Here at Bean to Door we are coffee daft! We want to continue learning as much as we can about coffee so decided the best thing to do was to go directly to the source. We sent our Head of Coffee, Cat to visit a couple of farms in Mexico and Colombia. Here’s how she got on..
After a 12 hour bus ride, I finally reached the beautiful city of San Cristobel de Las Casas. From there, for a small fare, I took a mexican ‘collectivo’ (minivan or pickup with endless seats) which took me to a picturesque, family run farm , 3 hours away in the highlands of Chipas.
Mexico is the eighth-leading coffee producing country by volume and according to the International Coffee Organization in 2015 the country produced 4.5 million bags. The majority of the country’s 400,000 coffee farmers are smallholders. They are usually from this particular area and other southern regions such as Oaxaca. Situated at 1700m above sea level, the Finca or Farm was a long and bumpy trip in the unforgiving Mexican heat. However, the scenery along the way only added to my excitment and anticipation.
I shouted to the driver to let me off at the top of a hill were I was greeted by my guide, the lovely Maria. We made our way along a dusty path in the scorching midday heat.
We passed fields of banana trees and coffee trees, and after 30 mins we arrived at the modest family farm where Maria’s parents and grandmother were waiting to welcome me into their lovely home. The farm has been in the family for 3 generations and her great grandfather was one of the first farmers to grow coffee in the Chipas region of Mexico. We sat round the fire and had a cup of coffee from the field outside, it was a tasty brew!
Maria and her family showed me around the farm and showed me the main steps necessary to grow and harvest coffee.
The Coffee Tree
The coffee plants are grown and nurtured out of the ground until they are big enough to be planted (this takes about 8-12 months). Once in the ground the plant usually takes 3 to 4 years before producing a crop, and it will be at it’s most productive until it’s around 15 years old, although it can continue to produce coffee after this but the yield will be smaller.
The Varieties of plant
Here on the farm they have 2 varierties of Arabica known as ‘yellow bourbon’ and ‘red bourbon’. Bourbon is a high-yielding and good quality varietal, however it is more susceptible than other varietals to disease and pests
Once a year, when the fruit is ready to pick, the coffee cherries turn bright red or yellow. Only the ripe cherries are harvested, and they are picked individually by hand. Pickers rotate among the trees every eight to 10 days, choosing only the cherries which are at the peak of ripeness.
Like most of the coffee in Mexico, the cherries are processed using the ‘washed ‘ or ‘wet’ method. This is where the outer layer of skin is removed from the coffee cherry by a machine called a pulper. Once this outer layer has been removed, the bean is then fermented in water for at least one to two days to remove the ‘mucilage’ (sticky outside layer). After the fermentation process, the beans are washed and are left out to dry in the sun. They are turned every few hours for even drying. The result is a cofefe bean with a thing layer of parchment surrounding it. The parchment is then removed by a process called ‘hulling’ and the beans are now ready to be bagged and shipped to the buyer.
I had a fantastic time at the farm and was so lucky to be invited by Maria and her family for a traditional lunch with homemade tortillas. Next stop… Colombia!
Mexican Coffee Today
Mexico’s history of coffee production began when Spanish colonists brought coffee plants from Antilles to Veracruz in the 18th century. However, Mexico’s coffee farmers have had a few decades of hardship with little support from the government after a failed coffee programme in the late 80s and with crops being destroyed by the botanical disease ‘leaf rust’ or ‘roya’. The farm I visited in Mexico was still recovering from the crisis which has affected not just Mexican farmers but most coffee growing regions in the Americas. We hope to introduce a delicious Mexican coffee to our offer list in the near future.