Coffee Origins: Mexico

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Mexico

Around 1785, the first coffee plants were most likely imported to Mexico from Cuba or what is now the Dominican Republic. In 1790, there are accounts of plantations in the Veracruz region. However, for many years, there was no push behind revitalizing and building a coffee industry due to the cash garnered from Mexico’s rich mineral deposits.

Mexico

Coffee cultivation spread to small farms only after the Mexican revolution ended in 1920. Many of those stuck working on coffee plantations were released and able to return to their homes, taking their coffee-growing skills with them, after the land was redistributed to indigenous people and laborers in 1914. Many of the bigger haciendas were dismantled as a result of the land redistribution, and smallholder agriculture began in Mexico. The Mexican Coffee Institute (Instituto Mexicano del Café, or INMECAFE) was established by the government in 1973… They were tasked with providing technical assistance and financial credit to producers and working within the International Coffee Agreement to meet and stay within the agreed production quotas. This investment in the industry lead to a rapid expansion in both production and the amount of land dedicated to coffee. In some rural areas, production increased by almost nine hundred percent.

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Mexico

However, the 1980s saw the Mexican government change its policy towards coffee, in part due to its heavy borrowing and the drop in the price of oil that lead to it defaulting on its loans. Support for the industry slowly began to decline and, in 1989, INMECAFE collapsed completely and the government sold off its state-owned coffee processing facilities. The effect on the industry was devastating. Credit had dried up, and many farmers struggled to find places to sell their coffee. This led to an increase in predatory coffee brokers, known as coyotes, who would buy coffee from farmers very cheaply to resell at a profit.

The loss of INMECAFE, combined with the coffee price crisis caused by the breakdown of the 1989 International Coffee Agreement, had a strong effect on the quality of coffee being produced, too. With less income, huge numbers of producers ceased using fertilizers, stopped investing in pest protection, and spent less time and resources on weeding and farm management. In some cases, farmers simply stopped harvesting their coffee.

Interestingly, some producers (particularly in the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Veracruz) responded by forming collectives to take over many of the responsibilities previously held by INMECAFE, including the collective purchasing and running of coffee mills, technical assistance, political lobbying, and even assistance in developing direct relationships with buyers.

Coffee producers in Mexico seem to have embraced coffee certifications; Fair Trade and organic in particular are quite common. Mexico sells a great deal of its coffee to the United States, so it is relatively rare to find excellent examples of Mexican coffee elsewhere in the world.

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Mexico
Since the late 1980s, many Mexican coffee producers have successfully formed collectives to purchase and run coffee plantations. Fair Trade and organic exports are increasingly common.

TRACEABILITY

Most coffee in Mexico is produced by smallholders, rather than large estates. Traceability should be possible down to a producer group, cooperative, or occasionally down to a farm.

TASTE PROFILE

Mexico offers a wide range of coffees, from light-bodied, delicate coffees to richer coffees with flavors of caramel, toffee, or chocolate in the cup.

Information: GROWING REGIONS

Population: 119,531,000

Number of 60kg (132lb) bags in 2016: 3,100,000

Coffee is also grown outside of the key growing regions listed below, and should not be ignored if offered by a roaster or retailer you trust. Production from these regions is very small compared to the major areas.

CHIAPAS

This area shares a border with Guatemala. For good coffee cultivation, the Sierra Madre mountain range provides both the requisite height and advantageous volcanic soils.

Altitude: 1,000–1,750m (3,300–5,750ft)

Harvest: November–March

Varieties: Bourbon, Typica, Caturra, Maragogype

OAXACA (Mexico city)

Most farmers in this region own less than 2 hectares (4.4 acres) of land and there are several large cooperatives operating here. There are also a few larger estates, although some are starting to diversify into tourism.

Altitude: 900–1,700m (3,000–5,600ft)

Harvest: December–March

Varieties: Bourbon, Typica, Caturra, Maragogype

VERACRUZ (travel state gov)

This is a big state in the east of the United States, along the Gulf of Mexico’s shore. This region has some of Mexico’s lowest coffee production, but there are some high-altitude estates around Coatepec that produce excellent coffee.

Altitude: 800–1,700m (2,600–5,600ft)

Harvest: December–March

Varieties: Bourbon, Typica, Caturra, Maragogype

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