Certifiably Awesome: Passion and Persistence Turn Promise into Parchment in Mexico

Certifiably Awesome: Passion and Persistence Turn Promise into Parchment in Mexico

  



May 7, 2020

4 minute read

Fernando Gomez
Mexico Country Manager


Every year, when the Mexican harvest started, coffee growers began a daily struggle to sustain their crops despite not being able to receive fair prices for their product or finding anyone who was willing to pay for their coffee’s true value. For this reason, most smallholder Mexican coffee growers have been subsistence farmers, for whom coffee is primarily a way of life that they have inherited from their father and grandfather, with little or no money available to invest on their farms, and families just barely managing to make ends meet, mostly thanks to outside jobs or remittances from their relatives working abroad. It’s no wonder why Mexican coffee production has fallen from more than 6 million bags in 1999 to an average of less than 4 million in the past decade.
We first started working in Mexico in 2014, partnering primarily with a few coffee cooperatives and associations in Chiapas and Oaxaca. In that year we started the Aromas coffee competition to discover coffee growers that were already producing outstanding quality and help them develop long-term relationships with coffee roasters. Interested professionals from around the word would gather every year to participate in a cupping of the best coffees that we had sourced during the harvest and then had the chance to participate in an auction. We held this competition for five straight years with prices averaging upwards of ten dollars per pound.

While the program was a success - we discovered some very consistent producers and some regions with exceptional potential - we soon learned that the impact of the competition was modest. If we really wanted to make a difference for Mexican coffee growers, we had to go all-in, just like we had done in other countries in Latin America. In 2018, we set up a coffee exporting company in Puebla, Mexico and the following year we built up a local PECA and QC team to start sourcing coffee directly from coffee farmers and cooperatives.

For the 2020 harvest one of our main objectives was to develop direct relationships with producers in order to assist them firsthand, providing individual technical assistance so they could increase yields and improve quality, ultimately being able to pay them higher prices, thus increasing their incomes and breaking the poverty cycle they live in. These direct relationships with smallholder farmers, and the fact that hardly any of them had ever used agrochemicals on their farms also became an opportunity to obtain organic certification for them, allowing us to generate even more value, bolstering already substantial quality premiums and providing high quality organic Mexican coffee to roasters.

Realizing the importance of proximity, we decided to move our Mexican headquarter to the city of Oaxaca de Juárez in the state of Oaxaca, as well as opening purchasing stations with cupping labs in Jaltenango (Chiapas) and Miahuatlán (Oaxaca), where we could receive coffee directly from farmers.

Most of the farms we work with in Mexico are scattered and isolated. As we started visiting these farms and getting to know the communities much better, we encountered a great opportunity. Just like we did in Colombia when we started our PECA program back in 2011, we recruited sons and daughters of coffee growers to work as promotores or ‘influencers’. By working with people who know, understand, and are a part of the community, we can more easily build trust and therefore share best practices with that community. Before the harvest started, we held trainings on organic production, best harvest and post-harvest practices, and quality-related topics. During the harvest the communities helped us organize the logistics of transporting the coffee from the farms to our purchasing stations, working together with the community leaders who were also responsible for paying producers with full transparency, as each producer received text messages (SMS) directly to their cell phones with quality and price information.

Persistence Starts to Show Results

We’re pleased with just how effective this new model has proven to be for all involved. We’ve been able to reach many more growing families, their coffees have successfully reached our warehouses, and we have been able to provide customized feedback to each one of the growers. And the best thing is that the average price paid this year has been 50% higher than what coyotes and cooperatives paid farmers.

As the 2020 harvest ends, we couldn’t be happier with what we have achieved in Mexico so far. Almost all the organic producers that were certified delivered coffee, and their rejection rate was below 1%, a testament to the passion and care that these farmers have for coffee. The physical and cup quality has been exceptional too, with yields of 74% (vs 69% last year) and 20% of coffee purchased scoring 85 points or higher, over twice as much as last year’s harvest. Some producers even delivered more coffee than they had certified, while other members of the communities also delivered coffee to our warehouses and want to become organic certified next year.

It’s taken several tries to get things right in Mexico, and while it hasn’t been easy, perhaps this is only fitting, given that coffee trees themselves take three or four years to start producing cherries. In over two decades of cupping coffees, I don’t remember a time when I have been more excited about a coffee origin like I am now with Mexico. Taking your cues from Mother Nature can be worth the wait.

If you are interested in tasting the fruits of the work of Mexican coffee growers, please get in touch with us. Believe us, if there was ever a time to add Mexico to your coffee menu, this is it. You won’t be disappointed.

