Roaster’s tasting notes:
Another organically certified Mexican coffee to compliment our house decaf.
A low acidity coffee with notes of cinder toffee and macadamia nut with just the faintest hint of citrus on the finish. The body is creamy and smooth and the aftertaste is deep and satisfying. Delicious.
Located in the mountain range of Nudo Mixteco, today the town of San Isidro Paz y Progreso is primarily dedicated to the cultivation of coffee. Part of “Ñuu Savi”, translating to English as “villages of rain”, San Isidro is one of many small indigenous towns in the Mixteca region.
Located to the southwest of Mexico, the Oaxaca region is primarily composed of indigenous communities, with more than 16 different ethnic groups. As one of the most mountainous states in the country, its difficulty to traverse has allowed cultures and customs to survive primarily untouched by modern society. This has meant that native languages have sustained, with Oaxaca state exhibiting the greatest linguistic diversity in the country: with 11 native languages and some with up to three variants, according to latitude. Oaxaca is
also home to a wide variety of climates and ecosystems, considered to be one of the most biodiverse states, containing a significant number of endemic species of reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and plants. Due to its mountainous terrain, each coffee region of Oaxaca presents specific microclimate conditions, creating niche cultivation techniques and producing a multitude of qualities and cup profiles.
Today, Oaxaca is the fourth-largest coffee producer state in Mexico, with the history of coffee in Oaxaca dating back more than 80 years. The story of coffee in Oaxaca officially began when local indigenous communities gained employment as agricultural labourers in large coffee estates. After acquiring
experience in the cultivation of coffee, they brought coffee seeds home to their communities, intending to establish their small farms and becoming coffee producers themselves.
For the community of San Isidro Paz y Progreso, the story is slightly different. The legend goes that in 1928, a man known as Benito Vásquez planted the first coffee trees in the area. Benito first acquired these seeds after purchasing them during a prison sentence he was serving in San Juan de Ulúa, a prison in Veracruz port. After other locals saw Benito’s success, more and more locals began growing coffee until somewhere between 1950 and 1960, coffee cultivation became the primary income for local families in the region.
Since this time, exporting coffee from the region has been met with several challenges. These difficulties began in the 1950s, when one coffee buyer, Melchor Alonso, monopolised purchasing throughout the region.
This continued until the 1960s, when the Mexican government began supporting the coffee producers viathe creation of INMECAFE (The Mexican Coffee Institute). This period is remembered as the great boom for the region, as the institute guaranteed the fair management of the industry. This was until 1989 when the International Coffee Agreement (ICA) collapsed, causing the price of coffee to crash, leading both large farmers and small producers to abandon their plantations. Many smaller producers were able to recover from this crisis, with the majority able to resume farming. However, the collapse of the agreement left many producers at the mercy of intermediaries, called Coyotes. The Coyotes, who transported coffee from the farms to the mill, would deliberately hoard stock, creating an oversupply. This meant that the producers were often paid unfair prices and sometimes received no payment at all.
After nearly 20 years of unfair pricing for individual farmers, cooperatives began to form throughout Mexico. In 2009, the first working groups organised to form Unecafé, a strong entity able to dictate fair pricing similar to the Mexican Coffee Institute. After demanding fair prices for farmers, Unecafé began by giving back to its members, implementing good agroecological practices governed by strict certification standards. These standards, in turn, have helped to achieve higher quality coffee, better prices and an efficient traceability system that allows Unecafé to identify the origins of each lot of coffee.
As well as coffee, farmers in the region will often diversify their income by cultivating produce such as corn, beans, pumpkin, sugar cane, citrus fruits, bananas, yuca, chillies, medicines and herbs. As well as growing produce, some producers will also raise poultry for meat and eggs, beehives for honey, as well as other small livestock. A minority number of producers will also have a complimentary job such as carpentry, masonry, handmade embroidery, sewing, as well as making and serving traditional foods. With the diversification in produce, it is common to see agroforestry systems or intercropping within the coffee plots. This includes wild plants useful for food, seasoning, and medicinal plants reserved for ancestral use.
For cultivation, most varieties grown are those native to the region. In recent years, Unecafé has begun promoting Roya resistant varieties, such as Marsellesa to help combat the fungus. When it comes to harvesting, most agricultural work is conducted manually. This is due to the geographical conditions, as it is nearly impossible to adopt mechanised technology. As well as suffering from a lack of machinery, small producers are unable to hire workers to assist with picking and processing due to costs. Instead, producers’
families will help in return for assistance on their farms. This is known as “tequio”, “mano vuelta”, “gozona”, or “faena”, a pre-Hispanic concept of reciprocal unpaid work, that consists of providing the labour force to a family member, neighbour, or friend for a specific task, who later expects to be reciprocated in the same manner for its activities.
Processing in the region will typically begin with selective handpicking of only the ripest and reddest cherries. Once collected, the cherries are transported to the farm on-site processing area, first to be floated, removing any underripe cherries. Each producer has their own wet mill, for which she/he is responsible. These small mills usually lie around 30 minutes to 3 hours from the actual coffee plantation, since many parcelas (coffee plots) are remote and often lack road access.
Next, the coffee is pulped of its cherry using a manual pulper, usually on the same day that it is picked. This is done using water to help soften the cherry and avoid damage to the parchment. Once pulped, the coffee is placed into a large fermentation tank, either made of wood or concrete, usually on the same day as picking. Here, the beans will remain for between 14 – 16 hours, depending on altitude. Once the fermentation is complete, the coffee is washed manually of its mucilage using sticks before being transported to the farm’s patios (or sometimes rooftops) to dry. All water used in the pulping and processing is filtered to prevent water contamination, with the remaining pulp used as compost.
Here, the beans are spread across the patio and regularly turned, typically for between 4 – 6 days, until dry. Once the coffee is dry, the beans are bagged and stored at the producers’ homes before being transferred to the warehouse in Oaxaca City. Although many of the older challenges have now been resolved, production in the region still faces new difficulties. One of the primaries being the ageing of its farmer population. For this reason, Unecafé is attempting to involve the younger generation in coffee production. By providing opportunities to the local communities, this has also helped to prevent illegal migration to the USA. This issue still represents a challenge, with many farms now managed by women after their partners have migrated to the US. Because of this, Unecafé makes a concerted effort to empower its women producers, maintaining them as key players in the development of coffee cultivation. Their involvement has played a crucial role, helping reduce discrimination and the income inequality gap. Through Unecafé, new policies have been implemented to try to further encourage women to gain a foothold in the industry.