We’re Opening a Year-Round Lab in Oaxaca, Mexico

 

Why Mexico?

As I rode in the back of a car, looking out at the green, rolling, coffee-laden hills of Veracruz a few weeks ago during early harvest meetings, one of my hosts and new partners in the area asked me, “why do you like Mexico so much?” referring to me sourcing coffee, and now living, in Mexico. It really made me stop to think about it, especially as Red Fox is now on the cusp of opening our second origin office and cupping lab, here in Oaxaca.  

I could have easily given my stock pitch that I’ve been using the past six years working here, going on about “potential” and “opportunity,” talking about providing links and access for smallholders to a higher paying market, which is all certainly true, but it didn’t feel like the full, honest answer in that moment. So, why Mexico? 

The truth is, Mexico has something extra going on that’s just, rad. The creativity is overflowing and inspiring. There is a buzz around coffee culture here that is unique in the producing world. People love coffee here, and they consume a LOT of it. The sheer volume and year-over-year growth of specialty roasting companies and high end coffee bars across the country is staggering. Beyond coffee, Mexico has one of the most exciting culinary traditions and innovative scenes going on right now anywhere in the world. The food and drink has that special “sazón” and spice.  Coffee is part of that now more than ever. We want to be a part of that.  

Maybe one of the most key aspects of this question though, is that, being from the US, we share the same land, we are neighbors, and in this current toxic, divisive socio-political “climate” it feels right and important to build these bridges with our neighbors, and do business the right way, respecting people. Fuck walls. We want to help tear it down. That’s the truth.

It’s also true that the coffees are really, really good here. There is a lot of work happening in the field to improve quality and revive the incredible bank of genetic material that they still have in Mexico and maybe not anywhere else. But there is still so much work to do in improving lot separation and traceability, quality at farm and processing level, and making sure price premiums for quality reach the farmers. And, Mexican coffees are still largely under-represented in the high end specialty coffee marketplace. Building and investing in our office and field team here will continue to work to fill that gap.

As with anywhere that Red Fox is sourcing, we only want to be in and invest in origins where we truly add value, and where we are able to have exclusive and first-pick access to coffee from communities that can produce at the highest level. As with our sourcing work anywhere, we want to be out in front to bring those to market.

The diversity of flavors is truly astounding here. The three main producing states in the south of the country—Chiapas, Veracruz, and Oaxaca, in order of volume—are each incredibly distinct from both a cultural and supply chain perspective. We are actively working and sourcing in all three regions and will have a large range of offerings from each come May and June. Where Veracruz has higher yields and larger average farm size, it also has a culture of “cerezeros” or farmers and processors selling/buying cherry (rather than dried parchment) and centrally processing in larger volumes at wet mills. Chiapas, with its vibrant revolutionary spirit, has a strong culture of organic production and “cooperativismo” but also more recently of incorporating new processes, planting new varieties, and making efforts to combine environmentally sound, yet profitable, coffee production with protection of important biosphere reserves.  

Oaxaca is an enigma in many ways but also can produce some of the very best cups in the country. Production here is still overwhelmingly driven by original lines of Bourbon and Typica, including the unique Pluma variety in the southern coastal mountains. With 16 distinct indigenous groups/cultures alone, many of which grow coffee, the region is incredibly diverse from an environmental, climatic, and social perspective. There are so many logistical and cost-of-production challenges here but that’s what excites and drives us to get better and bring these lots to more of our roasting clients and their end consumers. These are vibrant, delicious, sweet, sessionable coffees that seem to disappear from your cup because they go down so easily.  

Our relationships are the deepest here in Oaxaca. We’ve been building up our supply chain from the farm level (producers here average 1-2 hectares) in terms of quality improvement and separations as well as price negotiations and premiums, rather than working from the exporter or co-op level down. Financing is a big challenge farmers face here and we are committed to working creatively to solve this in both the short and long term. 

Motivated by the success and growth of the past two years since opening a year-round lab and team in Peru, setting up shop here in Oaxaca gives us more access to more coffee and a bigger chance to influence production and profitability for farmers in Mexico. 

We are so excited to be a part of this unique culture. After testing the waters for the first two years, last years’ harvest volume, quality, and our ability to deliver on time showed us that this is real. Now we are fully immersed. Jump on in with us, it feels great. 

 

— Adam McClellan, Mexico Sourcing and Sales Lead