An Aussie Abroad

 

An Aussie Abroad

Posted on Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 2:45pm By Caleb Podhaczky

As the plane docked at our Dulles departure gate, my mind began racing with excitement, nerves, and expectations. I clutched my ticket to Mexico as I thought through the list of tasks to accomplish while there. This was just my first trip ever to grade, select, and possibly purchase coffee. No pressure!

Chiapas Drying Patio

Thankfully, after a quick and easy trip, I arrived safely in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, located in southern Mexico. There I met a small team of roasters, green bean buyers, and the Café Imports crew (CI are one of our favorite importers). After much hand shaking, cheek kissing, and scrambling to remember names, we were all starving, and were ready to chow down. When in Mexico, do as the locals do and eat tacos! Our time getting to dinner became interesting when the taxi driver decided to take us the “scenic route”. Even with five guys crammed like clowns into a very tiny car, the driver still felt it necessary to hit 75mph down crowded streets. The nerve-wracking ride was ultimately worth it once we were eating. Tacos quickly became my favorite travel companion. Each night, we hunted down a place to consume our weight in pork, beef, tripe, and even cow face tacos. Sometimes, it felt like we had to pray that we wouldn’t have to pay for it later that night. We were told that hot sauce and tequila help ward off a sick gut, which was okay by me!

Aside from the delicious tacos and tequila, I was there for another important reason - to find some amazing coffees. So we traveled from Tuxtla to Jaltenango, Chiapas to visit a number of coffee producers. While there, we judged two competitions between these producers. Other than Cup of Excellence, these were the first twp competitions in Mexico to reward cup quality. By the time we arrived, the multitude of coffee samples for the first competition at AMSA (United Agro-Industrialists of Mexico) had been vetted. It was now up to our group to score and judge which coffees would make the top thirty. The winning farmer would not only receive a great price for their delicious crop, but also a year’s worth of technical support from AMSA and two-hundred coffee seedlings! What an incredible opportunity for these producers!

AMSA is an organization that buys green coffee still in its parchment form (known in Mexico as pergamino) from individual producers and co-ops alike, both organic and conventional. There is a pricing board at the weigh-in station for the coffees that producers bring in. Organic, conventional, and different varieties of coffee all receive a certain price. Everything is open and up-front. It was great to see that AMSA is a socially responsible company. They seem to care about the producers they work with and the people of Jaltenango. AMSA offers producers what is called SMS – sustainable management services, which provides them support. These services run the gamut from loans to helping producers in the fight against the ever-growing problem of Roya (coffee leaf rust), which is ruining crops and livelihoods. AMSA also offer technical support and advice, and even opened up their warehouse as a refuge for people affected by landslides caused by Tropical Storm Matthew in 2010.

There were some truly beautiful coffees cupped on the day of the competition. One of the standouts was a coffee produced by Juan Jose Miguel from Finca Nueva Linda. Not only was the coffee delicious, Nueva Linda is right on the edge of the El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, a beautiful, immaculate, and very progressive farm and protected habitat. Juan Jose walked us through his different lots, various varietals, and how they process their coffee, all the way from pulping to fermentation to drying. Keep your eyes peeled for some exciting coffees coming from this farm.

Next was the producer competition held at the CESMACH (Campesinos Ecologicos de la Sierra Madre de Chiapas) dry mill. CESMACH is involved in many environmental protection and social development projects in the area around the El Triunfo Biosphere. In 2008, CESMACH and three other cooperatives used the premiums earned from selling Fair Trade coffee to buy land and build the dry mill where the competition was held. With cupping spoon, spit cup, and score sheets in hand, we cupped and discussed, then cupped and discussed some more, for almost 7 hours. Again, there were some standouts on the table. Producers from Comon Yaj Noptic took places 1st through 9th. It became obvious that these small scale farmers from this co-operative were doing something right. Ninety-three percent of the 147 members are organic certified and the remaining seven percent are in the process of becoming certified. Exciting times!

Muddy Sprouts

This action and taco-packed trip was over in the blink of an eye, but the fact that I’m back to reality (eating poor imitations of tacos) means we are that much closer to seeing some of these coffees hit our shelves for you to enjoy. I’m hopeful this trip was the start of some fruitful, lasting relationships between Ceremony Coffee Roasters and these talented, hard-working producers from Chiapas.