Country Profile: Mexico
Finca Nueva Linda, Chiapas, Mexico
Mexico wouldn’t be the first coffee-producing country that comes to mind. But since its introduction to Mexico in the 18th century, Mexican coffee has achieved a specialty status due to the dynamic flavour profiles, a rich cultivation practice and movements towards a positive environmental impact.
Coffee was first brought to Mexico in the late 1700s (most likely from Cuba or the modern-day Dominican Republic), with the earliest plantations being established in the Veracruz region. Due to the attention towards Mexico’s rich mineral deposits, the coffee industry gained little momentum throughout its infancy.
1914 saw a redistribution of land given back to the local indigenous peoples; an effort that fragmented the larger players and made room for the growth of smallholder producers throughout Mexico.
In 1973, the Mexican Coffee Institute (also known as INMECAFE) was established to provide technical and financial assistance to producers. This contributed to a rapid expansion in production, of up to almost 900%. In the 1980s, the Mexican government changed the policies regarding coffee. This resulted in a decline of support for the coffee industry, which led to the eventual collapse of INMECAFE in 1989. The government sold its coffee processing facilities, and many producers struggled to sell their coffee. This collapse increased ‘coyotes’, a term given to predatory coffee brokers that would buy coffee cheaply from farms and resell at a much higher price.
The coffee industry has made a slow recovery. Today, one can find coffee grown throughout sixteen states of the nation, with the majority being grown on 711,000 hectares in the southern regions. The majority of coffee is produced by smallholders (as opposed to larger estates), resulting in strong traceability that can pinpoint down to a cooperative, and at times, even down to the farm itself. Coffee certifications (including Fair Trade and Organic) have also been embraced by many coffee producers. While a large portion of Mexican coffee is sold to the United States, one can still find premium Mexican coffee throughout the globe.
Most of the coffee grown in Mexico is shade-grown Arabica, with 35% of the nation’s total crop grown at 900 metres above sea level, within the cooler climates. 90% of Mexican coffees are washed processed, with the remainder being processed using honey and natural. While there is a consistency in the processes, the coffees still demonstrate a striking difference in both profile and the producer’s cultivation practices. The swathe of unique characteristics has led to a formative reputation of coffee from Mexico. In fact, six Mexican coffees even achieved a 90-point threshold in the 2019 Cup of Excellence.
Here’s a quick rundown of the key coffee grown regions in Mexico:
This region is the chief producer of Mexican coffee, holding 40% of the national production. Chiapas lies on the Guatemalan borders, with the Sierre Madre mountains providing the optimal altitude and volcanic soils for coffee production. Most of the coffee from this area is grown between 1,000 to 1,750 metres above sea level. While being home to many indigenous Mexicans, Chiapas suffers from a low GDP and is the poorest state in Mexico. Chiapas is known for having a similar terroir and range of cultivation techniques to the Veracruz region. Coffee from Chiapas showcases a round body, with flavour notes of chocolate, nuts and citrus, along with a buttery mouthfeel.
Oaxaca sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, bordering both Veracruz and Chiapas. While being less technologically advanced, the region Oaxaca has still been able to produce unique and highly demanded coffees within the Bourbon, Caturra and Maragogype varieties.
Oaxaca is unique, as many of the local producers use traditional cultivation methods rather than the more modern approaches.
Coffee from Oaxaca showcases a flavour profile of caramel and floral, with a creamy body and orange acidity.
Many of the local farmers own less than two hectares of land, as several larger cooperatives are established in the area. Many of these coffee farms are situated between 900 to 1,600 metres above sea level.
Lying on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico is Veracruz; a region that produces a relatively low level of coffee, but has been able to provide the market with superior quality. Veracruz was the first state to host coffee cultivation, with the first tree being planted in the soils of Veracruz back in the 18th century. Since then, Veracruz has evolved to have the most advanced production technologies in the nation, which has resulted in more disease-resistant plants, along with more controlled cultivation. The coffees from Veracruz showcase flavours of blueberries and caramel, with bright acidity and a sweet aftertaste.