Why so much interest in Mexican Coffee?!
In 2017, I purchased my first Mexican coffee, the Flor de Corazón, off of a blind cupping table. I had never cupped Mexican coffee; my naivety had lead me to believe that they always tasted like chocolate and tobacco. You could possibly imagine my surprise when I found out this very unusual coffee - possessing elements of potpourri and musk sweets, refined sugar and loads of tropical fruit - was from San Mateo Yoloxochitlán, Oaxaca, Mexico.
I was a bit nervous to purchase it, but a delicious cup is a delicious cup, so I snapped up the whole lot as fast as I could! However it did strike me as odd that I’d never been offered a Mexican coffee before. I’d only ever seen one served as a single origin, and very occasionally in blends.
So why is it that Australia doesn’t showcase much high quality Mexican coffee? Is it prejudice or naivety? Although I’m sure both play a very big part of it, one thing that doesn’t lie are the numbers.
As it turns out, Mexico is one of the world’s largest coffee producing countries in the world, contributing approximately 234,000 metric tons in 2017. But of that, 95 percent of what was produced is for the commercial market. To draw a comparison, in Colombia it’s estimated that 35 to 40 percent of their total coffee production in 2017 fetched premiums tied to the specialty market. So how is it that Mexico produces such a low amount of specialty coffee?
In almost all coffee producing countries that succeed in producing high quality coffee, there is a national body or association that helps coffee producers access the specialty market. In many countries, these organisations will provide support and education at the growing, picking and processing levels of coffee production. They often also provide avenues for producers to sell their coffee, fetching prices that are often directly correlated with the quality of their coffee.
In 1973 the INMECAFE, The National Coffee Institue of Mexico, was developed as the government saw coffee cultivation as a valuable contribution to the national economy. The INMECAFE provided small farmers with technical assistance, transport to market and collaborated with international organisations to sell their coffee on the international market.
During the period from 1973 – 1990, with the support of INMECAFE, coffee production in Mexico grew astronomically, multiplying by almost 900% in some regions. Sadly, during the 1980’s the Mexican government - due in large to heavy foreign borrowing and the steep decline in the price of oil - defaulted on its loans and was forced into the beginning stages of neoliberal reform. During that decade, the Mexican government slowly ended its support of coffee farmers, with INMECAFE collapsing entirely in 1989.
By 1991 coffee production accounted for less than $370million of agricultural exports, a number that in 1985 was recorded as $882million. Farm gate coffee prices plummeted and farmers had no way of selling their crops. Coffee “coyotes” filled the gap left by INMECAFE and began exploiting farmer’s isolation, lack of access to information, credit and transportation.
Since then, cooperatives have been formed to save farmers from the exploitation of coyotes, and have begun to support small farmers and producers with access to education and avenues to international markets, but there is still much work to be done.
Enter our friends, Caravela Coffee!
Caravela Coffee is a company that works out of eight different countries in Latin America, originally founded to bridge the gap between quality focused small-holder farmers and specialty coffee roasters around the world. Not only do they provide producers a very clear avenue for selling their coffee in the specialty market, but they have an amazing on-the-ground program called PECA – translated into English as Grower Education Program. Their mission is simple;
“To engage the next generation of coffee farmers in an analytical and science-based approach to maintaining profitable farm operations, with a focus on quality and sustainability”.
We’ve been working closely with Caravela since opening our doors in 2015, and have created some amazing relationships along the way. So, when they invited us to partake in Aromas Festival in Mexico earlier in the year, we couldn’t resist!
Aroma’s is a competition where small holders can submit their lots of coffee to be graded. The top 30 coffee’s then go up for auction, often fetching very high premiums for their hard work. The competition was created to encourage farmers in Mexico to connect with Caravela, opening the opportunity to produce higher quality coffee via the help of agronomists and sensory analysis, whilst also providing training in running their farms as successful businesses. We are very excited that we could support this program in 2018, returning home to Australia with two very special and, most importantly, delicious coffees!
Looking at the current climate of the coffee industry - with specialty coffee consumption growing but production not, with an ageing workforce leaving us questioning who will continue to produce coffee, and facing the doom and gloom of climate change - we as industry leaders need to make sure we’re supporting the right people and encouraging progression. We are extremely humbled and proud to be able to work with Caravela in Mexico and we truly believe there is huge potential for the country to increase their production of specialty coffee, in return making coffee growing a viable business and giving the industry within this amazing country true longevity!
Head Roaster + Green Buyer
To learn more about Caravela head to caravela.coffee