Mexico has always been an important coffee source. As I started out in coffee business way back when, Mexico was a prominent offering in the local cafes: In the 1980s we always had a Mexican coffee from Oaxaca or Chiapas on the menu. In time we started to struggle to find quality in the larger bulk lots though, but now we are seeing a resurgence of single-farm and micro-regional coffees. With this, we have found higher qualities and more variety.
Much of the coffee production of Mexico is in the central and southern areas of the country, where the altitude and climate combine to support the coffee shrub. Oaxaca and Chiapas have been the most frequent places we source Mexican coffee, and we also find some quality lots in Veracruz.
In very general terms, you can expect Mexican coffee to be light-bodied and mild, with subtle flavors. The best are lots are grown at altitudes of 1800+ meters, with old Typica variety plants still producing coffee with this clean, classic flavor profile.
Mexican coffee originates from broadly dispersed, non-contiguous areas from the South-central to Southern regions of the country. For that reason, coffees from Coatepec and Veracruz are much different from Oaxaca coffees, which are in turn much different from the southernmost region of Chiapas.
Chiapas borders the Guatemalan coffee growing area of Huehuetenango, and you will find similarities between lots grown in those regions.
Please note that we temporarily have Mexico classified with Central America due to limits with our site, but indeed Mexico is in North America! Because of the US close proximity, we used to receive the majority of fine Mexican coffees in this market. Mexican coffees have always been worth exploring for the variety of cup characteristics they present.
But the bulk lots of many coffees are poorly picked and processed, so valued flavor attributes are masked by bad taints, often from under-ripe coffee cherries and inconsistent processing. There are exceptions, but it seems that the financial rewards are not sufficient to interest estate farms or small cooperative groups to produce higher-quality small lots. Coffee farming doesn’t pay.
A strategic focus on Organic and Fair Trade has it’s value. That can work fine, and we support both efforts (as you might see on our offer list).
But a FTO focus can leave behind those farmers without a strong cooperative in the area, and those medium-sized farmers who are too small to find direct buyers and too big to deliver to the coop. Increasingly though, the coops grew to immense size in terms of membership, and their focus was toward producing great volumes of these certified coffees, available by the container-load. They weren’t focused on lot-separation, or on discovering quality in more controlled, micro-regional lots.
We work hard to find great coffee. But while other origins have improved their visibility and their specialty coffee production skills, Mexico remains quiet on the subject, having only staged a preliminary auction for quality lots in 2012 that netted very few entrants. Last year they entered into a contract with Cup of Excellence to hold international auctions.
The “internal market” in Mexico is a bright spot, at least among the newer cafes in Mexico City and other major centers. In fact they are paying top prices for the small lots of high-grown coffee, keeping it in the country. This is a very positive trend that is echoed in many coffee producing countries. (See my articles on Indonesian cafe scene).
Mexican are wide-ranging in their cup character. For this reason, you need to explore coffee selections from each of the regions to get a good sense of the possibilities of Mexican coffee. For me, I find Oaxaca and Chiapas are most interesting from a quality perspective, but my experience with other regions is limited.