My Richard is a coffeeholic. Coatepec is known as the coffee capital of Mexico. Visiting a coffee growing operation seemed like a no-brainer.
Through another expat friend, Richard M was able to arrange for us to tour Café Finca La Cañada yesterday. Located just outside of Coatepec, up one of the roughest roads we’ve ever traveled, is the beautiful canyon estate owned by retired University of New Hampshire professor, Clifford J. Wirth, where he has now been producing organic, fair trade coffee for several years.
At first glance, the lush valley appears to be wild jungle, but on closer inspection one can see not only coffee trees but macadamia, banana, lemon, orange and tangerine trees growing on the steep hillside.
Coffee “cherries” ripening
Cliff started our very enjoyable and informative tour by walking us through the coffee harvesting process. The “cherries” are all hand picked by the Mexican family that works for him and lives on the estate. He explained the two processing methods that can be used, a wet method and a dry method. He uses the wet method. First, the freshly harvested cherries pass through a pulping machine to separate the skin and pulp from the bean.
Then the beans are placed in a cement tank of water. The lighter unripe beans float to the top, while the heavier ripe ones sink to the bottom. The husks and unripe beans are composted.
Ripe coffee beans
Composting the husks
After separation, the tank is again filled with water and the beans remain there for 3 or 4 days to remove the sweet gluey layer of mucilage that is still attached to the beans. While resting in the tanks, naturally occurring enzymes cause this layer to dissolve. When this process is complete, the beans feel rough to the touch.
At this point, the beans are placed on outdoor drying racks where they are turned regularly until most of the moisture has been removed. The racks are tented with plastic to protect the drying beans from rain.
Once the beans are ready, they are sent off-site for roasting and packaging. In addition to selling his coffee in a number of local shops, Cliff supplies several hotels and shops in the Cancun area. According to his Facebook page, his coffee is “Cultivated naturally below the tall trees of the Veracruz cloud forest without using agrochemicals, thus protecting the delicate ecosystem of the Suchiapa River, its flora and fauna–particularly the birds that migrate between Mexico, the United States, and Central America. The cultivation and processing methods protect the environment and workers’ welfare.”
Sadly, a fungus called coffee rust, or roya, has swept across Central America in recent years, withering trees and slashing production everywhere. Cliff told us that his trees are slowly dying and the estate now produces only 40% of the coffee that it did before the roya hit. When he took us hiking down into the beautiful canyon, he showed us examples of leaves that have been affected. He is now in the process of planting a new hybrid variety that is resistant to the blight.
I don’t drink coffee anymore because the acid bothers my stomach, but we bought a kilogram to take home and I’ll definitely be tasting it. I’ll just have to be careful to leave most of it for my coffeeholic husband!