Mexican coffee production and tasting at Caravela Puebla

After visiting the two farms in Oaxaca state, we ended up in Oaxaca City or Oaxaca de Juárez. We arrived late in the evening and were staying outside the city. As we were leaving early the next morning, I did not pop into the city Zócalo.

I did try an Oaxaca speciality which is a chocolate and beer-based drink, which name escapes me. It is served hot and has a malty and chocolate taste, quite enjoyable.

Oaxaca beer and chocolate drink

Oaxaca to Puebla – Edy’s perspective

At just before 6 am we left Oaxaca to head to Puebla before Edy himself went to Chiapas. The trip was around 330kms and took us a smidgen over 4 hours, most of the way the road were very good, incomparison to the previous day.

On the way with my small amount of Spanish knowledge and Edy’s small amount of English, I was able to find out about Edy. He is married with one child who was either one or going to turn one (uno anos). We then started talking about his job.

Edy has been an agronomist for over 15 years, specializing in coffee. In the last 6 months, he has travelled 50,000 km meeting and working with farmers in Oaxaca, Veracruz and Chiapas (where he lives).

Perspectives from Edy on Mexican Coffee Production

Quantity of Chiapas and Vera Cruz production are similar. Oaxaca is lower but has more cultivars (a cultivar is any variety that we harvest and cultivate). Almost all of the production of coffee in Mexico is Arabica.

In Chiapas the highest they grow is 2200 masl, since then it gets too cold. Average bags per farmer in Chiapas is 20 bags, Veracruz around 25 bags. A typical Chiapas farm has 2000 trees per hectare, Vera Cruz has 4000 trees. While in Oaxaca only 1,500 trees per hectare. In Oaxaca a farmer produces only 1.5 bags per farm. They are working on trying to increase the yield per farm in all areas. Chiapas and Veracruz, the average farm is 2 acres. In Oaxaca only 1 acre.

The number of agronomists specialising in coffee is relatively small. Cash crops like maize are more popular (almost everything in Mexico is made out of maize / corn). He does not work only for Caravela, he is independent and does work with other coffee businesses, or direct with some farmers.

As already stated, Edy does a lot of visits, visiting most of the people they work with around once a month. In 6 months he has travelled over 50,000 kms doing visits.

Mexican harvest is typically Nov-Feb, with Geisha April. Geisha is a low production coffee, but it works out since they are paid more of the coffee.

As far as quality cultivars are concerned, in Veracruz about 80% of the cultivars are quality focused, Chiapas 60%, while Oaxaca in around 90% capable of producing specialty.

Over the last 15 years, Edy has seen big changes in the production each year driven by seasonal plant nutrition and weather. Roya (coffee rust) has dramatically affected production with the farmers being hit hard. With Roya farms in Chiapas produced only an average of 5 bags (25% of before). So the rust has a big impact on production. Through experimentation, they have found that above 1800masl no Roya or Broca. Broca occurs with coffees around 1200 masl.

They are teaching the farmers to spray with copper to prevent Roya now. Typically 30 days before the blossoms are expected.

Puebla Afternoon

After Edy dropped me off, I took some time to settle into my hotel before trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my day. José Antonio was going to call me, but I found out later he was down with a stomach bug.

So after taking a break, I looked up the free walking tour I had done in Mexico City, and found there was one at 15:00 from the Zócalo in Puebla (the short name for Pueblade los Ángeles).

My hotel was the first I stayed in since Mexico City that had decent WiFi and hot water, so I felt rather spoilt. With the hotel about 10km from the square, Frida had told me to use Uber, so I did. Twenty minutes later an Uber dropped me about 2 minutes walk from the Zócalo. Which I walked to, and saw a bustling square with a cathedral on the right as I came in. The rest of the square is surrounded by restaurants and mini vendors. In the square, I found live music, balloon and trinket sellers.

I walked around a bit then joined the free walking tour of Puebla. The city is very neat and pretty, much better laid out than Mexico City with larger pavements, making walking a lot easier. During the tour, we saw the Cathedral, the Library (the first in America called Biblioteca Palafoxiana), the old map made out on Puebla ceramic tiles. These tiles are made a specific way in Puebla (a combination of local, western, and eastern methods). We also went past the La Pasita (the most famous bar in Puebla), where I returned after to try their speciality a shot of some alcohol with goats cheese and a raisin, it was an interesting flavour combination. It was a little rushed as they were closing.

We also went across what used to be the river – which is now a main road. They moved the river underground and put a street on top. You can still see the old bridge. We went past a public dancing place, which the locals go to on Sundays to meet and dance with each other. Carmina the guide told me that this is what the Mexicans do they like to fiesta.

