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Will and Henry’s Mexico Trip 2017: Veracruz to Nayarit

It’s been over 5 years since we last travelled to Mexico, and given the relationships and volumes that have developed since then, it was high time that we visited again to check up on our old friends, and see what’s going on in the Mexican world of coffee.

Our trip began in the port City of Veracruz – Mexico’s largest, and where most (if not all) of our coffee is shipped out from. Nestled neatly in the Gulf of Mexico, this is a tale of two cities. Old town Veracruz is a blend of classic historical colonial 19th century architecture, ruined, dilapidated, full of character. New town is 21st century structural expressionism – garish modernity, tourist friendly; buildings our guides were most proud to show off.


We began our coffee venture heading south west to Cordoba, an hour or so from Veracruz, nestled in the volcanic mountain range that stretches from Tamaulipas in the far north of Mexico, down in to Chiapas and on through to Guatemala. The sudden rise in altitude offered a welcome break from the intense heat of Veracruz, to give way to a more temperate coffee friendly climate.

Here we met Don Pepe – suppliers of our Mexico El Selecto and Finca Monte Azul lots and long term DRW supporters. Having established themselves in 1992, this private family business has gone from strength to strength, today exporting over 50,000 bags annually, and trading internally a further 70,000. Established by Pepe Gorbena (Pepe being short for Jose) the family boasts a long line of Pepe’s – the third generation joined the business 7 years ago. They operate a dry mill in Huatusco and own a wet mill as well to establish greater control over quality. Don Pepe have risen to become one of the largest private operations in Mexico, (second only to the multi nationals that operate) Along with other private investors, and finance, Don Pepe is soon to establish its first Soluble coffee factory near the port of Veracruz, with the plan of exporting instant coffee around the world.

Don Pepe are able to source coffee for us from all over Mexico, although Chiapas and Veracruz account for roughly 50% of Mexican Volumes – which currently stand at around 4million bags. However, with huge input from the Government and a regeneration of the coffee sector, this figure is set to change. Within 2 years, estimates place coffee production at 6 million bags, with 8million bags the target for development in the 2020’s. Many of the new plantings though are Roya resistant strains of Catimore and Caturra varietals, which some claim are not great for coffee quality.

Cupping in the Don Pepe lab was an eclectic experience – everything on the table from washed robusta, regional specialties and undergrade stocklots. All of which exhibited huge potential, and some that we are excited about working with. We will have regional samples of Chiapas and Oaxaca coming our way soon, as well as washed robusta to work on too.

We visited a farm close to the mill, “Finca Kassandra” made up of 2 single estates – Casa Blanca and Kassandra. Here we met Roque Zilli, the farm manager who showed us the 2 farms and both their Wet and dry mills. The farm was established in 1992 (Ironically the same year as Don Pepe next door – though no correlation) and since its inception has began to multicrop as is common in Mexico. Macadamia trees have been planted for shade interspersing the coffee, and as coffee prices have fallen over the years, macadamia nut prices have soared. It may take up to 8 years to harvest the first fruit from Macadamia trees, but this has not stopped the farm from planting, and now grows over 50,000 trees. Macadamia is now as ubiquitous here as the coffee.

Finca Kassandra not only washes its own coffee, but also has extra capacity to help surrounding producers and exporters. The coffee is fully washed – (after the depulper, it passes through a de-mucilage) and also fermented – although given the altitude and temperatures, fermentation is quick – only 4 hours! Before being mechanically dried at a relatively high temperature (60 degrees)

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Finca Kassandra is a well managed farm, with over 9km of paved roads throughout the hillside plots that grown predominantly Caturra, Costa Rica and Pacamara varietals. This dedication and commitment to quality is seen throughout the farm – average yields produced are between 18-27 quintales per hectare compared to a national average of around 7 and the quality of the coffee produced is demonstrated in the cup. Grown at roughly 1200m, this coffee exhibits flavours of mandarin, peach and apricot, with brown sugar notes and caramel body – we are looking forward to cupping this again in the DRW HQ Lab!

We left Don Pepe on Tuesday afternoon to head (via Mexico City) to Tepic – Capital and largest city of the western Mexican state of Nayarit – and home to Jim Kosalos and his well established team of Grupo Terruño Nayarit – the famed Mexican Patio lots, and the world’s most traceable coffee!

Sitting at roughly 950m above sea level, Tepic is a bustling, sprawling city of close to 500,000 inhabitants built up from nearly 500 years of existence! It is twinned with Sydney, Australia of all places! Tepic is situated in a region that favours the production of citrus fruit, orange and tobacco rather than coffee, but nevertheless is well placed for Grupo Terruño Nayarit to base its operations from.

