If I were to be asked what makes Ecuadorian specialty coffee unique, the first thing that comes to mind is the Typica sub-varietal. Typica is considered the closest strain of coffee to the original Arabica beans found in Ethiopia. These beans were smuggled by the Dutch into Latin America and have proliferated ever since. Beginning in the 1980s, before the specialty coffee movement, most countries in Latin America began eliminating Typica from their farms, because they are susceptible to coffee diseases and have a low production yield. For better or for worse, Ecuador´s coffee industry was left behind in this push towards higher yield hybrids and cultivars.
As the specialty coffee movement has gained strength, roasters and importers across the world have begun to take notice of Ecuador´s antiquated coffee sub-varietals. These plants are truly a sight to see, sometimes over twice the height of a normal person one can easily feel transported to an untouched Ethiopian forest speckled with wild coffee trees. As valued as Typica, or as locals call it Criollo, is, many producers are beginning to eradicate these trees as they have been decimated by coffee rust in the last five years. In my short time in the specialty coffee world, I have seen some areas that were once lush Typica-Criollo coffee forests now look more like lifeless twigs sticking out of the ground.
Ecuador has, however, been given a tremendous gift by none other than Nestle. Nestle had been working for years with various producers throughout the country to develop a stronger Typica plant. Their method of reaching this goal was to find the seeds of the strongest Typica tree in any given crop, then replant and find the seed of the strongest Typica tree in that crop and so on for quite a few decades now. The result has been what specialty coffee professionals are calling Typica-Mejorado. Quite honestly this sturdier Typica could not have come at a better time. As producers are eliminating their old Typica-Criollo plants, they now have the option to plant Typica-Mejorado. Of course, these sub-varietals are still 100% Typica and are not resistant to coffee rust, as are other cultivars. However, Typica-Mejorado is an obvious improvement and as long as producers accompany these new trees with best farm management practices there is a bright future for Typica, at least in Ecuador.
Here at Café Ñucallacta we are always encouraging producers to work with either version of Typica, not only because of its superior cup quality but because it is what Ecuador may be most known for when it comes to coffee. Of course we put our money where our mouth is, and make sure to buy as much of this coffee as we can at a fair price for the producer. In conclusion we know there are plenty of exotic new cultivars pushing the limits of the specialty coffee world, such as Geishas, SL-28s, Sidras, etc. However, we are strong believers that the specialty coffee industry would not be complete without that spicy, sweet and elegantly bright flavor profile that characterizes a good cup of Typica coffee.