Afterward, we went down the Barrio del Artista, a section that artists are given to exhibit their work and sell to the public. Small little work areas and galleries next to one another. The locals go there to buy crafts and paintings. We then went up the street of candy or sweets and tried Myega a favourite with the locals. From there we went to the Templo de Santo Domingo, famous for its gold decor.

I put to get a video of the sites and sounds of Puebla.

Puebla Video

Caravela Visit

The next morning José Antonio, the head of a Caravela Mexico, picked me up and we went to cup at their office. The office was full of top notch kit, it was great to see the investment they have made to uplift coffee.. When I got there Luis Carlos Gutierrez (from Colombia, but now working here) and Victor Andies Ranlier (from Caravela Colombia) where setting up the cupping. So I had a chat to José Antonio.

Perspectives from José Antonio

Jose Antonio said he felt that the Mexican coffee industry had far to go. Using the great work that Caravela has done in a Colombia, he would love to see the farmers in Mexico learn from the successes that Caravela has already had in Latin American. He said adoption has been slow, with many farmers not wanting to do much more but pick the coffee. Having seen the success that Caravela have had in Colombia, and seeing how they too went through these issues, I believe there is hope. Caravela has helped increase production and quality in the farms they work with in Colombia. This has resulted in more money in the farmers pockets. The risk is that the average age of the farmers in Mexico is 50+. So time may be running out. There are so many extraneous factors playing their part, Roya outbreaks, climate change and pressures on the coffee price are dominant when adding to that the aging population of the farmers and their resistance to change there is a lot of work to do.

A general cupping of Mexican coffees

After José Antonio and I had a chatted, we went downstairs to cup 12 coffees in two flights of 6. While a few of these coffees had dominant nut notes, familiar to Latin America, there were a few real standouts. We compared our scores, and Jose Antonio showed me that I am consistently scoring around 2 points lower than Luis Carlos and Victor, who are super calibrated. He pointed out that in the auction, he had notice that my scores where lower than most.
We discussed that there should maybe be a calibration handicap to correct this. The next round I made an effort to be a little more generous with my scores, and of the 6, 5 of mine aligned. The one that did not Luis Carlos and Victor both loved the coffee, but I felt it had fallen off when it cooled.
There were coffees from Chiapas, Veracruz and Oaxaca. Mostly from single producers. Flavour notes included: vanilla, nutmeg, blackberry, mango, lemon, orange blossom, almond, cocoa, brown sugar and honey, to name a few. Once again, I was impressed with the complexity of the coffees. The highest score was an 86.5 the lowest 83.5.
I liked 5 coffees and asked for samples. These we will taste at the event to taste Mexican coffees 1 June 2019 at Buiten.
Luis Carlos and Victor in Caravela Puebla

Mexico and Origin Travelling

That was the last item on my itinerary in Mexico. I just had to catch a bus back to Mexico City International, which once I as at the bus terminus was simple, although it took 2.5 hours from the 140km trip.
I appreciate that for many, there is a romantic notion of traveling to these countries and meeting the local farmers. And in some ways that is true. Having an origin trip with a local representative that you have worked with also makes it easier. The meeting and cupping is the fun part. Seeing the country like most people will typically not see it is also a wonder. When you travel with the locals you also eat different food, and most of the food was new to me, and on average it was superb.
For this trip, I felt I would have prefer to see more of the coffee growing areas, and spent less time at the panel assessment and auction. I am not sure if other assessment panels are run the same, but there was a lot of free time. Which initially I found frustrating, but then realized when given an opportunity to relax, to do so. I would have preferred to do so near a coffee farm, not on a coastal town divorced from the coffee industry. Aah shame I hear you sigh. But there are millions of coastal towns that have nothing to do with coffee, it is not necessary to spend two days travelling there.
The logistics of travelling I find stressful. Quaffee was founded on sustainable and family principles and I miss my family almost from the time I step on the plane. We have limited time with our children and spouse as it is, and taking time away from that is hard for me.
So in summary it was a great experience to be part of the panel, I do not believe that I have a natural talent to be part of these panels, I did feel a level of incompetence in comparison to my fellow panelists. I really enjoyed travelling through the country, and the food and meeting the farmers. Those were my the highlights of the trip, and in fact, always are. Cupping at origin is fun and interesting to see how the coffees are assessed at origin. Remove the days of traveling and the hotels with bad WiFi a lack of hot water and then there is romance.


Sincerely Warren

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