  



May 7, 2020

4 minute read

Fernando Gomez
Mexico Country Manager


Every year, when the Mexican harvest started, coffee growers began a daily struggle to sustain their crops despite not being able to receive fair prices for their product or finding anyone who was willing to pay for their coffee’s true value. For this reason, most smallholder Mexican coffee growers have been subsistence farmers, for whom coffee is primarily a way of life that they have inherited from their father and grandfather, with little or no money available to invest on their farms, and families just barely managing to make ends meet, mostly thanks to outside jobs or remittances from their relatives working abroad. It’s no wonder why Mexican coffee production has fallen from more than 6 million bags in 1999 to an average of less than 4 million in the past decade.
We first started working in Mexico in 2014, partnering primarily with a few coffee cooperatives and associations in Chiapas and Oaxaca. In that year we started the Aromas coffee competition to discover coffee growers that were already producing outstanding quality and help them develop long-term relationships with coffee roasters. Interested professionals from around the word would gather every year to participate in a cupping of the best coffees that we had sourced during the harvest and then had the chance to participate in an auction. We held this competition for five straight years with prices averaging upwards of ten dollars per pound.

While the program was a success - we discovered some very consistent producers and some regions with exceptional potential - we soon learned that the impact of the competition was modest. If we really wanted to make a difference for Mexican coffee growers, we had to go all-in, just like we had done in other countries in Latin America. In 2018, we set up a coffee exporting company in Puebla, Mexico and the following year we built up a local PECA and QC team to start sourcing coffee directly from coffee farmers and cooperatives.

For the 2020 harvest one of our main objectives was to develop direct relationships with producers in order to assist them firsthand, providing individual technical assistance so they could increase yields and improve quality, ultimately being able to pay them higher prices, thus increasing their incomes and breaking the poverty cycle they live in. These direct relationships with smallholder farmers, and the fact that hardly any of them had ever used agrochemicals on their farms also became an opportunity to obtain organic certification for them, allowing us to generate even more value, bolstering already substantial quality premiums and providing high quality organic Mexican coffee to roasters.

Realizing the importance of proximity, we decided to move our Mexican headquarter to the city of Oaxaca de Juárez in the state of Oaxaca, as well as opening purchasing stations with cupping labs in Jaltenango (Chiapas) and Miahuatlán (Oaxaca), where we could receive coffee directly from farmers.

Most of the farms we work with in Mexico are scattered and isolated. As we started visiting these farms and getting to know the communities much better, we encountered a great opportunity. Just like we did in Colombia when we started our PECA program back in 2011, we recruited sons and daughters of coffee growers to work as promotores or ‘influencers’. By working with people who know, understand, and are a part of the community, we can more easily build trust and therefore share best practices with that community. Before the harvest started, we held trainings on organic production, best harvest and post-harvest practices, and quality-related topics. During the harvest the communities helped us organize the logistics of transporting the coffee from the farms to our purchasing stations, working together with the community leaders who were also responsible for paying producers with full transparency, as each producer received text messages (SMS) directly to their cell phones with quality and price information.

Persistence Starts to Show Results

We’re pleased with just how effective this new model has proven to be for all involved. We’ve been able to reach many more growing families, their coffees have successfully reached our warehouses, and we have been able to provide customized feedback to each one of the growers. And the best thing is that the average price paid this year has been 50% higher than what coyotes and cooperatives paid farmers.

As the 2020 harvest ends, we couldn’t be happier with what we have achieved in Mexico so far. Almost all the organic producers that were certified delivered coffee, and their rejection rate was below 1%, a testament to the passion and care that these farmers have for coffee. The physical and cup quality has been exceptional too, with yields of 74% (vs 69% last year) and 20% of coffee purchased scoring 85 points or higher, over twice as much as last year’s harvest. Some producers even delivered more coffee than they had certified, while other members of the communities also delivered coffee to our warehouses and want to become organic certified next year.

It’s taken several tries to get things right in Mexico, and while it hasn’t been easy, perhaps this is only fitting, given that coffee trees themselves take three or four years to start producing cherries. In over two decades of cupping coffees, I don’t remember a time when I have been more excited about a coffee origin like I am now with Mexico. Taking your cues from Mother Nature can be worth the wait.

If you are interested in tasting the fruits of the work of Mexican coffee growers, please get in touch with us. Believe us, if there was ever a time to add Mexico to your coffee menu, this is it. You won’t be disappointed.
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