Monthly Archives: November 2013

Tasting Mexican coffee

Mexico is not famous for its coffee, which is a pity, since there are beautiful coffees grown there. For years the main market for Mexican coffee has been… Mexico, and so internationally there is not much knowledge about the Mexican varieties. Last Friday, thanks to a good friend , I got some samples of Mexican coffee to taste. So imagine a kid just before Saint Nicholas: that was me facing this 5 varieties of Mexican coffees!

Coffee is grown in Mexico in 12 out of the 31 provinces. The best known coffee growing provinces are Chiapas, Veracruz and Oaxaca. Until yesterday my two favourite Mexican coffees were a washed typica from Coatepec (Veracruz) and a naturally dried Arabiga (but I don’t know what variety) from Guerrero. Guerrero? Yes, admitted, Guerrero province is best known for the fact that Acapulco is there, but they also grow some coffee at small scale along the Pacific coast. Veracruz, on the other hand, is along the Gulf of Mexico. Hence, two very different coffees from two different regions of Mexico. Coffee from Coatepec is very aromatic, it has a good body and acidity and a dark chocolate aftertaste. The coffee that I liked from Guerrero came from a small community that grows, processes, roasts and grinds their own coffee. It was naturally dried and I guess some fermentation was involved because the coffee had a deep, strong flavour and a aftertaste with hints of liquor. It was like drinking Irish coffee, but then without the whiskey! It is very unfortunately that the community is not willing to sell this amazing, unique coffee as green beans. They only sell it roasted and ground as that is part of the community income.

The best way to taste coffee is through cupping. For cupping the coffee is only lightly roasted, stopping just in first crack. In fact, this is lighter roasted than one would generally drink it, but when roasted so light the coffees for sure haven’t lost any of their flavours and aromas yet while there is only little bitterness that could cloud the taste of the coffee. That’s the ideal situation though, the samples I got were already roasted for normal consumption so that I could not do cupping, Therefore I simply used the samples to prepare espressos. Most of our costumers drink espresso anyway, so I tasted the coffee in the way that they most likely will be prepared.

One of the coffees that I tasted is from Chiapas. Chiapas is a province devoted to coffee, and it is grown in different regions of the province. Coffee from the region of Ocosingo (in the Itsmo of Tehuantepec, half way between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean) has a strong flavour and some acidity. However, coffee from the Soconusco, an area famous for coffee close to the coast, is acid, bitter and has a strong aftertaste.

The big surprise for me was the coffee from the region of Pahuatlan, Puebla. This coffee looked a bit over roasted, even a little bit shiny. The smell is both nutty and flowery and the taste is well balanced with acidity and bitterness. The flavour seems to be deep, with layers. The aftertaste was pleasant, not bitter nor acid. For a coffee from a rather unknown and small coffee region a real gem.

Having tasted quite a few Mexican coffees by now, the common factor is acidity. All of them have strong acidity and little bitterness. The best known example of that is the so-called Mexico Maragogype coffee. This type of coffee that in Mexico is predominantly grown in Chiapas province can be very acid. It’s something you have to like, or not.

The next step now is to get some green samples of the Mexican coffees we tasted to see if we can play around with the roasting to get the optimal taste. And then…who knows? They may show up in our web shop at some moment…


The price is right

In the past few weeks I have been thinking a lot, for different reasons, about coffee and money, or money related to coffee. First and most important of all because I ordered new coffee from Ecuador a few weeks ago . Last August I visited Ecuador where I visited coffee farms and tried the coffee from the 2013 harvest and as a result of that I placed an order. After returning to The Netherlands I paid for the coffee and now I am waiting for it to arrive.
While waiting for the coffee I went on holidays and had the opportunity to taste wonderful coffees and to check prices of coffees sold abroad. Directly after returning from holiday (that is, last week) while still suffering from jet lag I had to fill in the tax forms for this quarter. And finally, last Thursday I read in the newspaper about a guy who was visiting Cameroon and saw many well maintained coffee plantations. But when he ordered coffee in a restaurant he got instant coffee. He asked the waiter if he had tasted that coffee, but the waiter had never tried coffee at all, because coffee is expensive in Cameroon. Apparently they export all their coffee to Europe and then import back from Europe instant coffee at a high price. Not really fair.

So, the money issue related to coffee has been going around and that got me thinking what is actually the right price for coffee?
We all want to enjoy a good cup of coffee, either early in the morning at home or after work at a cozy coffee place. And we dont want to pay a fortune for it. But we also want to pay the right price. Coffee, as wine, olive oil and some other delicacies undergo a long process from the plant to our table. In Ecuador, our coffee is grown at small farms where it is harvest and processed by hand before the coffee is transported from the mountains or from the Galapagos island to Guayaquil, the main port of Ecuador. Our coffee is then threshed in small machines just before exporting it to NL. After I receive it, I check and clean the coffee by hand, roast it, pack it, sometimes grind it and send it to dear costumers. As you can see there is a lot of time, care and handwork involved. In each step people working for our coffee deserve a fair income according to their effort.

Prices change with offer and demand. In Japan, coffee is now a fashion item and coffee beans are therefore expensive. In May this year the price for a kilogram of Latin American roasted beans in a chain store was around 40 euros. At a similar store in Australia the price (in October) was around 20 euros per kilo. Considering that seen from Latin America both countries are across the Pacific Ocean the variation of price is huge! It must be said that in both countries the price of coffee is higher than in for instance Europe and the US in general. A major reason for that is transport: where there are regular and frequent shipping routes from Latin America to both Europe and the US with some healthy competition that reduces the transport costs, crossing the Pacific there are not and so transport costs are higher.

Transport costs are clearly a major factor in the price of coffee. Over the last year or so the price of green coffee has dropped significantly and several of our customers where wondering why this doesn’t lead to lower prices for roasted coffee. Well, unfortunately it is not so simple. First of all, most sellers of roasted coffee (including ourselves) still have stock that was bought for the higher price, so until that stock is sold not much will happen. Secondly, the coffee price is only a relative small part of the total price of a kilo of roasted coffee – somewhere around 20% of the price. So if the price of green coffee drops with 50%, the price of roasted coffee only drops with 10%. And thirdly, the price of transport has increased over the last 2 years mostly due to higher fuel surcharges and higher port fees. So basically we don’t want the price of green coffee to drop, we would like the price of transport to drop! Because right now there is the rather unsatisfying situations that we, as coffee lovers, have to pay more for our kilo of roasted coffee, while the coffee farmer actually gets less….