Like a brushstroke, the greenery of the tropical fields of Portoviejo paints the surroundings. It’s dry season. Even so, the mountains that define the landscape are full of life. Excluding the road, this is how these landscapes must have looked like decades ago, before Manabí’s “great drought”, when past generations dedicated their livelihoods exclusively to growing coffee.
We leave the city of Portoviejo behind to enter one of the most biodiverse corners of the capital of Manabí. On our way to La Chorrera, one of thirty-nine communes within the parish of San Plácido, we quickly scan the vegetation. “What doesn’t grow here, doesn’t want to grow”, is the local adage. The great variety of crops such as coffee, cacao, banana, broad beans, papaya, corn, cassava, and peanuts (Manabí’s favorite ingredient!) is the reason why the region continues to bet on rural life and hard work in the field. A regular sight are locals with handkerchiefs to dry their sweaty foreheads, toquilla straw hats, and machetes in hand… just like their farming ancestors…
If there is someone who knows these lands well, it’s William Martillo, an expert of the deep-rooted Portoviejo coffee tradition. Upon our arrival, we find him selecting the beans that will be roasted. There are five members of his family helping him out, though many more usually come to participate.
Don William takes a break, grabs his hat to protect himself from the afternoon sun and prepares to tell us his story.
At fifty-four, he can’t remember a time when he didn’t dedicate his every day to coffee. “I was born amid coffee plantations and I will die among them,” he says, with a smile that he wishes not to hide. One must understand that for Martillo, this is not “a job”; this is his life. In every sentence he says, he shares the message of a long-line of coffee growers that came before him. “Everything that grows here is a part of nature, there is no need to poison people,” he states with great conviction, assuring us that production here is one-hundred percent organic and healthy for both humans and the environment.
Martillo is a great storyteller and understands the importance of coffee and what it means to grow and process it the “right way”. He confesses he wants the “scent of the coffee-infused countryside to reach all of Manabí… and all of Ecuador”. And believe me when I say that these aren’t just empty words. He wants to expand the flavor of Ecuadorian coffee to the world. “William Coffee”, the name of his brand, is consciously written in English, to target the international market.
Every bean has its story
At Martillo’s house, coffee is present every single day of the year. Sounds delicious, right? Getting up every morning with a good brew to contemplate the coastal mountain landscape. But it’s not like that. The coffee vean is given every two years. From the moment it is planted, it takes about two months to be transplanted. Once it sprouts, it must be between thirty and thirty-five centimeters long to be taken to the greenhouses. This will still take a few more months; so, we can affirm that for his glorious daily cup of coffee, it took at least three and a half years to get there!
The fruits of this arduous process are what the Martillo family were selecting when we arrived. “There is a difference between high-altitude coffee and this, our flat kind; beginning with its high acidity,” he explains as he leads us out back to where the beans are grown. The variety that grows in tropical valleys like La Chorrera, are red when ripe. They are divided into “bola” (natural) coffee, which will be dried naturally, and (washed) “pergamino”, which is machine-made. This offers the final product different textures after roasting.
Once the harvest has been divided, Martillo places the beans in large sacks, loads them on donkeys. Once these are dried, they will be roasted. The process is arduous and there are “secrets” to provide the perfect aroma and flavor, what William describes as a “high-acidity mix between citrus and floral hues with a hint of cacao”.
While we sit around the table enjoying our delicious afternoon coffee and cassava empanadas, I notice a definite takeaway: “behind every coffee bean there’s a farmer”. William and his family are not only about “their product”; this is something more. It gives value to their life, it preserves their livelihoods and the traditions of their ancestors. It’s based on age-old sustainable practices, respect and conservation of the environment so as to preserve coffee growing in Manabí. A venture —and entire production system that goes with it— that every day takes traditional coffee growers closer to their dream: to bring the aroma of the countryside to every corner of Manabí, Ecuador and the world.
William has his personal mil for daily brewing.
Photographs: Andrés Molestina G.
Café William Coffee
(+593) 98 005 7877
La Chorrera, parroquia San Plácido. Portoviejo, Manabí.
Carretera E30 al este con dirección a Guayaquil (cuarenta minutos desde el centro de la ciudad).