Coffee Origins: A Guide to Mexican Coffee

Unlike other major coffee-producing countries, most of the coffee farms in Mexico are run by indigenous farmers, who produce coffee independently. There are over 700,000 hectares of arable land used for coffee farming in all of Mexico. A total of 16 different states across Mexico grow coffee, but most of them are situated in the country’s southern part. 

Coffee was first introduced to Mexican farmers in the early 17th century. European colonies, as well as many native communities, started growing this crop. However, during that time, no one was interested in reserving certain areas of the country for farming only. After the Land Agrarian movement, the coffee farms were able to reach their true potential.  

Coffee Production in Mexico

According to a recent estimate, 95% of all coffee farmers in Mexico still cultivate coffee in less than 3 hectares of land. The report also documented 500,000 different households and independent producers growing coffee. 

As mentioned above, most coffee farmers in Mexico are indigenous people. To ensure these farmers get a fair price for their harvest, the Mexican Government has partnered with the National Institute of the Indigenous Peoples (INPI). 

Furthermore, the Mexican Government chartered National Institute for Coffee INMECAFE for all Mexican growers in 1973. Its sole purpose was to assist in the development and education & training of the farmers. 

Mexico is the largest producer of organic-certified coffee in the world. According to a report by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (SADER), 8% of the total number of farmers in Mexico grow this variety of coffee. 

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A new era in the Mexican Coffee Industry came with the fall of the INMECAFE. In its aftermath, small associations grew in popularity. They started gathering the coffee community in Mexico under one roof. And now, these cooperatives play a crucial role in helping all ingenious farmers with coffee production.

Thanks to all the Mexican Government initiatives, coffee grew into the country’s most important export crop over only a few decades. In the late 1980s, coffee accounted for 35% of the country’s total agricultural output. By 1990, production increased to 440,000 tons a year. And in the fiscal year 2018-2019, Mexico exported 2.6 Million bags of coffee. 

There was a deep fall in the country’s coffee production back in the year 2012. This fall happened because of a leaf rust outbreak. Due to a particular type of fungus, the coffee plants stopped growing at a certain point in their growth cycle. That year, the coffee production reduced by almost 50%. 

Characteristics of Typical Mexican Coffee

Mexican coffee is popular for its sweet, mild, and subtle flavors. In the 2019 Cup of Excellence, six coffee varieties from Mexico broke the record and reached the 90-point threshold. Coffee grown in different parts of Mexico have different flavors. For instance, coffee from the Cruz José Arguello Miceli’s Gesha was reported to have aftertastes of jasmine and vanilla.

Unlike Brazil and other top producers of coffee, Mexico puts more focus on Arabica production. Most farmers use the shade-farming technique in Mexico. However, they do have some farmers, scattered across the country, who grow Robusta coffee. But as a whole, Robusta beans account for only 4-5% of the country’s total harvest.  After harvest, coffee is washed. Washing is the predominant method of coffee processing in the country. However, some farmers, not more than 105, use other processing methods such as natural and honey.

Mexico’s Major Coffee Regions

There are three major coffee regions in Mexico – Chiapas, Veracruz, and Oaxaca. Coffee from these three different geographical locations has different taste profiles. All the states use modern technologies to increase their production efficiency. 

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Among the three, Veracruz was the first Mexican state where coffee was planted as a cash crop. This planting happened in the early 18th century. Most coffee farms in this region are located at 1,100–1600 m.a.s.l. As coffee is grown at a higher altitude in this state, the final harvest has aftertastes of blueberries, caramel, and vanilla. They have light acid content. 

Veracruz boasts being the most technologically advanced coffee-growing state in Mexico. The farms here focus more on disease control and total control over all the distinct coffee production parts. Farmers stick to specific guidelines in this state. They will plant coffee trees 1 meter apart and only have 5,000 coffee plants per hectare of arable land. 

Along with Veracruz, Chiapas is Mexico’s top coffee-growing state. It accounts for 40% of the total coffee production in the country. Most coffee farms here are located at the height of 1,300 and 1,700 m.a.s.l. Farmers in this state use almost similar techniques as farmers from Veracruz. Coffee from this region has aftertastes of citrus, lemon, and chocolate.

The third top coffee-growing state in Mexico is Oaxaca. It sits in between Veracruz and Chiapas and has the Pacific Ocean on the West. Despite being less technologically advanced, farms in this region produce coffee that has high demand in the global coffee market. Coffee from Oaxaca has an aftertaste of orange and citrus.

The Verdict

The biggest challenge for Mexican farmers is ensuring a fair price. Farmers in this part of the world do not even get the price that will help them breakeven. If their luck is good, coffee that costs $140 to grow can be sold at only US $100.

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