Settling In & Making Coffee in Ecuador

All of our summer volunteers are now in-country! WorldTeach Ecuador Summer Volunteer Leaf Elhai writes about settling in to her new community and host family (and learning how to make coffee!) at the beginning of her two-month stay in-country.

My host family lives in a rural area about 5 miles away from Peñaherrera proper. The community is called El Paraíso ("Paradise"), which is appropriate-- small, family farms are nestled in the green mountains, which extend as far as you can see. Raising animals seems to be the dominant revenue-generating activity on the farms in this area, but some families also grow fields of beans on the steep slopes.

There is a single dirt road that twists its way through the mountains. It makes for a good hike when I want to travel between home and town when the camioneta is not available (it makes its route only once a day, and not at all on Saturdays). My family lives in a small, comfortable house surrounded by plantain, lemon, orange, and coffee trees.

People who live in town also run family farms with chickens, cuyes, plantains, yucca, coffee, and more. There's not much other business to be had, other than a few general stores that are tiny grocery-pharmacy combinations that also sell some clothing, shoes, and stationary items. One of the stores has a copy machine (currently broken, so no help to me in my classes) and a couple pay phones that can make pricey international calls. The students at my colegio mainly use the town stores as ice-cream suppliers.

There are two town centers in Peñaherrera: a stone plaza in front of the Catholic church and this park, which is near the town government office and the clinic. The wireless internet signal is broadcast from the government office, so I often sit in the park with my laptop to plan classes and communicate with people from home.

[Recently], I learned how to make coffee. At one point, Ecuador was the top global exporter of coffee—Hermania and Alvino, true Ecuadorians, grow, harvest, and roast their own beans. Hermania was very amused and delighted with the idea that I wanted to document each step of the coffee-making process. Since the whole procedure is so work-intensive, she makes about enough for two months each time she roasts and grinds the beans. The coffee fruit grow on shiny-leafed trees and are harvested by hand--the ripe fruit are red.

Alvino’s brother owns a machine that processes the fruit to separate the outer skin from the white, mucous-covered seeds. After processing, the naked beans are dried in the sun. Hermania roasts the dried beans over a fire in a ceramic dish (a family friend, Myra, watches). She stirs the beans constantly to roast them evenly, and whenever the wind changes direction, which is often, she needs to reposition herself to avoid the smoke.

After about twenty minutes, the smoke starts to smell sweet and rich. When the beans are entirely roasted, they are set out in a large tray to cool a bit. My 10-year-old host brother David and I take turns on the hand-crank to grind the beans. One of us turns the crank, while the other feeds the beans in very slowly. We spend about an hour with one-third of the batch (one roasting dish worth) and leave the rest for Alvino and another man who helps on the farm.

Hermania makes the coffee with a sieve and a piece of cloth. Sometimes we have it with milk, sometimes with water, but always with a very generous helping of sugar.


  1. I have lived in Quito for over 16 years, I am happy to help with any questions you might have about the country. Patrick- bullock0005@yahoo.com

  2. Love Ecuador...I lived/worked at Limoncocha, and occasionally went in to Quito. Lindo país.