Posted on February 25 2015
2015 has already proved to be an exciting year for Speedwell Coffee as Sarah made her way to Mexico in January with IPCoffees to explore Mexico’s coffee lands and witness firsthand its changing coffee industry. Coffee in Mexico has been a work in progress. Though Mexico isn’t comparatively known for its highly esteemed coffee, the potential for more specialty coffee is absolutely there. IPCoffees is actively working alongside farmers and processing mills to ensure quality meets specialty standards, and the effort will change more lives than one.
As my plane descended into Mexico City, I could hardly sit still while my eyes darted across the mountainous terrain and bright splashes of color that coated the buildings below. This trip to origin was something I had dreamed of since I started in specialty coffee almost four years ago, and now here I was. I would see coffee plants and taste cherry right at the source. I would meet the farmers and the pickers and the people whose lives are directly affected by the coffee industry. I would learn how coffee was processed and transformed into how I see it every day, green and dry, ready to be roasted. I would be surrounded by other coffee people who were just as eager as I was. This was a coffee person’s mecca. I landed in Mexico City a different person than the one who returned to Boston. Traveling to origin is a pilgrimage of sorts; something that puts the rush hour morning brew into a truer perspective.
Mexico has three major growing regions (Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Veracruz). Our focus was the Veracruz region, an area about four hours south of Mexico City. Mexican coffee grows between 1,000-1,750 meters December through March and produces several varieties including Bourbon, Typica, and Caturra. There were ten of us total, not including Andy and the rest of the crew from IPCoffees. Coffee Roasters from Arizona, Seattle, California, and Maryland had made the trek to Mexico to explore the early crops of the Veracruz region. We began in Mexico City, all of us packing into a microbus and making our way to Coatepec where I would be staying for the duration of the trip. Although it was early in the coffee growing season, we were able to cup coffees and preview the upcoming season. We did this on site at the Beatriz Martinez Lobato mill in Coatepec, a wet mill managed by the folks at IPCoffees where the equipment was clean and the crew was knowledgeable about the coffees. Here, locals bring bags of coffee cherry to sell and farmers who bring only ripe cherry are compensated above and beyond for their diligence. IPCoffees pay more than any other mill in the area; this way, pickers have incentive to pick only ripe cherry (ripe cherry makes for tastier coffee), rather than picking overripe and under-ripe fruit in an effort to make the most possible money. The farms are expensive to run and the people are poor; they want to be paid. This means the pickers will pick cherry regardless of quality. The idea is to pay more for better cherry, to give farmers the incentive to only pick the good stuff so that it qualifies as specialty coffee.
The journey from seed to cup is an incredible one, with so many hands involved in the work behind it. I knew the gist of it from books and research but I knew how important it was for me to see it firsthand. For a coffee roaster, traveling to origin is a humbling experience that truly gives meaning to coffee and the work that we do. I saw lush, rolling hills bursting with coffee plants, I saw entire families working on farms together to make a living, and I saw crops devastated as a result of roya, a disease often referred to as coffee rust.
Most people don’t realize what goes into each cup of coffee that they buy for less than three dollars. A farmer in Mexico works in the field all day picking cherry and collects up to 100 kilos (about 220 pounds), making around 4 pesos per kilo (about 30 cents per kilo). That's about $20 a day. How does coffee not cost more? How are we not willing to pay more? My goal is not only to buy good quality coffees, but in doing so help improve the lives of those who are doing the work at origin. Working with folks like IPCoffees gives us this opportunity as they pay more than average for all cherry, and a premium to those who pick only ripe fruit. Mexico is finding every way possible to improve their coffee; expressing the importance of picking ripe cherry, processing the coffee in clean, efficient mills, and in return we want to compensate them accordingly. I’m proud that Speedwell Coffee offers coffees from Mexico and I’m eager to see what Mexico has to offer this season and in years to come.