Many people enjoy a cup of coffee every day, but do you know if Ecuador coffee is on the menu? Ecuador coffee takes fair trade to a whole new level and ensures the well-being of multiple farmers’ families.
I challenge you to evaluate your coffee and the shop you frequent. If you are passionate about coffee but also want your money to do more than get a great cup of joe, then look for the nearest Z Beans.
I stopped at my local coffee shop, Z Beans, a few days ago and ordered an iced chai tea latte. Boy, I was not disappointed! It was the best chai tea I have ever had. I’m not joking. I have tried many chai teas all over the country with mixed results. The Z Beans chai tea was a perfect blend of creamy and spicy, cold but not watery, and sent the tastebuds on a delightful journey.
That journey also included taking a closer look at the company, Z Beans. Again, I was not disappointed. It provided hope that not every company is just out for the bottom line and that a company is actually creating a deep, positive impact on the world.
Anyone would benefit from the incredible story, values, and commitment that are displayed daily by the people, the process, the promise, and the products from Ecuador to the States through Z Beans.
Ecuador Coffee: the people
Like many note-worthy and memorable stories, this one starts with people who had connections, vision, and all-out heart.
In 2016, Shane Buerster was a student conducting research in Zaruma, Ecuador, on whether or not coffee could be an economic alternative to gold mining with a program called Mercer On Mission. The program’s students worked closely with guide Arturo Peñarreta, a Zaruma government employee at the time. It was Arturo’s suggestion to Shane that he start a coffee company. Fast forward to today, Shane is Founder and CEO of Z Beans Coffee – “Z” for Zaruma – and Arturo is, quite simply, indispensable.
Arturo Peñarreta is an Ecuadorian and operates there full-time. He has been a mentor to many, primarily to Shane and his Chief Operations Officer, Carter Varga. Arturo knows the coffee business better than most and has even expanded his expertise to processing chocolate to enable Z Beans to use Ecuadorian chocolate in their mochas, for instance. He has been the gateway and gatekeeper to the Ecuadorian farmers who contribute to Z Beans by making, keeping, and growing these relationships from all over the country. He conducts quality control inspections from the beginning by receiving the farmers green coffee bean samples to the end by ensuring quality processing with correct humidity levels, for example. Arturo has gone above and beyond by hosting the American team in Ecuador in his own home and even tracking down a lost wallet and passport into the wee hours of the morning.
Shane Buerster turned business student to CEO in 2016 with the first coffee bean shipment of 65 lbs taking place shortly thereafter in 2017. He graduated from Mercer University in 2018 with the first Z Beans Coffee Shop opening in Mercer Village in Macon, Georgia months later. As months turned into years, the coffee bean shipments grew with 87,000 lbs of coffee delivered in 2022. This was not only a huge feat but also incorporated 10 Ecuadorian farmers and featured new coffee bean processes – washed, natural, and honey.
To flush out the US side, there are chief operations, marketing, and sales employees as well as numerous managers and team leads. They also have a master roaster.
In Piñas, Ecuador, Fabricio & Marie Paredes are also vital for success. They are the export coordinators and processing managers, and they process, grade, package, and ship all the Z Bean coffees. With freights and customs to deal with from both countries, it is no small task. After all the necessary documents are in place and the coffee has been properly labeled and sealed, the beans make their way to the port of Guayaquil to then be transported over 5,000 miles away.
Last but definitely not least, the Ecuadorian farmers are the reason for this business. At the time of this post, there are 15 farmers working hand-in-hand with Z Beans to provide quality, premium Ecuador coffee to the States. They are located all over Ecuador – El Oro, Loja, Zamora, Manabi, Imbabura, Carchi, and Pichincha – and each has a small bio on the Z Bean website to learn more about them, their product, their unique techniques, and more. Plus, you can buy the coffee they supply right from their site page!
To highlight just one (hard to choose!), Ramiro Pauta in Malacatos, Ecuador is at an elevation of 5,900 feet above sea level. He offers a medium and dark roast with a banana, dark chocolate flavor, and all three processes for his beans: washed, natural, and honey. His plantation is immaculate and showcases 6+ types of coffee beans; he also has banana, orange, and pitajaya (a.k.a. dragon fruit) crops.
Ecuador Coffee: the process
Remember Arturo? Well, he oversees the quality inspection of the coffee beans from each farmer’s sample before buying in the summer. He receives the sample and begins to grade the green coffee bean, roast it, and cup it. He passes his report to Shane and they decide whether to buy from the farmer or not. However, Z Beans has purchased coffee from every farmer that has provided a sample, so far. Still, each Ecuador coffee bean is evaluated for top quality.
“From the illustrious mountains of Imbabura to the coastal regions of Manabi and tropical basins of Loja, each one of our farmer partners puts in the hard work and effort needed to grow a healthy crop. After harvesting and processing, the coffee will then be taken to the historic Processing Facility in Piñas to be graded, sorted, and packaged for shipping to the States.”
