The next Chapter in our Mexico project is the Sierra Mazateca region which brings us many delights to share with you.
Ma-za-TEC-a. Get to know this name: this mountain range in northeastern Oaxaca offers fruit-forward coffees from very small scale farmers, and is poised to become a breakout star. As a visitor, this region is truly Oaxaca at its most enchanting, with a legacy of curanderismo (native healing), the intricacy of the Mazatec language, and misty mountains and cave systems. Most farmers in the area are of indigenous heritage and do not use Spanish as a first language, opting instead for one of the eight pre-Colombian languages spoken for centuries in this mountain range. Due to the extremely small size of farms in this area, a huge part of the success of this project is due to the QC work and blend construction of our sourcing partner, Red Beetle Coffee Lab, who price each and every lot with a meticulous physical and sensorial sheet they developed themselves. Their small team collectively spends hundreds of hours to give a level of in-depth analysis normally reserved for much larger farms.
Our lots from the Sierra Mazateca range act a bit like nesting dolls: there’s the slightly larger M2 Mazateca, which comes from producers across three communities. There’s the single-farmer lot from Esteban Garcia, the smallest microcosm in our Mazateca universe, which will go to the lucky winners of James Hoffmann’s “1 Million Beans” giveaway. Then, as an interesting mid-point, we offer a “community micro-lot” from Peña Colorada, a town on the northern end of this mountain range towards the Oaxaca-Puebla border. While this lot is still very small in volume, it represents the work of a handful of producers, speaking to the tiny scale of farms in this region.
Individual farmers like Esteban will sell their parchment to Red Beetle’s provisional buying station in Eloxochitlán or RB will organize pick-up of the coffee from the farm (which can sometimes be a bumpy hours-long journey!). Red Beetle Mazateca buyer Felipe, a native of the region, works with cuppers Shaun and Thomas to receive, purchase, and give extensive feedback on hundreds of tiny micro-lots which may represent a farmer’s entire harvest. The buying station/lab also includes finishing tables for coffees that need further drying to ensure that they have the shelf life for the long import-export journey. Depending on the needs of their clients, they carefully assemble blends like puzzle pieces to create larger, cohesive profiles that meet the volumes a roaster like Square Mile needs to offer a coffee for more than a week.
The parchment is then transported to Oaxaca City, where Red Beetle works with dry miller/exporter UNTAO to hull, sort, assemble and pack all of the lots for export. The dry mill is often an unsung make-or-break point for quality coffee, especially for micro-lots, which must be kept separate and often run on a smaller line of machinery. Red Beetle’s constant communication with UNTAO ensures that these lots are dry-milled properly and on time, which is one of the biggest challenges in exporting Mexican coffee and a major reason why it is not often seen in its highest form overseas.
Our import partner on this purchase, Raw Material, is a social enterprise that ensures 100% of their profits go to the producers they represent. Importers play a key part in providing financing, insurance and logistics, and we can really say that Raw Material’s team has gone the distance with us to get these coffees safely to the UK.
From the farmers of Mazateca to your first sip, we are in awe of the collective village it took to bring this coffee to life in the UK and beyond.
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