October 3, 2016

Seed to Cup: 5 Ways Mexican Coffee Is Becoming Specialty


Mexican specialty coffee is growing. And I’m not just talking about Mexican beans served in London, or Portland, or Melbourne. My country boasts of new varietals, experimental processing methods, specialty cafés and roasters, barista champions, coffee conferences… everything you would expect from a third wave coffee industry, consumer-side and production-side.

Curious? Let me introduce you to some of the key players in our nation’s specialty scene.

Spanish Version: De la Semilla a la Taza: 5 Formas en las Que el Café Mexicano se está Volviendo de Especialidad

Jesús Salazar of Cafeólogo with a Chemex

Jesús Salazar of Cafeólogo. Credit: Cafeólogo

Specialty on The Farm

We all know how multifaceted the coffee industry is. There are so many aspects to the industry, so many coffee profiles, processing methods, cultivation techniques… We constantly discover new things to learn.

Carlos Avendaño from Finca Pecora, Boca del Monte, Veracruz is an agronomist dedicated to producing sustainable, high-quality coffee. He cares about every step of the processing and cultivation: the selection of the varietals that they will plant, the soil nutrition, the climate to which they’ll be exposed, the farming, and more. (See Carlos’ article on this here.)

When it comes to processing, he finds that fully washed isn’t sustainable enough. Yet the farm’s harvest season is cold and humid – making natural processing risky. It would probably lead to higher defect rates. So instead he took the honey process and added his own spin to create something he calls honey+.

Finca Pecora is also exploring different varietals. Determined to increase the diversity of coffee growing in Mexico, they have introduced SL28, SL34, Geisha and Typica Heirlooms. These plants are already bearing their first fruits. We still have to see what the results are at the cupping table, but we have strong hopes. And let’s not forget the opportunity for cross-pollination and cross-breeding.

What’s more, the farm also roasts their own coffee. Their on-site Probat allows them to ensure that, from the seedling to the roasted beans, at every stage the coffee is treated in the best way. They believe that there is no compromising when it comes to quality.

Carlos Avendano coffee mill

Carlos Avendaño is dedicated to improving quality. Credit: Carlos Avendaño

Knowledge Sharing at Every Stage

Jesús Salazar is also passionate about the potential of coffee. But for him, coffee is significant because of the people involved in it. Once a philosopher, now he is the man behind Cafeólogo, a roastery and coffee resource. One of his projects, cosecha (Spanish for “harvest”), is to help the producer know more about the consumer. He believes that traceability must extend to all parts of the coffee supply chain, rather than just looking back to origin.

Of course, that’s not the only area he wants to shine a light on. He’s keen to lift Mexican specialty coffee by focusing on agriculture, on gastronomy, and on knowledge exchange.

Another project of his is la casa proyecto (“the house project”). He’s renovating a colonial-esque house in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, so that it can be a space for dialogue. He wants to bring together actors in the Mexican coffee industry to visualise what we can achieve – and how to get there.

Jesus Salazar on a coffee farm

Jesús Salazar on the coffee farm. Credit: Cafeólogo

SEE ALSO: Coffee Paradise: 5 Must-Visit Specialty Cafés in Mexico City

Specialty Roasting

Ángel Villanueva has been running Barismo al Límite, a provider of coffee courses for baristas, cuppers, and roasters, for seven years. He believes both that education is crucial and that knowledge is useless if not shared.

Yet he doesn’t just want to educate those within the industry – he also wants to reach those who drink coffee. His philosophy is that, in order to have a strong specialty coffee market, you must first have consumers.

In 2013, he launched Gas Up, a roastery that partners with prominent Mexican producers, such as Enrique López of Finca Chelín, among others. Its philosophy is to respect, know, and share the origin with the consumer – to demonstrate to them the full range of possibilities that you can find in just one coffee. For this reason, he omni roasts.

Probat roaster in Barisma al Límite, Mexico

Barismo al Límite takes its roasting seriously. Credit: Barismo al Límite

Specialty in The Café

Carlos de la Torre, two-times Mexican Brewers Cup Champion, is the owner of Café Avellaneda. He’s been a coffee aficionado since he was a teenager. He sets rigorous standards – I wonder if he could be the Gordon Ramsay of coffee – and, just like Ángel Villanueva, he is determined to see his team develop. Two of his baristas competed in the 2016 Mexican Brewers Cup Championship.

He believes that the potential of Mexican coffee lies in the country’s diversity, in the separate identities of each region, and in how easy it is for us to visit the farm. He tells me that we are taking positive steps. Coffee shops and restaurants are investing in high-quality products served well, and the Mexican coffee scene will benefit from this.

Coffee at Espresso Avellanadea

Attention to detail at Café Avellaneda. Credit: D. Tlatilolpa

A Global Coffee Vision

Mexican coffee has so much potential, and coffee professionals in this country are working hard to demonstrate this. Yet we also need to look outwards. By seeing what else is consumed around the world, we understand our coffee better. And we also know better how to present our coffee on a global stage.

Café Quentin’s slogan is “making coffee great again”. In addition to Mexican beans, they also serve coffees from countries and roasters all around the world – and international magazines.

They set out to show consumers that every country, and every roaster, has something different to offer. And they succeed. Once you start to taste different origins, you discover that each one has a different profile.

Ethiopian coffee from Quentin, Mexico

Ethiopian coffee from Café Quentin at Rissoleta Café. Credit: D. Tlatilolpa

The Future of Specialty Coffee in Mexico

In 1989, the government-regulated Mexican Coffee Institute (Instituto Mexicano del Café, INMECAFE) was disbanded. But earlier this year, it was announced that it will be re-launched in 2017. It’s a source of hope for all of us here.

We know its success will depend on many factors: the management of resources, public policy, the support and advice given to producers…. For specialty to continue growing, we have to know about the potential of our coffee. We have to remain focused on the pursuit of quality.

But I am optimistic about the future. A study by TechNavio has found that coffee consumption per capita is growing in Mexico, driven in part by a greater number of cafés. My experiences support this. And as consumption increases, it opens the gate to high-quality consumption. With more and more specialty shops, consumers are approaching coffee with a new palate – one that’s curious about origins, about profiles, and more.

Additionally, Let’s Talk Coffee 2016, a global conference dedicated to discussing the big questions in the industry, is being held in Puerto Vallarta. It is both an acknowledgement of the growing specialty scene here, and an opportunity to develop it further. (Registration ends today, so sign up now to attend.)

Patience is a tree of bitter roots but sweet fruits. Specialty doesn’t yet dominate Mexican coffee, and it won’t dominate it tomorrow. But it is appearing all over the country, it is building pace, and it is going to continue growing.

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