Mecca's showcase series aims to highlight remarkable single lot coffees that stand out to us: both on the cupping table and on a human level between growers, our suppliers, and our customers. Our latest release from producer Juana Lopez hails from San Pedro El Alto municipality in Oaxaca, Mexico, and took our fancy with its outstanding flavours of chamomile tea and freshly cut sugar cane.
It's best enjoyed without milk as a filter coffee, or perhaps an espresso when handled carefully by a skilled barista. We've roasted it to best highlight this variety’s unique floral characteristics and natural sweetness.
The coffee comes to us through our long-time supply partner, Caravela. Caravela already operates out of several countries in Latin America and launched a concerted effort in Mexico in 2018 with their PECA program (short for "Grower Education Program" in Spanish), where Caravela's experienced educators partner up with farmers to help increase their productivity, quality, and profitability, as well as connecting them with roasters like us.
The coffee's varietal is Pluma Hidalgo, a progeny of Typica local to the area that was first introduced in the 1850s. It was named after a small town about an hour's drive from Juana's farm, and there's no doubt residents of the region are proud of this unique varietal. Juana recalls delivering tortillas to coffee workers around the area during her childhood, enjoying watching them work. Now, she hires her own workers and runs Finca la Sombra, her own three-hectare farm.
Finca La Sombra has all the hallmark features we know can achieve great quality crops - there's native trees for natural shade and a nearby stream for good soil and humidity control, as well as a flat terrain for even growth and drying. However, Juana's coffee was somewhat poorly graded prior to 2018, meaning a lower price was paid overall for her harvests.
Luckily, the PECA program was able to offer some valuable advice: namely, increasing her fermentation time from 16 hours to 30, the use of organic fertilisers and the use of drying mats and better shade to avoid any contamination and achieve a consistent humidity level of 11% in her green coffee.
The results? Well, a mere two years later and Juana has sold her lots at a AAA grade, an income boost that has allowed her to purchase some neighbouring land which she is now renovating to grow more coffee.
In the past, specialty coffee from Mexico had been subject to a bit of a bad wrap compared to other Latin American producing countries: the stereotype was one of lower grade lots, perhaps suitable for blending or as a decaf option. Both of these may be sound options for producers in the coffee industry, but it certainly makes incentivising and rewarding quality difficult if roasters and consumers around the globe paint a whole region with the same brush. In Juana's case, some simple changes to her processing was all it took to take her lots from commodity-grade to something extraordinary.
We feel this coffee is worthy of the showcase title as it offers us an exciting glimpse into the true potential of an undervalued coffee region and a success story about a producer who made the leap into selling their coffee on the specialty market. We trust that those fortunate enough to taste this lot will agree that it's worth sharing and broadening the horizons of any coffee lover so that producers like Juana in the Oaxaca can enjoy the recognition they deserve!
Finally, to quote Juana: “I want to let know that consumers of my coffee that this coffee produced on Finca La Sombra is 100% organically cultivated and harvested with love. I really love this product."