During our stay at the Maquipucuna cloud forest reserve in Ecuador, we got to taste the ecolodge’s sustainably grown coffee and see where it was cultivated. Our class visited the Orongo coffee plantation where we got to try our hand at harvesting coffee. We carefully walked on the steep incline where arabica plants grew and were instructed to pick the reddest fruits, or “cherries.” The red color was an indication that the fruit was ripe. Everyone in our group gathered as much fruit as we could, with some of us opting to use our shirts and hats to carry our bounty.  

After combining our class’s yield, the groundskeeper showed us the first steps of processing the cherries into the coffee beans we know and love. The fruit was thrown into a container filled with water, where unripe fruit would float to the surface to be removed. Next, the cherries were deposited into a pulping machine, which separated the coffee beans from the skin and pulp that surrounded them. After weighing our yield, it was clear that our group couldn’t keep up with the professionals who pick 150 to 200 lbs of coffee fruit each day. It takes a lot of skill to be an Orongo plantation harvester! 

Lastly, we were taken to a greenhouse where the coffee beans were drying in the “parchment” stage. The tan-colored beans were kept in wooden frames where they would slowly dry over the course of days. After this step, the beans would be roasted and packaged with the date of roast labeled. 

The labor that goes into the coffee from Orongo really shines through in Maquipucuna’s final product. Although I don’t usually drink coffee, I had to give it a try. I can be quick to mask the flavor of my coffee with cream and sugar, but I felt like doing so would have been a huge disservice in the case of Maquipucuna’s coffee! The aromatic roast really stood on its own and didn’t have a burnt aftertaste like other coffees I have tried. I was definitely impressed by the flavor and was happy to bring some freshly roasted Orongo coffee home to share with my family. I think it definitely tastes better after seeing the process and hard work behind the delicious beverage.