Small, mostly indigenous farmers in the Mexican state of Oaxaca live on some of the best coffee producing lands in the entire country. The Sierra Madre Mountain Range of Oaxaca has peaks ranging from 3,600 meters in height with an average temperature of 18 degrees Celsius . Despite the fact that almost a quarter of all agricultural land in the state of Oaxaca is cultivated with coffee, the state only produces about 20 percent of Mexico´s total coffee production and is overshadowed by the neighboring states of Chiapas and Veracruz. There are around 58,000 coffee farmers scattered throughout the mountains of Oaxaca, and many of them belong to the Zapotec and Mixtec indigenous groups.
In years past, Mexico´s National Coffee Institute had a policy of purchasing coffee from small farmers at a fixed, just rate. That program collapsed in 1989 and the geographic isolation of many of Oaxaca´s indigenous coffee communities often make it difficult for farmers to get a fair price for their harvest. In fact, the highest poverty rates in the State coincide with the region where most coffee is grown.
The vast majority of small coffee farmers in Oaxaca farm on less than one hectare. Coffee production represents anywhere between 70 and 90 percent of income for these families who also grow small crops of corn and beans for their subsistence. As we mentioned above, poverty levels in the state correspond with areas where coffee production is most pronounced, with middlemen purchasing the coffee at extremely low prices from producers before transporting it for sale in distant urban centers. A lack of proper infrastructure for coffee processing also affects Oaxaca coffee farmers who often process their crop on an artisanal level at home. A lack of international development cooperation and technical assistance also affects coffee production in Oaxaca. Whereas the neighboring states of Chiapas and Veracruz have benefitted from direct intervention (both from state agencies and non-profit development organizations), Oaxaca coffee farmers receive little outside intervention and tend to depend almost solely on the CEPCO, which is the largest network of coffee cooperatives in Oaxaca representing over 14,000 producers in the state.
Coffee from the Oaxaca region of Mexico is known for having a light to medium body with mild acidity. The coffee also has a balanced flavor profile, with delicate fruit and spice overtones coming through. Due to the mild flavor, Oaxaca coffee is a popular choice used in blends and as a base for other flavors. It is also worth mentioning, however, that Oaxaca is the only place in the world where the Pluma Hidalgo variety of coffee is grown. This specialty bean comes in a uniform size and oval shape, but stands apart due to its deep blue and greenish color tone. The Pluma Hidalgo coffee variety is coveted in the specialty coffee market due to its complete flavor profile and strong aromatic presence. As a stand-alone single origin coffee that is shade grown in fertile volcanic soils, the Pluma Hidalgo coffee bean offers unmatched balance, very mild acidity, medium body and distinguished flavor. It also finishes with notes of cocoa, malt and raisin and has a unique hazelnut color.
The coffee grown in most of Oaxaca benefits from the climactic conditions where regular cloud cover in the cloud forest ecosystem offers an abundance of humidity. Much of the coffee is organically, shade grown, and is fertilized with organic composts of leaves and coffee parchment. Due to the lack of infrastructure and organization, many small coffee farmers wet process their coffee by hand on home-scale operations. While this can increase the limited profit margins for small farmers (as opposed to selling the bean to middlemen) it can also cause problems with the quality and the final flavor of the coffee.