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Steampunk Coffee Roasters

Mexico San Mateo Yoloxochitlán

Mexico San Mateo Yoloxochitlán

Regular price £12.50 GBP
Regular price Sale price £12.50 GBP
Sale Sold out
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Region: Sierra Mazateca
Altitude: 1,600-1,850 m.a.s.l.
Variety: Typica, Mundo Novo, Bourbon
Processing: Washed 

Tasting Notes: Beautifully balanced with layers of black cherry, milk chocolate and vanilla. Pleasantly round on the palate with a touch of mandarin and a sweet, clean finish.

This lot is composed of coffees from several producers around San Mateo Yoloxochitlán in Oaxaca, south-western Mexico. It came to us through Raw Material, an importer unique for their social enterprise approach. They selectively work with producers to maximise profits by providing the knowledge and tools to increase quality and connecting them to a stable market. The goal is long term economic sustainability for individual farmers and the wider industry.

Well balanced and layered, the flavour profile of this coffee ticks all the boxes. It’s sweet, a bit fruity and has a lovely clean finish. This is the dream: ethically produced coffee that’s also delicious. Brew it using any method and enjoy. 

Most coffee grown in Mexico is produced by smallholder farmers who own very small plots of land. That’s the case with this lot, which is a blend of coffee from many producers in the same region. But it’s not as if all the coffee gets mixed together for a regional lot. Professional cuppers taste all the component lots and intentionally blend them together to create a larger, more marketable lot with a specific quality score and flavour profile. 

According to Raw Material, “By separating and cupping the small lots individually it’s possible to separate the outstanding, the good, the not so bad and the plain right ugly.” A lot of work goes into creating lots at origin, but separating out the higher quality coffee ensures that farmers are paid according to what their crop is actually worth.

This coffee landed in the UK at the end of December 2023. We began roasting it at the end of March, just as the 2024 harvest was getting underway. According to Raw Material the 2024 harvest looks to be a low yield year but the producers are focussed on raising quality to compensate. Even if they produce less coffee, if the quality scores are higher they can earn more per kilo, resulting in an overall increase in profit. 

In the bigger picture however, even when mitigated by higher prices for some producers, low yields are a big problem for Mexican coffee farmers. The average amount of coffee processed by each producer per harvest can be as low as 100kg per hectare. For comparison, the average yield in Colombia is 2,400kg per hectare, and in Brazil up to 5,200kg. This means that Raw Material often buys volumes as small as 20kg from each producer (the smallest lot they’ve received was 4kg). 

Low yields are the result of multiple factors including coffee leaf rust, ageing plants and lack of resources and investment. All of this means that coffee farming, which has historically been a family business, is no longer appealing to the next generation. For the past twenty years there’s been an alarming increase in migration of young people to major cities in Mexico and to the United States. The rise in the abandonment of land and coffee crops by the young has also left the very heavy handed and labour intensive coffee work to elderly producers, many of whom are above the age of 70 and even older than 80 years old.

The situation is untenable, which is why it’s so important to support the work of Raw Material and operations like them in the specialty industry. In this region the weather, the land and the producers together can generate extraordinary coffees. But let’s be clear. Roasters and coffee lovers like us at Steampunk stand to lose outstanding coffee. Farmers stand to lose their livelihood and a part of their cultural heritage.

About the Region

The Sierra Mazateca is located in the state of Oaxaca, one of the most diverse states in Mexico, both biologically and culturally. The Mazateca gets its name from the presence of the indigenous group, the Mazatec, which is a Nahualt name that translates to “the deer people.” However, in their own language, Mazatec, the group is called Ha Shuta Enima, which means “those who work the hills.”

The land is found between the regions from La Cañada and the Papaloapán Valley, at the northern tip of the state of Oaxaca. As part of the Sierra Madre Sur and the Sierra Oriental, the land is surrounded by high mountains, cliffs and hills of mainly mesophile forest, bathed by constant rains and the intermittent presence of mist.

The Mazateca is an important indigenous region where 92% of the population speaks an indigenous language, mostly Mazatec, with a few Nahuatl and Mixtec speakers also. The locals show a connection to their ancestry through their celebrations and traditions, such as celebrations for each town patron, day of the dead, local seed sowing traditions and many others.

The region is also one of the most lacking in health and education coverage of the country with an alarming poverty and illiteracy level. It is made up of small and isolated communities where the main economic activity is small-scale agriculture, since few people own more than a couple hectares of land.

There is an important tradition of coffee growing in this region. Most of the producers continue the coffee production of their parents and grandparents and often the whole family works together at harvest time. The steep landscape makes for hard work but is also the reason for the outstanding cup quality, which for a long time got lost in blends.

About the the Importer

“We don’t search for the best coffee. We search for the right communities and work with them to build systems to produce high-quality coffee and connect to a stable marketplace. When the solution is well designed and community-led, results can be achieved very quickly,” explains Raw Material on their website. 

One of the ways they’re unique in their approach is how they market coffee to roasters. They call it their “Always, Often, Occasional” model and it highlights where each coffee on their offer list sits within their impact framework. The flipped triangle model indicates which coffees return the most profit to producers. The “Always” coffees yield the most profit because there’s a bigger volume of them. The “Often” coffees, which are quality defined, come next. And the “Occasional” category has the most limited financial impact due to their small size. Instead they aim to generate interest in a group, region or even producing country. In turn, this generates revenue for investments aimed at increasing the volume and value of a group’s Always and Often coffees. 

In Mexico their approach is to simultaneously work with farmers to improve yields and work with roasters to build stable demand at a stable price. They aim to achieve this in ways that are low-cost, easily replicated and that ensure the first-order upsides are captured directly by those most marginalised.

  To achieve these goals they've focused first on building trust and setting a baseline for coffee pricing and pre-financing. Currently, the most common outlet for producers in Oaxaca is to sell their parchment to local intermediaries at a market-set price. Raw Material aims to consistently pay upwards of this standard market price as a first payment.

Following this is a second, quality-based price that increases total profit earned per kilogram by between seven and 10 times. Paying in this way provides rapid, predictable returns on investment made by producers and can increase household income from coffee by up to 10 times the average income derived from selling at the local market price.  

Coffee in Mexico

From afar, Mexico is a growing economic force, ranked 64th globally in GDP per capita. However, the coffee-producing states in southern Mexico face a very different economic reality. Oaxaca and Chiapas are the two poorest states in Mexico with poverty rates of 60-80% and extreme poverty rates of 20-40%.

The vast majority of Mexico’s 500,000 coffee producers are smallholder farmers and have one hectare or less of land under coffee. Production yields have become dangerously low in these regions. Over the last ten years coffee leaf rust disease and the lack of financial or agricultural means to tackle it has reduced production by up to 90% in some regions. In short, unless things change, coffee production in Mexico will disappear. 

A note about packaging

Our coffee comes packaged in beautiful and hard wearing tins. It is important to keep those beans away from air and light (see our blog post about coffee storage) and we think tins are the very best way of keeping those guys fresh. 

Tins can of course be easily recycled (with other metals) but the very best and most environmentally conscious thing to do with them is to refill them. Find out how to refill or dispose of your Steampunk packaging HERE.

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