There are 3 machines hard at work at the processing facility. Used in order, one that separates debris from the coffee, one that peels the parchment away from the green bean coffee, and one that sorts the beans based on size with the largest size being best or of highest quality. The US receives tiers one and two beans in 100 lb bags and Ecuadorians receive tier three.
In Macon, Georgia, the beans are imported, roasted, and then distributed through the Roasting Facility. From humble beginnings with a popcorn popper and rotisserie chicken roaster, the facility now boasts two production roasters. They can each roast 25 lbs of coffee in 10 minutes! This facility is also home to a production area for bagging coffee, bottling products, and organizing Z cups, all to be packaged and then distributed.
Four Roast Types
- Light Roast: Light brown in color and preferred for milder coffee varieties. No oil is present on the bean while roasting. It is often the roast utilized to keep unique flavors.
- Medium Roast: Medium brown in color and the preferred roast of Americans. It has a slightly stronger taste than a light roast and no oil present. Z Beans produces a “smooth, milk chocolate finish” with this roast.
- Dark Roast: Dark brown in color with oil on the bean present during roasting. It is more bitter than other roast types but the darker the roast, the less acidity tasted.
- Expresso Roast: Mimicking a traditional French roast, Z Beans utilizes this roast to produce as strong and bold a flavor as possible without scorching the outside of the bean.
- Washed: The coffee cherries are picked from the coffee plants and rinsed in water, then put through a machine to remove the pulp, a “despulpadora.” The cherries are removed, leaving a parchment and viscous substance around it; after another rinse, the parchment is set out to dry on tables at a stable humidity of 10-12%. This is important because too much humidity causes a short shelf-life.
- Natural: The coffee cherries are picked and rinsed but are set to ferment for 72 hours in a wet bucket. Then, they are placed directly on the drying tables, so the entire cherry can dry for several weeks and finally be peeled. This process is more labor intensive due to the cherry needing to be rotated to dry completely, but it is well worth it for the finished, fruity taste.
- Honey: These coffee cherries go through the same process as the washed ones, except the viscous substance is not removed from the parchment. It is then fermented for 2 days. The coffee dries on drying tables at the appropriate humidity until completely dry, creating a naturally sweeter product by retaining a higher sugar content. This process is also labor and time intensive to complete.
Ecuador Coffee: the promise
Z Beans is confident and committed to their mission “to create sustainable solutions for hardworking Ecuadorian farmers through direct and fair trade practices.” This has got to be THE feature that sets them far apart from competitors, in the most positive way.
The company prides itself on promising and providing Transparent Trade, done fairly and directly. In this light, the company pays the farmers directly without a middle-man AND at rates above the fair trade value.
According to the Z Beans website at time of posting, the current fair trade price of coffee is $1.40/lb, which is 15 cents higher per pound than of those outside the fair trade movement. The prices go up from there to as high as $1.90/lb for premium and organic coffee. Again, these prices are set by the Fair Trade International Standards Committee to meet researched standards of living. However, what I learned, is that the final money earned might be split among many farmers as part of a co-op. So, the amount of money given to each farmer can be fairly small.
All of this is different with Z Beans. The farmers receive $2.00/lb at the lowest price with an average price of $2.30/lb, and the highest price being $2.80/lb. The farmers also receive all the money as they are paid individually, not as a co-op. In the end, when it is all said and done, the farmers have a gross profit margin of 48% through Z Beans.
The company website puts this into great perspective: the average annual cost of living in Ecuador is $27,000 for a family of 4 with the average annual income for a farmer only being $5,220, yet, one of the farmers named Alfredo, earns 15% of his annual income from Z Beans, and yet another named Milton, earns 62% of his annual income.
Furthermore, the company invests in the farmers personally when visiting Ecuador and professionally through classes (barista, roasting, and grading) and assisting with Buenas Practicas Agricolas (BPA) applications (a training course on good agricultural practices). It has donated fertilizers, drying beds, harvesting equipment, and seeds and bought machetes in order to further their plantation and business. This not only helps the farmers and their families but their communities, too.
What an incredible fair trade promise that is being made and maintained, with far-reaching and deepening benefits!
Ecuador Coffee: the products
I would love to jump on a plane going to Ecuador with this company, but, until I get that invite (hint, hint), I will have to live vicariously through the 36 delicious products available on the website or by frequenting my Z Bean shop down the road.
The in-person coffee shops are located in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. They are capable of providing in-house made foods, such as sandwiches and cinnamon rolls. Who doesn’t enjoy a little treat with their favorite cup of coffee once in a while?!
The website is packed with ways to get this coffee into your home! You can subscribe to receive certain coffees every week or 2-4 weeks, even 60 or 90 days. There are also Ecuadorian teas and cold brew and iced expresso bottled products available, as well as merchandise and gift cards, too.
You can select your coffee by specific farmer, roast, process, or even create your own blend. They make it so easy to get your hands on great coffee with an even better story and mission.
How to Learn More
What do you think?
Do you enjoy Z Beans coffee already? Did you learn of a new company to try? Were you impressed by their story, values, and dedication, just like me? Leave a comment to let me know!