Mexico is often overlooked as a coffee origin but Mexican coffee has a lot to offer, whether it’s complex flavours, rich heritage, or environmentally-conscious coffee.
Mexico is the 9th largest producer of coffee globally so it should be no surprise that it has a long and often complicated history with coffee. Mexico is also the largest coffee exporter to the United States and is one of the most significant producers of organic coffee around the world.
The journey of Mexican coffee has not always been the smoothest and there’s still progress to be made. Nonetheless, Mexico is a vital part of the global coffee industry and contributes significantly to what we know about the heritage of coffee.
To understand Mexican Chiapas Coffee, let’s trace the beginning of the coffee industry in Mexico and how it has evolved to its current status.
The Rocky Beginnings of Mexican Chiapas Coffee
The history of coffee from Chiapas, Mexico is troubled by political unrest and colonisation. Coffee was first introduced in the state of Veracruz at the end of the 18th century. The region of Chiapas began cultivating coffee at the end of the 19th century and quickly grew to become the major hub of coffee cultivation in Mexico.
The Chiapas region is the southernmost region of Mexico and shares a border with Guatemala to the west. Chiapas accounts for 40% of the coffee produced in Mexico making it a vital part of the economy. Unfortunately, Chiapas is also the poorest state in Mexico and has a history of exploiting the large indigenous community.
It all began when the land was stolen from indigenous people in 1883 and sold to private individuals in an effort to consolidate the border with Guatemala. Many European traders and businesspeople, particularly from Italy and German, acquired land in Chiapas and began cultivating coffee. As you may know, coffee is a highly labour-intensive crop and in order to have enough labour to grow coffee, indigenous people were forced into exploitative contracts akin to indentured servitude.
By 1914, many indigenous people were released from forced labour and returned to their communities where they too began cultivating coffee. However, forced labour was only officially stopped in the 1960s. Indigenous people continued to be discriminated against when it came to land rights and even basic human rights. In 1994, the Zapatista uprising helped grant land rights and regulate better prices for coffee but indigenous people in the Chiapas region still face injustice and mistreatment to this day.
In 1974, the Mexican government set up the Instituto Mexicano del Cafe (Mexican Institute of Coffee) or INMECAFE to help small farmers with technical assistance and credit. It also set out to regulate and stabilise coffee prices. In 1989, INMECAFE was dismantled and this resulted in a major coffee crisis in Mexico. This led to the proliferation of coffee collectives in the 1990s that helped farmers process, transport, and market their coffee.
How Is Mexican Chiapas Coffee Grown?
The Chiapas region has nutrient-rich volcanic soil and receives high rainfall, making it perfect for growing coffee. Almost all the coffee grown in Mexico and specifically in Chiapas is shade-grown Arabica coffee.
While the natural richness of the soil and the favourable climate are ideal for growing coffee in this region, farmers still face a number of natural, logistical, economical, and technical obstacles. A lack of government support is a key challenge for farmers who often have to educate themselves on sustainable practices, improving quality, and maintaining profitable yields.
A persistent coffee that started in the 1960s and continued at the turn of the 21st century wreaked havoc on coffee prices in Mexico and was a disaster for coffee farmers across Mexico. Many farmers lost their livelihoods and moved away from coffee cultivation. As a result, coffee estates and small farms fell into disrepair further lowering the quality and yield of coffee farms in Mexico.
In 2012, coffee farms in Mexico experienced an outbreak of coffee leaf rust which spread rapidly and decimated crops. In an effort to replace older plants with higher-yield varieties, there was a push towards using more herbicides which further worsened ecological damage in coffee-growing regions.
The introduction of disease-resistant coffee varieties by the Mexican government was a relief for farmers but there is still much to be done. A key part of empowering Mexican coffee farmers is price security and stability. By pricing high-quality, organic coffee appropriately, we can help farmers earn a fair wage for the work they put in.
Mexican Chiapas Flavour Profile
The Chiapas region, bordered by the Sierra Madre mountains, has a diverse climate and high altitudes which contribute to growing flavourful, high-quality coffee. Coffee from Chiapas comes with notes of chocolate, nuts, and florals. The flavour profile is often described as light yet complex, with sparkling acidity and a well-rounded body.
The flavours of Mexican coffee differ from region to region and even within the Chiapas region you will notice flavour variations from farm to farm. The lightness of the flavours makes Mexican Chiapas coffee suitable for a variety of brewing methods including French Press, pour over, and drip coffee.
Finding Mexico Chiapas Coffee
If you’re visiting Mexico, then picking up a bag of coffee is a great souvenir. The United States imports 80% of Mexican coffee so you can also try sourcing Mexican coffee online. Finding Mexican coffee in Europe and the rest of the world might be more of a challenge but you can always check out online stores and speciality coffee roasters.
No matter how or where you buy your Chiapas coffee, make sure you research the farm well and try to buy from socially-conscious, sustainable farms like Finca Nueva Esperanza and La Gloria de Gante that give back to local communities and focus on preserving ecosystems and habitats.
Mexican coffee plays an integral role in the history of the country and remains an important part of the local economy. The diversity of Mexico is reflected in the diversity of the coffee it produces and Chiapas coffee is arguably the best Mexican coffee. Whether you want to explore less recognised coffee origins, try out new flavours, or are interested in the history of coffee, Mexican coffee is an important origin to sample at least once in your coffee journey.