The close proximity to the United States has played an important role for the development of the economy. Since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, Mexico's share of US imports has increased from 7% to 12%. Agriculture represents about 13.7% of all sectors of the economy, employing 13.7 million people according the figures reported by the Central Intelligence Agency, World Fact Book.
Mexico, for the 2011-2012 coffee crop reported a production of 5.6 million bags of 60Kg, of which nearly 52% were exported and the balance consumed domestically. It is worth mentioning that despite the small participation of coffee sector in the economy of the country (0.26% as a value of all products exported, 2011), it is a vital product that contributes greatly to the economy of some of the more agriculturally dependent southern estates, Chiapas, Oaxaca, Veracruz and Puebla. In just these four states some 90% of the total coffee output of the country is produced (SIAP 2010).
The demand for Mexican coffees has been mainly for the commodity type with very little differentiation or value added. This situation has contributed to the very little development of the specialty and gourmet sector in all likelihood because only 1/3rd of the production areas are above 900 masl. Of course, in general, it is possible to find some great coffees in the country but very few are of exceptional quality.
Promotion of Mexican coffees in the main consuming countries has been done mainly by the Fairtrade International Organisation (FLO) and their local initiatives predominately in Europe and the United States. Mexican growers have been able to add value to their coffees relying more on the standards and price premiums set by FLO on Fairtrade and Organic coffees rather than the intrinsic quality of the product. The majority of the farmer organisations certified by FLO have been located in the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, which are among the poorest states in the country thus making Fairtrade more relevant to the producers. Mexico is within the top five producing countries of Fairtrade and Organic coffee (9000 metric tonnes in 2009/10).
Geography and Regions
Mexico is located between the United States, Guatemala and Belize. Mexico has access to both the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans via the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. This unique location has a great influence on the growing conditions of coffee which in a year can flower 3 to 4 times. The majority of the coffee producing areas are located in one of the most biological diverse ecosystems in the country. According to AMECAFE 40% of the total production of the country is done in the areas classified as high and medium altitude forest, 23% in pine and Encino forest, 21% in low altitude forest and 15% in mesofilo forest. Coffee is produced in 12 states in the mountainous regions mainly of the south-central and south-eastern parts of the country, at altitudes ranging from 400 to 1700 meters above sea level. According to AMECAFE the main producing areas in terms of volume and the number of people involved in the cultivation of the coffee are in the states of Chiapas (545, 936 metric tonnes), Veracruz (335, 483 metric tonnes), Oaxaca (156, 941 metric tonnes), Puebla (100, 292 metric tonnes), Guerrero (49, 558), Nayarit (46, 138 metric tonnes), Hidalgo (27, 541 metric tonnes) and San Luis Potosi (14, 203 metric tonnes).
Source: AMECAFE Plan Integral de Promoción del Café de México 2012
Growing and processing
The area planted with coffee is very close to the 770, 000 ha, making it the third most important agricultural after crop after corn and sorghum by area. Majority of the coffee is produced by small scale farmers which have less than 5 ha with an average yield of 1.86 metric tonnes per ha. To put this figure into perspective, it is about 1/5th of that achieved in Colombia which gives Mexico one of the highest costs of production in the world. In 2010 504, 372 coffee producers were registered by AMECAFE of which 66% came from an indigenous background. Nearly 95% of the coffee is produced under shade with other fruits and subsistence crops. According to the ICO the total of area planted with coffee has the potential to capture about 5.6 million tonnes of carbon a year, making it a very promising toll to thrive on sustainability and emissions reductions. It is estimated that 80% of production could be certified organic and shade grown. In Mexico 97% of the total production is Arabica and 3% robusta. Robusta is cultivated in the lowlands and majority of it is consumed domestically. Arabica is produced in all 12 coffee producing states from altitudes between 700 and 1700 meters above sea level. The main coffee varietals used in the country are Typica, Caturra and Bourbon, others of less use are Catimor, Maragogype, Catuai, Mondo Novo and Garnica. The later one is a varietal released by the Garnica research station in Jalapa. The flowering at low altitudes starts by end of January for a harvest between late August and November. At high altitudes the flowering goes until the end of May for a harvest between November and January but in some areas the harvest is extended through to March. The export grades are classified according to the altitude, processing and preparation in terms of defect count and cup profile. Coffees from the lowlands are typically offered as Good Washed, Prime washed and Extra Primed washed, coffees from medium altitudes (1000-1600m) are offered as High Grown (HG) or Altura and those produced from 1200 to 1700 m are Strictly High Grown (SHG). Two export preparations are normally done, American and European. The later one carries a small premium as the beans are normally polished and have a stricter defect sorting. Nearly 50% of coffee is processed to parchment by the farmers and about 43% is sold as cherry. Production of gourmet naturals is starting but the majority is still washed (lavado).
As already mentioned, although coffee is produced in 12 States, tonnage is concentrated below 900 masl, so looking for acidity and brightness can be a daunting task but certainly not impossible particularly in the higher altitudes in particular Chiapas, but Oaxaca comes very close. However, if you are looking for smooth, medium body and reliability, look no further than the Veracruz and Puebla areas. As with all producing countries, topography, climate and care & attention also play their part.
Acidity: crisp and winey
Aroma and taste: sweet, dark chocolate and perfectly ripe cherries. Intense.
Coffees produced in Veracruz are mainly of from the lowlands (primed washed) and altura (high grown)
Body: light to round
Acidity: light to medium
Aroma and taste: sweet with roasted hazelnut
Acidity: delicate brightness
Aroma and taste: milk chocolate and almond with great complexity
Aroma and taste: walnuts and caramel and dry
The next producing areas worth mentioning are Guerrero, Nayarit, Hidalgo and San Luis Potosi but only account for about 8% of production.
Mexico is working to develop a protocol in conjunction with the CQI to evaluate, certify and promote the uniqueness of their coffees. We have personally experienced some great work being done in Nayarit (the most Northern producing area) using Q protocols to promote quality improvements leading to traceability and capturing unique cup profiles. The washed coffees are showing chocolate, almond and citrus acidity, and due to a lack of rain and plenty of sunshine during the harvest period, they have been able to process arguably the best Naturals in the country, showing banana and raspberry in the cup with a fresh honey finish.