This year, we've partnered with Ensambles and New Dawn Traders to ship coffee from the shores of Mexico. Over to our Head of Coffee, Courtney to tell us more about the Mexican coffee industry, and her visit to Veracruz, the region of Mexico where these coffees have been grown.
Can you tell us about the new Explore coffees?
We've chosen these two Explore coffees because they highlight what Mexico has to offer in terms of specialty coffee with their unique flavour. In addition to being delicious, the coffees from this region have an amazing story which we think needs to be shared to keep coffee a viable crop for Mexican producers.
Both of these coffees carry typical characteristics of coffee from Veracruz; they have a caramel-like sweetness and buttery mouthfeel with zingy, citrusy acidity. La Limonada gives us a cleaner cup, with red fruits and raspberries and a lemonade brightness. La Pina has a richer flavour due to the coffee cherries spending longer as whole fruits before being processed. This 'extended fermentation' gives us more juicy tropical fruit notes coming through, with a sweet rhubarb-like acidity.
Tell us about your sourcing trip to Mexico, what is it about the trip that inspired you to contract these coffees?
Visiting Veracruz, which is the region where these coffees were grown, gave us real insight into the relationship that people have with growing coffee here. Our sourcing partners in Mexico, Ensambles, connect small scale producers to the specialty market so they can get better prices for their harvests, as well as providing guidance on improving their crops and protecting the plants from pests and diseases. We saw some coffee trees that were over 100 years old bearing little to no fruit, as well as trees ravaged by coffee leaf rust. One farmer was showing us the new trees he had planted from some beans bought from Costa Rica, hoping for better yielding varieties, but he ended up with a complete mixture of unknown varieties, all with different needs and therefore are difficult to cultivate. We realised there was a lot of work to be done by organisations such as Ensambles in bringing these producers more success in growing coffee.
Can you speak on the challenges faced by coffee farmers in Mexico?
Mexico has a rich history of coffee growing stretching back to the 1700s, yet it makes up less than 1% of global coffee production. Adaptations to new technology and research have been slow to take hold here comparatively to more advanced coffee growing countries such as Brazil and Colombia. This is for a number of reasons, but a large factor is to do with the small size of most coffee farms in Mexico. During the Mexican Revolution between 1910 and 1920, large swathes of rural land was divided up in small parcels called 'ejidos'. The ejidos were awarded to low-income people to give them a chance to be able to make their own incomes by growing crops. The issue was that the land was not owned by the people, who were technically leasing it off of the Mexican government, and therefore the land could not be sold for profit or combined with other plots. This meant that many farms were too small to be productive, and there was no knowledge or training around planting higher-yielding varieties or introducing younger trees once the older ones started to become less fruitful. Despite the dissolution of the ejido system in the 1990s, coffee growing has not reached its full potential in Mexico. Many young workers have migrated to the larger towns and cities, and unfortunately women can not legally own land in Mexico, despite them having a huge role in the production of Mexican coffee.
How are Ensambles taking action to address these issues?
Ensambles have been supporting these producers to navigate the challenges faced, and they have a huge task on their hands shifting farmer's perceptions on improving their harvest. Research and development is a big part of growing coffee, and the Ensambles team have been showing producers how to maximise their incomes from coffee. This starts with opening up conversations with the local communities, teaching them how to process and dry coffee to higher and more consistent quality, how to make their own plant based fertiliser from agricultural waste, planting disease resistant varieties and ultimately giving them a chance to earn a higher premium by providing access to the specialty market.
There are 63 indigenous languages spoken throughout Mexico, and Ensambles have field coordinators in each of the coffee growing regions who can speak the local languages in those areas, removing language barriers that could otherwise be preventing knowledge being passed on. Gaining the trust of these marginalised communities is a delicate process in a country that has been exposed to corruption from government level down to local cartels, and that's where Ensambles come in. Their focus is on making coffee a sustainable and economical crop, as well as empowering women and lifting families out of poverty through education.