Guide To Mexican Coffee

Published 02 June 08 02:52 PM

Many Americans and Europeans that move here search out a good coffee house. There are plenty between Tijuana and Ensenada, but what if you are a coffee connoisseur and you also happen to prefer gourmet coffee on a budget? Did you know that Mexico is one of the largest coffee producing nations in the world? And did you know that Mexican coffee beans are considered amongst the best on the planet?

Sure, there are many more famous beans, such as Jamaican Blue Mountain that sells at a whopping $30 - $40 USD/pound and up. What is so special about it? Altitude. The higher the altitude, the better the coffee; Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is the consummate coffee snob’s delight, but it doesn’t beat the altura Mexican blends from Oaxaca.

Here are some little known facts about obtaining roasted Mexican coffee beans:

1. They are not expensive.

2. Since organic is the only way Mexican growers grow their beans, you won’t find any fanfare about it. Virtually every coffee grown in Mexico is organic.

3. There are more places to buy the best coffee in the world in bulk than the supermarket chain Gigante, who recently raised their Etruscan brand coffee beans from $94 pesos/kg. to $140/kg (1 kg. = 2.2 lbs). If you have been paying any more than $70 pesos or so per kilo for your coffee beans, you are shopping in the wrong places.

Here is a crash course in coffee and why the Mexican beans are so prized and purchased north of the border for as much as $6.00 USD/lb., not including shipping:

Virtually all Mexican coffee comes from two places in Mexico: Oaxaca and Veracruz. The original coffee beans were brought from Jamaica, and Mexico established coffee plantations in the 19th century. The stock of beans was excellent to begin with, so the parallel in flavor between the Jamaican Blue Mountain and the Oaxacan altura has a foundation in not only the strain of bean but also the conditions in which it is grown. Oaxaca grows much of its coffee at high altitudes, making for a purer bean as well as a smoother, nutty flavor that is low in acidity. This is the bean that has the reputation of wowing the taste buds of coffee experts the world over.

Oaxaca blends may include a hint of chocolate, having been roasted with cocoa beans. Almonds can also be roasted with the coffee beans, producing another unique flavor. Since cocoa or cacao beans have been a Latin American staple since the times of the Mayan and Aztec empires, combining the two beans has been a common practice amongst Mexicans for centuries.
Mexico also grows the famous Arabica beans, which are the specialty of Veracruz. These beans pack more of a punch in terms of flavor and strength. The coffee from Veracruz, however, lacks the high acidity found in many Arabica beans grown elsewhere.

Unlike the huge commercial farms in Columbia, Mexican coffee is grown on small farms and these farmers have, over the years, formed a cooperative. They have never used pesticides, nor do they use chemical fertilizers. The soil in the coffee growing areas of Mexico is so rich and coffee trees produce beans for so long that replenishment of the soil is not needed. The average coffee bean plant will produce beans for 15 years. The Mexican growers use no additives in their coffees either, like the mass producer growers do in other countries. Mexican coffee is of sterling quality and purity.

The process of producing coffee involves hand harvesting the beans from the coffee trees. The beans are then placed on large patios to dry in the sun before they go into the roaster. It is at the picking and drying stage that the lesser beans are removed from the mix. Once in the roaster, family members watch over the roasting process from beginning to end. Less time in the roaster produces a lighter roast, which is typical of the Oaxacan coffees, and more time produces the rich, dark beans typical of Coaltepec and Veracruz. Since coffee production techniques are passed on from generation to generation, it is common to find the same family producing coffee even after 150 years.

Here in Mexico though, it is already Fair Trade when those beans are shipped to places like Casita del Cafe, here in Ensenada. For a mere $70 pesos/kilo (that’s a whopping $3.25/lb), the rich Veracruz and smooth Oaxacan altura coffee beans can be had. Casita del Cafe is unique in that is family run, and coffee beans are sold in the traditional way, with a hand scale. It is a low-profile shop where locals in the know buy their coffee.

Over half of the coffee grown in Mexico is exported, mostly to the United States, and, to a lesser extent, Europe. The rest is sold throughout Mexico. As more Americans move to North Baja, the demand for quality coffee is growing, yet many still do not know the ins and outs of buying coffee beans here and could very well be paying premium prices when it is not necessary to do so.
Coffee companies that resell Mexican beans are mostly located in Guadalajara, such as the giant Etrusca company. Such companies have fancier packaging and more fanfare than the smaller coffee bean vendors, driving up the price. Buying directly from a coffee vendor is very unembellished. You pick the beans you want, or mix your own, request how much of it you want, and the blend is made, weighed, ground if you like, put into a sealed plastic bag and sold to you. No bright colors or hype or advertising schemes. You also can’t get a latte there because the coffee vendors are strictly that; they are not restaurant owners. There is a pot of coffee brewed up though, and if you want to hang around and chat with Juan (the owner), he’ll hand over s teaming cup, on the house. This is the true stuff of buying a Mexican product in the Mexican fashion, celebrating a plant that has been developed into one of the finest in the world and is a fundamental product supporting the Mexican economy next to oil.

Speaking of oil, coffee beans are oily by nature, and care must be taken to properly store the beans in a sealed container to prevent the oil from going rancid. The average ultimate freshness for any coffee bean is about three days; after that the beans begin to decline in freshness but will still taste good for a week or more. Ground coffee deteriorates rapidly in freshness, so it is best to grind your own beans as you use them.

Once you have your treasure and want to try a truly Mexican way of enjoying your coffee, here is a recipe indicative of mainland Mexican culture (adapted to Amero/European taste):

1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup chocolate syrup (or 1/3 cup cocoa powder)
6 cups boiling water allowed to cool for three minutes
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup ground coffee beans (ground coarse for press pot) - Mexican preferably!
whipped cream to garnish

Combine the milk, vanilla, chocolate and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently whilst stirring together. Don’t let it boil.

Meanwhile, add the coffee grounds and cinnamon in a French press coffee maker and add the near boiled water to make coffee as usual.

Add the coffee to milk saucepan and mix together. Serve in cappuccino glass cups and add whipped cream and cinnamon sticks to garnish.

Author: Triana Elan


# LYNN said on August 23, 2008 1:13 PM:

I really hope that you can help me. About 2.5 yrs ago I took a wonderful Break from life and went to IXTAPA, Mexico. It was incredible!  I love coffee from Kona<24kt only> To a very hearty espresso I found a few months ago. Anyways, while I was in Ixtapa I found the MOST DELICIOUS COFFEE EVER!!! I have been trying to find a way to get the name and find a way to get it by the truckloads!!!

    What I remember about this product was that the beans were in a potatoe like sack, and I could get it made with a LIME MIXTURE added, ever since then I have been on the lookout for the same bag. Please if you know what kind this is please tell me!

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