Coffee category: Balanced
Process: WashedWhat to expect: A smooth tasting and balanced coffee with lots of sweetness and slight hints of a citrus acidity. Expect notes of plum and hazelnut with a dark chocolatey body.
Producer: CESMACH Cooperative
Region: El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve
Altitude: 1,200 - 1,750m above sea level
Varietals: Bourbon, Typica
Farm size: 2-5 hectares on average
This is our first-year sourcing coffee from Campesinos Ecologicos de la Sierra Madre de Chiapas (CESMACH). The quality of coffee in this region has been growing year after year largely due their coffee being processed through a third party, allowing them to do what they do best—produce solid coffee. There is no reason why this area can't produce great coffee! They have all the conditions such as heirloom coffee varieties (Bourbon, Typica), great altitude (1200–1750masl), and passionate coffee growers who want to produce high-quality lots. The location is in the region of Chiapas in the southernmost region of Mexico. The mountains of this region span into bordering Guatemala and protected tropical forest.
The cooperative has also invested in a quality-control program. An assessment was made in different areas that impact cup quality such as: varieties, fertilization, picking, processing, and lot selection. They were already doing a great job but there are some areas that could use some tweaking. The cooperative members were extremely excited to be part of this program. The plan is to have a certified Q Grader from each cooperative and have a centralized cupping lab to aid in lot selection in order to increase the overall quality of the coffee they are producing and give feedback to the producers on their quality.
CESMACH has nearly 500 active members and has been managed by Sixto Bonilla for the last few years. Sixto is very quality-focused and driven to empower his cooperative community with the tools and resources to produce better quality.
The farms of CESMACH are located in the buffer zone of El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, which is in the highlands of the Sierra Madre. It is one of the most diverse forest reserve areas in the world and contains Mesoamerica's largest cloud forest, as well as a protected natural environment for thousands of plant and animal species. This area is humid and tropical, inhabited by small communities of producers who have formed cooperatives to gain stronger representation in the coffee market. These producers take pride in their land, growing coffee organically through methods passed down from generation to generation. All the coffee produced here is also shade-grown.
As throughout most of Mesoamerica, Mexico was first planted in coffee during early colonial times, most likely in the late 18th century. Due to the greater attention paid to the region's rich mineral deposits and mining opportunities, coffee didn't really develop as an industry until later, especially coming into its own in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the redistribution of farms after independence and the emergence of smallholder farmers, specifically those of indigenous origin. In the late 20th century, the Mexican government established a national coffee institution called INMECAFE, which, like the FNC in Colombia and ICAFE in Costa Rica, was developed in order to offer technical assistance, botanical information and material, and financial credits to producers. Unfortunately, INMECAFE was something of a short-lived experiment, and dissolved in 1989, leaving growers with a vacuum in their access to support and resources—especially those in very remote rural areas. This disruption to the infrastructure as well as the coffee crisis that followed the end of the International Coffee Agreement
plunged Mexico's coffee farmers into despairing financial times, which of course in turn affected quality dramatically. Throughout the 1990s and since the beginning of the 21st century, an increased presence, influence, and focus of Fair Trade and Fairtrade certifications and the emphasis on the democratically run small-farmer cooperative organization have worked to transform the image of Mexican coffee to one that reflects sustainability, affordability, and relatively easy logistics, considering its proximity to the United States.
In recent years, Mexico has struggled mightily with coffee-leaf rust and other pathogens that have reduced both yield and cup quality. This, combined with an enormous turnover of land ownership and loss of labor to emigration and relocation has created a somewhat tentative future for the producing country, though we have seen great cups and great promise from quality-inclined growers and associations there. The top cups are fantastic, and they're worth the work and long-term investment to try to overcome the obstacles facing the average farmer, who owns between 1–5 hectares, though some of the mid-size estates will run closer to 25 hectares.