ECUADOR'S GAIAPAGOS Islands--known for giant tortoises, playful sea lions, and blue-footed boobies--also produce one of the world's most exotic coffees. Organic by definition, since chemical fertilizers and pesticides are prohibited here, Galapagos coffee now retails for anywhere between $15 and $20 a pound. While not as expensive as Jamaican Blue Mountain, Puerto Rican Yauco Selecto, or Hawaiian Kona, organic coffee from the Galapagos benefits from its appeal as an environmentally sustainable source of revenue for the people of this remote Pacific island chain.
"The production of coffee dates back more than a century, but for many years it was abandoned," says Grace Unda, governor of Galapagos province. "Now, it's come back as a totally private initiative, and coffee is the only product that we actually export."
According to Unda, who has governed these islands since mid-2005, the Galapagos has 26,000 inhabitants, up from 18,600 in the 2001 census. Of that, San Cristobal has roughly 7,000 people, Santa Cruz has 16,000, and Isabela, the largest island, has 3,000.
It is here, on San Cristobal, where organic coffee is grown, on the 3 percent of land that doesn't fall within the boundaries of Galapagos National Park.
"Many people would like to know about Galapagos coffee, because the image they have of this place is only of animals and tortoises," says Wilson Gonzalez, president of Expigo S.A., which produces all of the island's coffee through its Procafe subsidiary. "They have no idea that in the Galapagos, there exists this tiny zone of exuberant vegetation and fresh water."
Walking through the lush Hacienda El Cafetal plantation with--coffee bushes among the towering cedar trees, enormous volcanic boulders scattered randomly and a cool mountain breeze in the air--it's hard to believe you're on a tiny, mostly are island in the Pacific Ocean.
Indeed, San Cristobal is located six hundred miles due west of Guayaquil, Ecuador's commercial capital and headquarters of Procafe, which processes Galapagos organic coffee beans for export to the United States, Western Europe, and Japan.
Gonzalez says his company produces three thousand to four thousand one-hundred-thirty pound sacks of Galapagos coffee each year. That doesn't include the company's mainland Ecuador plantations. Total Galapagos production is limited by law to five thousand bags a year.
"My father began this business fifty years ago...