Written by Liza Powers
Throughout the coffee-consuming world there are specific regions and countries known for their stand-out single-origin specialty coffees. Until recently, the name México has not usually appeared on that exclusive list.
In 2014 a major export group in México began work to try to increase attention to México’s specialty coffee producers and their quality distinctive microlots. This organization is AMSA, an agro-industry company that is part of a much larger global commodity trading organization called ECOM. While ECOM deals in coffee, cotton, and cocoa worldwide, in México, AMSA focuses specifically on coffee.
Since 1979 AMSA has been involved in the coffee industry, and to this day it works with both arabica and robusta coffees. The AMSA team operates a network of over a dozen offices and processing facilities throughout México, especially in the principle coffee growing regions of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Veracruz, Puebla, and Nayarit.
It was in Veracruz this year that AMSA held its second annual event to discover single origin specialty coffees that deserve specific recognition. Originally, the Selección Especial, the now-titled Best of México competition serves multiple purposes: it allows AMSA to further appreciate specialty coffee amidst their vast commodity-grade lots; it recognizes truly high quality specialty coffee microlots and promotes them internationally; it gives those coffees the value they deserve, and it supports the producers in continuing their quality-focused production; and, last but not least, it singles out delicious distinctive microlots that might otherwise be lost by mixing different producers’ crops together.
In April 2015 Case Study Coffee was honored to be invited by AMSA’s US-based partner Café Imports to participate in the second annual Best of México event. Held in Xalapa, the capital city of Veracruz, the competition featured two dozen very distinct single origin México coffees. As Case Study Coffee’s representative, I experienced the astoundingly diverse range of flavor profiles possible from one country’s specialty coffee harvest.
On Thursday, April 23rd, 2015, visiting and resident coffee professionals met just after breakfast at an inactive wet mill in Xalapa called Las Ánimas to begin the cupping of the semi-finalist coffees. Over the course of several hours, the 18 American cuppers sniffed, slurped, spit, and evaluated 24 very distinct coffees. By the end of the day palates were calibrated and scoring results tallied.
Those two dozen microlots on the table had been identified in the various wet mills, dry mills, and buying centers by AMSA managers and cuppers. Then samples were vetted by the AMSA internal quality assurance staff, as well as sent to Café Imports in the U.S. for confirmation evaluation to be included in the Best of México competition. After the final round of the competition cupping in Xalapa on Friday morning, April 24th, 2015, the results were tallied, rankings were announced, and reserve prices for the top ten ranked lots were set for the live auction that night.
All ten of the auction lots were guaranteed to be purchased, whether by one of the nine independent specialty coffee companies represented at the competition or by Café Imports. The top three ranked coffees were set with higher reserve prices, and after the deduction of standard costs, the higher sales price would go directly to the producer. The top three producers would also receive tremendous benefits in the form of “total management” prize packages including soil improver and fertilization, biostimulants, leaf rust prevention, and technical assistance.
In the Best of México 2015 competition, the first placing producer was Don Román García with his lot called GRAPOS El Porvenir. Don Román received as his prize from AMSA for winning the Best of México 3300 Marsellesa coffee plants and an extensive first year maintenance program. The Marsellesa plants are a new hybrid developed from crossing a Sarchimor and an Ethiopian parent to produce a highly productive and leaf rust resistant strain that still produces a good cup profile. In addition to those on-the-ground awards, Don Román will receive an invitation for two courtesy of Café Imports to attend the SCAA Expo or another major coffee event.
Altogether, the Best of México competition seeks to find specialty coffee microlots, to bring attention to the distinctiveness and quality of Mexican coffee, to encourage Mexican producers to improve their production with a focus on cup profile, and to establish a sustainable system to perpetuate the above goals.
At the Best of México 2015 competition, Case Study Coffee discovered some unexpectedly stand-out cup profiles. Now that those micro lots have arrived stateside and we are working with them at the roast profile development stage, more of our staff are being surprised and impressed with the distinctive deliciousness possible from Mexican coffee. In the coming weeks, we are proud to be able to offer you some of the best coffees that Mexico has to offer. We hope that you will be as surprised and pleased as we have been.