Traveling to a coffee producing country is what the coffee industry refers to as an ‘origin trip’. Due to the fact that the climate and elevation in the continental United States is not conducive to coffee growth, this travel is often necessary in understanding where our coffee comes from and is an important experience from the largest importers down to the smallest micro-roasters.
As a coffee roaster traveling to origin, we can expand our perspective in terms of not just production but of an entire region’s growing process from fertilizer to labor to the fully milled, exportable bean. It allows for a closer relationship with both producers and importers as well as a much more transparent connection with the coffee itself. At Water Street, we understand that our roaster is part of a larger global coffee community and the education we receive at origin is invaluable to being a responsible, contributing member of that community from knowing the issues that threaten the crops to seeing first hand the care and quality control that goes into each bag of coffee. So please, join us as we share how we tasted, hiked, and learned our way through some incredible coffee co-ops in Chiapas, Mexico.
On our final day we visited a dry-mill located in Independencia. Here we participated in a comprehensive cupping session as well as a full tour of the mill. The first cupping consisted of 20 coffees from all three co-ops we had or would visit by the end of our trip. Coffees were cupped, evaluated, and scores were compiled by our guide and translator from Cafe Imports, Piero Cristiani.
Left: Working our way through the cupping, Right: Compiling Scores
The dry-mill tour was exciting because we were able to see firsthand the dry-milling that prepares the coffee for export. The only step that follows is loading the coffee bags into a container and transporting them to the the US or other countries to be roasted and finally consumed.
The mill was dusty and loud, but over the dull roar of machinery we began learning how the dry-mill process works. First, bags of parchment are dumped through a grate and any foreign material is removed by hand. The coffee then moves up an elevator where it is first cleaned of any residual debris before it falls down to the huller to remove the parchment from the bean. After hulling, the beans move through a sorter which sorts beans by density using air then moves them through a drum which separates the beans by size. As a final step, the beans are sorted one last time into different qualities (1st, 2nd, or 3rd) using oliver tables; big tables that shake and sort the beans by density once more.
Left: Emptying the Hulled and Sorted Coffee Into Bags, Right: Forming a Row of Filled Coffee Bags
The second cupping consisted of 19 more coffees and another scoring session. Much of the coffees tasted here and at the first table were amazing. In particular, there were 5 from the first round and 6 from the second round that really got my attention. This was a unique opportunity for all of us to score these coffees and see how we each scored the coffees comparatively. This was definitely the most coffee I have ever cupped in one day (each coffee had 4 cups, and there were 39 coffees total). It was pretty incredible!
Left: Piero Pouring Water on Our Samples, Right: Obligatory Origin Cupping Selfie. Hi!
Thoroughly caffeinated, we now made our way to Comon Yaj Noptic where we were treated to lunch before the tour of the co-op. Comon Yaj Noptic was formed in May of 1985 and composed originally of 201 members. The literal translation is “We Are All Thinking About It.” It was founded as a way to gain access to social and environmental projects and in 2001 sold its first 2 containers to Starbucks. The money from that helped them grow and develop into what they have become today. Comon is extremely environmentally conscious and, in addition to coffee, they also monitor birds and their migration patterns in order to work in harmony with their surroundings. This year Comon plans on producing 4 containers with 100 bags being microlots.
Left: Comon Yaj Noptic, Right: Another View of Comon Yaj Noptic
Comon also maintains an impressive array of certifications such as Organic, Fair Trade, Bird Friendly, and JAS (Japanese Agricultural Standard). It’s values encompass maintaining trust with clients, being socially responsible, and being honest with producers.
Structure was similar to that of the other co-ops we visited, but it was clear that Comon was the smallest in membership of them all. They also have many social projects including nurseries for coffee and shade trees; a fertilizer plant; food safety; raising chickens, pigs, and fish; renewing plantations; and maintaining a vegetable garden.
Comon also seemed to be composed of younger members in general, so the presence of technology had made its way into the co-op. They are the first co-op in the area to have tablets and the ability to record data digitally. In the future, they hope to make this information available to buyers which will continue to help with efforts in traceability.
The co-op was also very invested in ecotourism with a restaurant on site and brand new cabins for students or travelers to come study.
New Cabins for Ecotourism
Newer co-op principles include opening up health clinics with help from Grounds for Health, opening a primary school with the help of the money received from selling their first two containers of coffee to Starbucks, and sustainability and environmental programs where they tend to honey, chickens, mushrooms, and more. Part of their Fair Trade minimums go towards health projects and savings funds, which ended up helping with the outbreak of rust.
We were able to tour their warehouse and nursery as well, as seen below.
Left: Soldiers at Comon Yaj Noptic, Center: Coffees in Transition, Right: Sprouting Soldiers, Referred to as “Butterflies”
After Comon, we made the trip back to Tuxtla for a stay at a hotel and departures began the following morning.
This was a hugely successful trip and I have gained so much from it. Going to origin really puts perspective on the coffee industry and truly brings things full-circle for me. On the ride to Tuxtla, we all shared our favorite memories which included tasting a coffee cherry for the first time, the coffee nurseries, nobody getting sick, and one of the producers calling President Trump a mummy. I am so blessed to have spent this time with such great, like-minded individuals. It is something I will never forget. Thanks goes to all for making this trip so pleasurable!
Until next time…
Note: Keep an eye out for a very special coffee from the Campesinos Ecologicos de la Sierra Madre de Chiapas, or CESMACH cooperative, to hit our shelves before the end of summer – the Fair Trade Organic Mexico Chiapas CESMACH. This washed coffee is distinctly sweet, exceptionally smooth, and the soft notes of cocoa and almond make it an all-day easy-drinker. This isn’t a coffee you want to miss so stay tuned for a launch announcement so you can be sure to get your own little taste of Chiapas, Mexico.