Coffee is grown in the mountains to the west of the city that surround the San Juan Volcano. Many coffee producers in the region believed themselves to be too far north, and too high up to be affected by Roya. Regrettably this was not the case and this season has hit the area hard. Entire hillsides laid bare, with leafless trees scattering the slopes. The previous season had also been tough – Broca, the coffee beetle that blights many producers has struck the area and additional quality checks and processes have been employed to minimize this affect on cup quality. The harvest period in Mexico is a long one – typically between November and March – but, due to climate change, the harvest has been starting earlier and earlier. Peak harvest in the Nayarit region is between February and March; our trip managed to catch the tail end, with some producers still harvesting the remainder of their crop. Roughly 80% of the groups coffee scores 80+, with many lots coming in between 83-84 points. However, this season has seen a slight reduction in quality by a point or two.

Grupo Terruño Nayarit is part of a more complex structure. It is an umbrella organization that exports all coffee to San Cristobel Coffee Importers in the US. The Grupo is co-owned by Cafes Sustenables de Mexico (Sunmex) a private company that owns the dry mill, processes the coffee and is in charge of the logistics and quality control of the coffee – and 6 producer groups who deliver their coffee to the organization – Astal, Basilio, Cuerno, Riviera, Procaa & Tambor. DRW’s counterparty in this system is with San Cristobel Coffee Importers in the US which is owned by Jim Kosalos and his wife. Alongside this structure, another company – Finca Lab, also owned by Jim aims to assist the process with a unique purpose built software system designed to optimize full traceability on all coffee lots entering and exiting the quality system, bar coding and Q-R coding each coffee for optimized transparency.

After our introductions to the highly effective team in Tepic, consisting of (but not limited to) Carlos – the head cupper, Marcela in charge of legal, Benjamin – the all-important finance guy and Jim – the enigmatic, ever so slightly eccentric, mastermind of it all we headed up to Cuarenteño to take a look at a couple of patios / roof top drying and one of the Beneficio’s that make up the Cuerno group. The road is incredibly dusty and full of Pumice stone – perfect, as Jim explains for growing coffee in. The hill side is dotted with a number of parcelas (Small plots of land that are used for growing agricultural produce on – but not, as we are informed actually Fincas as many call them). We arrive after an hour or so in Cuarenteño, and visit our first mini wet mill aptly named “Rustico” as evidenced below.

Space is limited in these small towns, and flat rooves make the perfect drying patio for the pergamino and natural dried cherries. This is a key stage in the coffee processing – and producers have been trained to test for sweetness of cherries prior to washing – to make sure they are as ripe as possible. A red cherry is not necessarily an indication that it is fully ripe. Whilst some wealthier organisations operate a BRIX meter – which measures sugar content, here the test is more…. Organic. Just eat the cherry.

The town of Cuarenteño sits nestled in a valley, around 1100m above sea level. It may not seem that high, but given the northerly longitude of this growing zone, cooler nights mean hard beans form at much lower altitudes.

The following day, we visited the dry mill in Compostela – the mill processes up to 5000 bags each year, and cures all the pergamino and dried cherry brought to it by the 6 groups belonging to the Grupo Terruño Nayarit. All lots received by the mill are kept independent and sent to the office in Tepic for quality analysis in terms of grading and cupping. These lots are either kept separate for exporting individually, or carefully blended to create larger parcels for export.

The mill, much like Mexico as a whole, has a rustic charm about it. Guitar string drying beds bask in the sunshine outside for any lots that need a little extra attention, and drum dryers scatter the internal building. Coffee enters the process first being pre cleaned prior to hulling, grading (by size) and then travelling over the gravity table to remove any lighter beans (often those consumed by broca) before being bagged off and barcoded ready for stuffing, or if the quality demands it, a quick run through the new Colour Sorter installed.
Quality and attention to detail is key here, however Jim is resolute in his belief that defect count (grade) of the coffee poses less of an intrinsic negative impact on the cup profile than one might think, with statistical cupping results to back up this claim. In order to maximize the revenue for producers, the organization balances carefully the need for producers exporting volume, with the need of roaster to import quality; in reality this means removing as few defects as possible whilst keeping the cup profile as high as it can be.

Operating in a fiercely competitive market, the key for the group is to create a sense of loyalty from the members to continue delivery coffee. This is achieved with their part ownership of the organization, as well as paying producers the prevailing market price for received cherry, followed up with further secondary and tertiary payments once coffee has been exported, final invoices settled and accounts cleared for the season. These extra payments reward producers for the quality they deliver to them, and the initial delivery payments help with cash flow.

Unfortunately our time with Jim and his team was too short, and cut shorter by flight cancellations and delays (the joys of origin travel). But in the 48 hours we managed to spend with Grupo Terruño Nayarit we learned an incredible amount about the work going in to create some of the world’s most traceable coffees.

DRW’s latest patio lots will be setting sail in late June and available In Store from July onwards, if you’d like to find out more about these lots, info on the group, or samples of the coffee get in touch!

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