Our Mexican offerings are some of our most important coffees of the year. Mexican coffee has dwindled to almost nothing in recent years as a result of coffee leaf rust, low C market prices, political strife, and drug trafficking. Almost all remaining Mexican coffees are grown on large estates in Wahaca and other well-known provinces. This coffee is different. It is from the Guerrero region, and is grown by indigenous people in traditional biodynamic fashion.
These coffees are from tiny farms (often less than a hectare) with productions of less than 60 kg from many of them. These farmers' way of life depends on roasters like Skylark supporting them by paying higher prices than the market would typically offer for the quality they supply (£11.53/kg on this lot). These coffees are one of our biggest commitments to our concept of redistributive trade every year. We sell them at a price that we think makes sense to consumers, rather than at our standard markup. As a result, we make very little money on them... That's ok with us! We think they're so critical to the ecosystem and financial stability in Guerrero that we just want to buy as much as we possibly can. That's why this year we bought 5 different lots from Ensambles, including our first washed coffee from Mexico! Notes of Pecan Praline, Lemonade, and Mirabelle Plum create a super tasty experience for this classic North-American washed coffee.
We sourced this coffee with Ensambles, who do superlative work to shepherd this coffee from seed to our roasterie. Here's a bit more info from them below:
Limontitla, meaning ‘Land of Lemons’ in the region’s indigenous Nahuatl language, is situated right on the border of Puebla and Veracruz. This is a very rare washed coffee from the region, which Ensambles processed at their own mill! A first for them, and a stunning result.
The state of Guerrero is one of Mexico’s 16 coffee producing states, has borders with Oaxaca and Puebla. In Guerrero, 80% of the territory are mountains and the main economic activity is agriculture. Coffee was first introduced by the Spanish along the coast in Sierra de Atoyac, and most of the labor force for picking coffee was brought over from the poorest areas of Guerrero - a region called Montaña Alta. Those workers, seed by seed, propagated their homes with coffee, bringing it in their pockets from the big plantations in Atoyac. The region is now characterized by the production of shade grown natural coffees. Guerrero almost only produces naturals, which is rare in Mexico, with more than 90% of total exported coffee being washed.
Nowadays, Montaña Alta suffers from high rates of poverty, marginalization and migration to the more northern states of Mexico, as well as the US, in search for work. In the face of a lack of opportunities, and the growing demand for narcotics in northern countries, a crack in the door was opened for drug trafficking to take over these vulnerable regions. This proliferation of narco-trafficking has unfortunately painted Guerrero in a very unfavorable light, the perception of which is exceedingly difficult to overcome. Because of this context, few companies have invested in the area with regards to the purchasing of coffee. Almost 100% of Guerrero coffee is bought, directly or indirectly, by one single private company, who then resells to a big international buyer. This monopoly has set very low prices for coffee and a general lack of interest from this crop.
Ensambles Cafes Mexicanos began a project focused on specialty coffee in this area back in 2017, a project led by Miguel Guevara, an agronomist originally from Montaña Alta. Miguel has been working with producers to improve quality and help reach out to different markets. Miguel delivers training on selective picking, cherry flotation, drying. He also supports the project by obtaining regional funds to finance a nursery, local warehouses, raised beds etc. The first producers to join this initiative were all women. Many women in this region are empowered to make decisions because their husbands are living farther north for work. Those women call themselves the “Evas”, in reference to the first woman Eve. They decided to call the project JUBA, which means mountains in their indigenous language Mephaa. Discontentment with low prices has allowed this process to grow rapidly, increasing from 5 to now 70 producers in 5 years.
Ensambles now has a regional lab in Montaña alta with analysts and cuppers where producers can come and bring their sample, we provide feedback and recommendation until their coffee qualifies for the specialty premium. Our criteria range from cup quality, humidity / water activity to yield. We are now able to employ and empower two women from the community to coordinate the lab and reach out to more producers across the region. Nahual means the ability to transform yourself into another being. We think it is a good analogy with the switch from commercial low paid coffee to quality better priced coffees.