Coffee is an important part of the economy of Mexico. The country produces around three and a half million bags of coffee per year, and is the fifth largest Arabica producer in the world. However, while the country is incredibly active in the regular blend scene, it is not yet a major force in terms of specialty coffee.
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Common Mexican Coffees
Arabica is the main form of coffee grown in Mexico. Some growers are starting to experiment with specialty lots, and those who are trying to break in to the specialty industry are doing well. The country has the right environment – high altitude and a stable climate – and it has plenty of experienced, devoted small scale farmers. Unfortunately, the Mexican government does not see coffee as being as important to the future of the country as other industries such as tourism, manufacturing and oil.
There are more than 490,000 farmers growing coffee in Mexico, and about 70 percent of those farmers are smallholders. The main coffee growing regions are Chiapas, Veracruz, Puebla and Oaxaca. Most of the coffees that are produced in Mexico are wet processed, but there are some naturals coming out of the country too. Because the growing regions are so far apart, geographically, it is hard for them to communicate with each other. This means that they are dependent on their exporters for support and information, and it takes a long time for news of opportunities within the industry to filter down to those who are actually working on the farms.
One reason why Mexican coffee is so popular with enthusiasts all over the world is that so many of the exports are certified organic, and the vast majority of farms still harvest the coffee by hand. In 2012, the Cup of Excellence came to Mexico for the first time, and this helped to raise awareness among smallholders about the potential for them to improve their business by focusing on specialty blends.
The History of Mexican Coffee
Coffee was first introduced to Mexico in the late 1700s, when Spanish settlers brought it to the region. It’s interesting to note that while trade in coffee has always been important to Mexico, domestic consumption was not particularly high until recently. Today, Mexicans collectively consume a little over two million bags per year – about 1.8kg per capita – however, the majority of the coffee that Mexicans consume is imported, rather than growing locally. Most Mexicans have no interest in specialty coffees or even high-grade Arabica, and around half of the coffee that they drink is low grade produce that is imported from Brazil or Vietnam.
Mexico is still a relative unknown in the world of specialty coffee, and a place that many devoted coffee drinkers overlook, but this should change over the next few years. There have been a number of one-off blends coming out of the country that have definitely impressed, and as small-scale farmers learn more about the industry that trend is likely to continue.