Thursday, April 18, 2024

Need some energy? Mexican coffee will do the trick

Coffee is the second most consumed beverage in the world, surpassed only by water, according to data provided by Mexican coffee expert José de Jesús Olvera.

Though coffee’s origins are distant and uncertain, there are stories of Ethiopian Bedouins observing goats eating the berries of certain bushes and demonstrating greater energy levels and a certain excitability. The goat herders’ curiosity led to the first human consumption of coffee. The way coffee is consumed has changed greatly since then, evolving from an Arabic preparation called Qahwah, which is made with turmeric to Turkish coffee, arguably the beverage’s most sophisticated preparation. 

Coffee’s arrival in Italy was a watershed moment for its growing popularity. In Italy, coffee started to be prepared differently and from there it went on to conquer the rest of Europe. In the Arab world, coffee was considered the drink of the elites of intellectuals, stimulating reflection and conversation. European cafés were the beginning of coffee’s conquest of the rest of the world. Today, espresso is one of the most popular drinks among coffee purists. 

In Mexico, coffee plants were brought by the French and they soon adapted to favorable climates in Córdoba, Veracruz, an area that quickly became an exporter of coffee and is today one of the most important coffee regions both in Mexico and globally. Coffee production requires many hands and has become a source of income for entire families. 

Today, Mexico’s coffee-producing regions are found mostly in the central and southern parts of the country.

“Coffee is a good business, and it represents 867 million dollars of the Mexican economy in exports. Three million people work in the coffee industry. In the area around the Gulf, it is produced in San Luis Potosí, Hidalgo, Puebla, México, Veracruz and Tabasco. On the Pacific Ocean, you will find coffee in Colima, Guerrero, Jalisco, Nayarit and Oaxaca. In the southwest, you’ll find coffee production in Chiapas,” said Olvera, who has a doctorate in social anthropology. 

Mexico currently has three denomination de origin regions for coffee production: one in Veracruz, one in Oaxaca and one in Chiapas. A fourth region, Puebla, looks likely to join them. Mexico is the world’s ninth-largest coffee producer.

Mexicans have also made coffee their own, creating café de olla, an extremely popular coffee variation that is sweetened with unrefined brown sugar and can include cinnamon as well. In almost every small town throughout the country, you can wake up to the delightful smell of café de olla. Though café de olla is one of coffee’s most popular ways to prepare coffee in Mexico, in the past decades the trend of specialty coffee has made its way into homes, cafes and restaurants across the country. 

What is specialty coffee?

Specialty coffee is divided by different levels of bean quality, region, level of acidity, roast type and, obviously, the type of bean. Arabica beans are the most-consumed bean, popular for their smooth flavor. This is both the most-cultivated type of coffee on the planet and the type used to make specialty coffee. Robusta beans, as their name implies, are more resistant to infestations and to difficult climates. Coffee brewed from robusta beans is generally more bitter, has a higher concentration of caffeine and is usually used in blends and instant coffees. A third type of bean called Liberica is cultivated and consumed at a much lower rate.

Today, drinking specialty coffee is more common in Mexico. (Canva)

The process of making coffee has become simple, and there are various methods to make it at home. Specialized coffee machines, like the French press or the Italian moka pot, each require different size grinds and provide slightly different results. 

In national competitions, which are more and more common in Mexico, coffee is judged by its acidity, sweetness and general balance of aromas across many cups from the same batch of beans to ensure quality across the board. Judged coffee is usually awarded points on a scale between 6 and 9, with the idea that the coffee in competition already has a certain basic standard level. A 10 is awarded very infrequently and only in exceptional cases. 

No coffee is the same, and it’s difficult to compare coffee from distinct types of beans or growing regions. It must be understood that each is an expression of its terroir (a concept that describes how local environmental factors affect a crop, usually applied to wine) as well as the techniques used in its fermentation and roasting. 

Today in Mexico you can find coffee from around the world, imported from South America, Asia, or Africa, but my recommendation is to buy Mexican-grown coffee; There is a price point and type for every palate. 

Coffee and the palate of its Mexican consumers have certainly changed over time, I think for the positive, and even though Mexicans have yet to be great consumers of this beverage, we produce high-quality beans. Today, drinking specialty coffee is more common. It’s clear that waking up to a cup of Mexican coffee is the best way to start your day right.

Sommelier Diana Serratos writes from Mexico City.

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