The Revolution of Mexican Coffee
Like with many of its neighboring countries, Mexico didn’t receive coffee plants until the late-1700’s when Spanish colonials brought plants from Cuba and the Dominican Republic. During this time, however, Mexico was exporting vast amounts of minerals like gold and silver, so agriculture generally took the back seat.
It wasn’t until the 1860’s that coffee as a valuable export really took off. Because of a border dispute with Guatemala, Mexico’s government was forced to begin registering land. This led to the many areas of previously unregistered land to be put up for auction, giving wealthy Europeans a legal path to Mexican investment.
Many of these Europeans, especially Italians and Germans, started large coffee farms in Mexico’s remote Southern regions and filled them with local workers who previously believed they owned the land. Thankfully, labor laws in 1914 freed these workers who had essentially become indentured servants.
These newly freed and skilled locals started to get in on the growing coffee industry for themselves, particularly after the Mexican Revolution in the early-1900’s when the government created incentives for new farms.
Most Mexico coffee comes from the southern part of the country, where the continent narrows and takes a turn to the east. Veracruz State, on the gulf side of the central mountain range, produces mostly lowland coffees, but coffees called Altura (High) Coatepec, from a mountainous region near the city of that name, have an excellent reputation.
Other Veracruz coffees of note are Altura Orizaba and Altura Huatusco. Coffees from the opposite, southern slopes of the central mountain range, in Oaxaca State, are also highly regarded, and marketed under the names Oaxaca or Oaxaca Pluma Hidalgo.
Coffees from Chiapas State are grown in the mountains of the southeastern-most corner of Mexico, near the border with Guatemala. The market name traditionally associated with these coffees is Tapachula and Tuxtla Gutierrez, from the city of that name, but coffee sellers now usually label them Chiapas. Chiapas produces some of the very best and highest-grown Mexico coffees specially cultivated and harvested by local communities aggregated in Cooperatives and Associations of sustainable coffees.
The typical fine Mexico coffee is analogous to a good light white wine — delicate in body, with a pleasantly dry, acidy snap. If you drink your coffee black and prefer a light, acidy cup, you will like these typical Mexico specialty coffees. However, some Mexico coffees, particularly those from high growing regions in Chiapas, rival the best Guatemala coffees in high-grown power and complexity.
Mexico is also the origin of many of the certified organically and Fair Trade grown coffees now appearing on North American specialty menus. These are often excellent coffees certified by various independent monitoring agencies to be grown without the use of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, or other harmful chemicals.