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How Specialty-Grade Coffee from Chile Could Become a Real Thing

Bee Coffee Shop photo. Green coffee harvested on Eastern Island.

Bee Coffee Shop photo. Green coffee harvested on Eastern Island.

Some Chilean coffee professionals, researchers and agricultural product experts from the wine sector are exploring the possibility of making Chile a country of specialty coffee origin.

Led in part by the Chilean coffee importing company and roaster/retailer Bee Coffee Shop, the group has been exploring wild coffee plants found in the highlands in the Chilean territory Easter Island (a.k.a. Rapa Nui), the approximately 63-square-mile island in the Southeast Pacific known largely for its archaeological creations made by native Polynesian inhabitants.

The Latin American Alliance of Specialty Coffee (Latam SCA), and AgroWine Lab, a Chilean accelerator of agro-wine businesses, have also joined the exploration and outreach effort, according to an announcement sent to Daily Coffee News by the Chilean wine marketing agency Andes Wines. The group says the initial plan is to involve research institutions to explore existing wild-growing coffee varieties found on the island, believed to most likely have been introduced centuries ago by Dutch colonists.

“The plantations of Easter Island are abandoned and in a state of high fragility,” the group said in its announcement. “Major challenges have been identified in the processes and the initiative is centered on the transfer of methodologies to stabilize the ecosystem, to raise information on harvest and process methods, if any, and in parallel to begin a genetic study of varieties to determine the propagation and production work.”

In considering commercial production, the group said it is hoping to engage native people living on the island from the beginning of the project, while hoping to improve production practices in quality to the point that the coffee can be of the specialty level in order to fetch higher prices to benefit farmers and further develop infrastructure and growth in the sector.

“The coffee producer seeks to satisfy the market demands ruled by commodities and sees a very low return compared to all the field work,” the group said of the coffee sector in general.

Said Latam SCA’s Pamela Villablanca, “Specialty coffee requires farmers who know how to differentiate and how to alter conditions for quality. They need to learn to taste to be able to be at the same level as their buyers and thus be able to negotiate their prices fairly. We have field experience in Perú, Ecuador and Colombia.”

The group said it hopes to capitalize on the existing international reputation of Chilean specialty agricultural products such as wine, while pitching the island-grown coffee as a luxury based not only on quality, but on exclusivity and limited availability.

“There are not enough coffee plants for a commercial use in the island,” said Maximiliano Morales of the AgroWine Lab. “We are going to work with public-private sector to articulate a road map of the specialty coffee from Rapa Nui so all the aspects will be covered — genetic, farming, methods, roasting, branding, marketing and sales perspective.”

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2 Comments

Ejvind Spence

I have a feeling this won’t be well received from theother countries that currently are boycutting several Chilean products since they’re using/wasting too much water in the process of making it. They would have to make a water-efficient production (e.g. natural) to be able to export it sort of safely.

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