Just a few years ago Moises Lopez y Manuel Castro of San Pedro Yosotatu, Oaxaca were earning very little for the coffee that they have been cultivating their whole lives. They are true coffee experts who spent year after year doing the back-breaking work of growing and harvesting coffee, only to sell it to middle men for next to nothing. Someone else was making good money from their coffee while they were barely covering their families’ needs.
This year, however, due to the involvement of the Mixteca Speciality Coffee Project, a bilingual initiative, led by Dr. Karen Rasmussen, they are now earning double per kilo for their coffee. Not only that but they are also producing arguably some of the finest speciality coffee in Mexico, coming third in a national coffee competition in Mexico City earlier this month.
Last night at Fika, a café that specializes in premium coffee in Oaxaca, I listened to these two very unassuming men talk about the work involved with producing coffee. Moises cultivates his coffee on land that is over an hour away from his home and he explained that caring for the plants year round and transporting the harvested beans is exhausting work.
Producing coffee is hard and producing speciality coffee means extra work. More care needs to be taken with the soil and the plants and there is a very selective harvest that is more time consuming. When I asked them, however, both men agreed that the extra work was well worth it.
“We now have more money for education and healthcare for our families” Moises told me, “It has made a big difference”
It was also clear to see that these men were very proud of their coffee. They were pleased to recount that their coffee had scored 87 and 87.4 points in the Mexico City, Premio Sabor contest (80 is excellent, 100 has never been scored) and Manuel’s face visibly lit up as he talked about his coffee plant that was flourishing beautifully.
The Mixteca Specialty Coffee project (known locally as Chu’un Kafé maa va’a nuu Ñuu Savi) currently works with about 70 coffee growers, both male and female in the Mixteca Alta area of Oaxaca, where the population are known as the people of the rain. Moises’ explained that coffee was brought to the area by Spanish hacienda owners in the 1800s and whilst the haciendas have gone, the locals continue to produce coffee there, because the high altitude and the rain make the climate just right. The area sees a lot of outward migration and the project is working closely with some local secondary schools, providing workshops in coffee cultivation and cupping, in a pledge to mitigate migration by showing the local young people that they have the chance of a decent income.
Having heard all about the work involved in producing quality coffee we got a chance to try some for ourselves. Patrick, who owns Fika with his wife Lorena, explained how to make and serve the coffee to perfectly expose the flavours. We tried both Manuel and Moises’s coffee that had sweet tones and notable delicious acidity. The sweetest thing for me however was toasting these two men, who had travelled for a day to get to Oaxaca to be there to share a little of their lives and their coffee with us.
It is up to us to be selective in our coffee drinking, demanding that a fair price is being paid directly to the growers. If you are interested in buying coffee from the Mixteca Speciality Coffee Project growers, here is where it is currently on sale in Mexico.
Cholula, Puebla and D.F
Café especiales de México- Tel: 55 1437 6807
Pachuca de Soto
All photos courtesy of the Mixteca Speciality Coffee Project
Susannah Rigg is a freelance writer and Mexico specialist. Her work has been featured in Condé Nast Traveler, CNN Travel, BBC Travel, The Independent UK, Afar and The New Worlder among others. Check out her portfolio here. Contact Susannah by email, info [at] mexicoretold [dot] com and join her on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.