Vitaliano Merino’s coffee is quite frankly captivating. Anette described it as love at first slurp after her visit to Ecuador, and our team would not disagree. All floating around on a cloud of rich, juicy flavours together with delicate florals, intense berry notes and bright acidity, we are smitten. This coffee is just so intriguing, sharing more similarities to a Kenyan than a typical Ecuadorian? But it’s only once one leans in a bit closer, noticing Vitaliano Merino’s approach to his work and relationship with his land, it becomes clear. The quality in the cup is a mere manifestation of Vitaliano’s passion and zeal, that sets his coffee apart.
Almost 70 years old, you can sense his enthusiasm for his work, his glistening eyes, lighting up the room when he talks about his coffee and his farm. After winning his local quality competition, the Bracamoros Cup in 2017, Vitaliano turned his focus to speciality coffee. He turned his 7-hectare farm into a certified organic operation and planted sugar cane as a complementary crop, helping him improve his environmental practices while leading the way in the critical task of reviving and preserving coffee as a vital crop for Ecuadorian exports.
When asked how he sees himself as “different” to other coffee farmers, his answer is simple. “It’s my family, like everything in life, that makes my farm special. All of our efforts go towards a mutual goal, and now we know that we are doing a good job”.
A truly inspirational person, below are some bits of Anette’s interview and conversation with Vitaliano Merino.
Vitaliano Merino and his family
A: Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your background?
V: There’s not much to tell, we are hard-working people who are trying to do our best. Our small farm is our livelihood, so we care very much about it. Working the land is a family tradition, and it’s quite satisfying to look back and realise everything that’s been achieved. Starting from the bottom to having my product well known nowadays.
A: How do you choose your varieties and processing methods, where do you get your trees, how do you decide planting patterns, spacing, shade trees?
V: Everything we’ve achieved has been the fruit of hard work and dedication, trial and error. We had to find our own pace and way of working to be successful. The trees are native, from the area and because of the mountains around, we have ideal conditions to produce good coffee.
A: How do you harvest?
V: Very early in the morning, we start picking the ripe cherries. We are very specific with this. Then in the afternoon, after picking, we put the cherries in floating tanks, depulp them and then let them ferment for around 20 hours. The day after, when we’ve finished washing the coffee, we put it in a mesh to drain it a bit, and finally, we take it to the drying beds. We dry the coffee on a marquesina (dry beds) made of wood and plastic. The coffee stays there to dry between 2 to 3 weeks, depending on the weather.
A: What do you see as the main challenges for the coffee industry?
V: The main challenge for the coffee industry is to sell your coffee at a decent price: it hasn’t always been possible to sell at a price that reflects all the hard work we put into producing speciality coffee.
A: What’s the easiest and what’s the hardest thing about growing coffee?
V: Growing coffee is quite easy: you are just dependent on the weather, and it’s a bit tiring, but not hard.
A: Any regrets? Would you do it again?
V: If I could go back 20 years ago and start all over again, I would do exactly the same: I’ve had a good life, and I wouldn’t change anything.
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