Mexico Coffee: Processing Innovation, Cooperatives, and the Tradition of Collaboration

Coffee is spread out on a concrete patio to dry in Chiapas, Mexico. Photo by Kim Westerman.

 

While Mexico is somewhat under the radar when compared to more popular coffee origins, the country has been producing coffee since the late 18th century, and given recent developments, may well be poised to become a model for coffee production in the 21st century. In this month’s report, we review nine exceptional coffees from four different Mexican growing regions.

Coffee farmers everywhere face various barriers to success — some more than others — including climate change, pests and plant diseases, and prices for their annual crop too low to survive on. But narratives of resilience also abound, and if our findings in this report are any indication, Mexico may be a prime example of both increased quality and improved infrastructure achieved in the face of adversity, developments boding well for … Read more

Everyday Single-Origin Coffees: At the Intersection of the Familiar and the Exceptional

Spreading coffee fruit for drying in Ethiopia. Courtesy of Royal Coffee NY.

 

While there is much to be said for the new and different in coffee — for surprising new cup profiles generated by the latest processing methods, tiny lots of coffee produced from newly rediscovered tree varieties — there is also a lot to be said for the pleasures of consistency. Even for those coffee lovers willing to pay big bucks for a few extraordinary cups of a super-distinctive Geisha fermented in sealed tanks with special yeasts, the morning may come when they may want a cup that pleases less with surprise and more with everyday satisfaction. Something special, but perhaps not $80-per-four-ounces special. The same reasonably priced special cup they enjoyed last week, say, or two weeks ago, or even last month. 

And although predictable satisfaction can be gotten from blends, a blend can be, at the Read more

Sticking with the Classic: 8 Coffees from Southern California Roasters

 

The ever-evolving world of specialty coffee continues to see rapid growth in the area of product differentiation, with a strong emphasis on processing innovation at the farm level. In the last decade or so, as the story of each individual coffee has become more important to the consumer, it is variation in processing method that seems to get the most attention.

Perhaps that’s because processing method, even more than tree variety, has the capacity to decisively alter cup profile, allowing farmers to direct outcomes and make their coffees stand out in a range of sensory directions. Experimenting with processing method also carries less long-term risk for farmers than planting new tree varieties.

Sunset view of downtown Los Angeles, broadly the home of Regent Coffee, Espresso Republic, and The Reverse Orangutan.

This month, we focus on the contribution that roasters from Southern California are making in what is a particularly … Read more

Fruit Bombs Are the Point: Natural-Processed Espressos Defy Convention

Coffee cherries drying in the whole fruit. Courtesy of Felala Coffee.

The Coffee Review lab has smelled like a candy store for the last few weeks — a Willy Wonka factory for grownups. Of the hundreds of coffees we cup every year, a growing percentage of them are natural-processed. In the wine world, the word “natural” doesn’t mean anything in particular, is more of a marketing term designed to imply minimal intervention in the winemaking process. In coffee, “natural” processing means something very specific: that the beans or seeds are dried inside the entire coffee fruit. This approach differs from the “washed” (or wet) method, in which the beans are stripped of their fruit before they are dried. Both approaches have profound impact on the sensory character of the green coffee.  As in winemaking, natural processing of coffee is a minimal-intervention process in its most basic form.

But now, “basic” … Read more

Brazil Naturals: Tradition and Innovation

Mill devoted to smaller-lot specialty coffees at Ipanema Farms in the Sul de Minas growing region, Brazil. Courtesy of Ipanema Farms.

 

When I first opened a specialty café in Berkeley, California 40 years ago, a Brazil always appeared among the standard whole-bean coffee offerings in the 10 or so glass-fronted bins that held our whole-bean coffees. All of the popular and glamorous coffee origins of the time were there: Guatemala Antigua, Kenya AA, Costa Rica Tarrazu, Sumatra Mandheling, Colombia Supremo, and the new, game-changing Ethiopia Yirgacheffe. Brazil Santos, as we liked to call it (all of these origins had to sport at least one secondary qualifying name), was usually down at the end of the row, largely looked past when customers ordered a pound of Kenya or Guatemala.

But some customers did buy Brazils. I remember one particularly coffee-savvy young employee who skillfully worked our Gaggia two-group piston espresso … Read more