Guerrero is one of Mexico’s 16 coffee-producing states and has borders with Oaxaca and Puebla. In Guerrero, 80% of the territory is mountains, and the main economic activity is agriculture. The Spanish first introduced coffee along the coast in Sierra de Atoyac.
Most of the labour force for picking coffee was brought over from the poorest areas of Guerrero - a region called Montaña Alta. Those workers, seed by seed, propagated their homes with coffee, bringing it into their pockets from the extensive plantations in Atoyac. The production of shade-grown natural coffees now characterizes the region. Guerrero almost only produces natural processed coffees, which is rare in Mexico, with more than 90% of the total exported coffee being washed.
Ensambles Cafes Mexicanos, our Mexican exporting partners, started a coffee sourcing project in la Montaña, west of Guerrero, thanks to Guerrero-born Miguel Guevara, one of the very few locals to attend public university to become an agricultural engineer. In 2017 he became aware of the new niche market of specialty coffee, and started giving workshops on selective picking and slower drying for better quality natural coffee. Ensambles was the commercial arm, reaching out to a conscious market that rewards traceability, impact and cup quality.
After realising the cup potential of Guerrero naturals with the QC team of Ensambles, Miguel started to open local warehouses and labs. There had never been a lab in la Montaña and to date we are still the only ones to operate them.
In order to reach out to more people, Miguel hired a Guerrero-born woman called Rebecca, Ensamble's field coordinator in la Montaña. Rebecca is 28-years old and the daughter of one of the first female producer to join the project. She is one of the very rare women in her community to not be married and not have children. Strong willed, she proves resilient against the negative comments from her community about her life choices. Thanks to her employment with Ensambles she now has a fixed salary which allows her to rent a room of her own in a nearby community where she now finds some peace and breathing room. Rebecca is very joyful and hardworking, she speaks her people’s language : me’phaa, and Spanish.
Guerrero coffee is forest coffee. The ecosystem is untouched in most parts of la Montaña alta. It is a traditional polyculture system, boasting incredible biodiversity, different levels of shade, rich organic soils and clean rivers - a rare ecological treasure nowadays. In each walk across a plot during my visit I was able to eat or pick coffee cherries, oranges, grapefruit, tree tomatoes, passion fruit, honey, corn, beans, squash, aromatic herbs, bananas, and more.
The coffee varieties grown are mostly Typica and Bourbon in the 1,400+ m.a.s.l. range. Between 800 and 1,400 m.a.s.l. you find a mix of traditional Typicas and new hybrids of the Catimor family. All of the coffee produced is naturally processed, which is rare in Mexico where 90%+ of the coffee is washed.
Miguel delivers training on selective picking, cherry flotation, and drying. He also supports the project by obtaining regional funds to finance a nursery, local warehouses, raised beds etc.
The first producers to join this initiative were all women. They decided to call their project JUBA, which means mountains in their indigenous language Mephaa. Many women in this region are empowered to make decisions because their husbands often live north for work. Those women call themselves the "Evas" in reference to the first woman Eve. Discontentment with low prices has allowed this process to grow rapidly, increasing from 5 to 70 producers in 5 years.
Ensambles now has three regional labs in Montaña Alta with analysts and cuppers where producers can come and bring their samples and get feedback and recommendations.