by 138 producers
- Increased productivity among Caravela farmers (over 35% and rising)
- Over 30 farmers certified/verified in an international third-party sustainability seal such as Organic or C.A.F.E. practices.
- 35% improvement in lots approved by QC
- 23% of farmers delivering to Caravela have increased their drying capacity.
- Price paid to farmers increased by over 40% since 20015 as quality has improved
Of course, there is still a lot of work to be done. The islands are neither an easy nor traditional region to source coffee from, as locals are focused primarily on other economic activities such as tourism, while parchment intermediaries and coyotes appear on the horizon every year, willing to pay up to 8 USD/lb. for parchment with no quality criteria or standard whatsoever. Their end goal? To take it back into continental Ecuador and blend it with coffee that costs a fraction of that price and then sell it all as 100% Galapagos.
Guaranteeing consistent quality while improving farming practices and strengthening relationships with long-term minded roasters will continue to be our goal.
The current crop is almost sold out, but if you are interested in exploring this fascinating origin get in touch with us.
1 A cold-water ocean current that flows north along the Pacific coast of South America, bringing cold air (and churning up nutrients) from the coast of the Magallanes region of Chile up towards northern Peru, and over to the Galapagos. From June to December, the current creates a cooling marine breeze that mitigates the equatorial heat, creating an island microclimate that replicates the favorable growing conditions found in the Andean foothills
Carlos De Valdenebro
He has a B.S in Business Management from CESA Business School in Colombia and a Master’s in Marketing and Sales from Esic in Madrid, Spain. Has over 10 years of experience with coffee across multiple producing countries like Indonesia and Colombia and with a vast experience leading operation for both commercial coffee and high-end specialty coffee.