Most travelers when they think of Mexico envision white sand beaches, street tacos, tropical tequila drinks, and sunshine. While all of these things are indeed some of the country’s most iconic attractions, one particular item is rarely recognized – Mexican coffee.
That’s right! Mexico is one of the top 10 coffee-producing countries in the world, and according to the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), it currently has over 500,000 registered smallholder farming families. That’s impressive! With an expected market growth rate of 8.2% between 2019 and 2023, and increasing export sales to the U.S., Japan, and Europe, many believe that this is the beginning of a new era for the Mexican coffee market. Not to mention, Mexico is one of the world’s leading organic coffee producers, in large part due to the many small, privately owned farms where coffee beans are still dried and picked by hand.
While the country may be on the verge of a market boom, coffee production is nothing new to the region. Believed to have arrived in Mexico during the late 1700s with the arrival of Spanish merchants coming from Cuba and the Dominican Republic, coffee beans were first planted and harvested by local farmers sometime during the late 18th century. With ideal climates located in the southernmost states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, and the gulf state of Veracruz, the country’s southern region has evolved into the perfect coffee-producing machine. Although there are various production sites located throughout the country, one city in particular has truly made a name for itself in the coffee industry.
Conquered by the Aztecs in 1486, the city of Tapachula, Mexico, whose name comes from the Nahautl phrase “Tapachollan”, meaning “between the waters”, is the most southerly city in all of Mexico. Forming a part of the agriculturally prosperous region of present day Chiapas known as Soconusco, Tapachula became the principal location for the region’s cacao production after the Spanish Conquest in the mid 16th century. With a hot and humid climate, above average rainfall throughout most of the year, and an elevation of 560 feet (170 meters), Tapachula and its surrounding areas have acted as the prime locations for not only the production of cacao, but also coffee beans, sugarcane, and bananas throughout the history of Mexico. It was the local coffee production, however, that quickly transformed the city into one of the states biggest earners.
With most of its wealth derived from coffee plantations and processing, this agricultural city began a history of migration into the area which continues to this day, leaving the city with a significant Asian and German cultural presence as well as large Mayan and Nahua indigenous populations. This very diversity can be seen in the coffee in which the region produces.
It is said that the typical Mexican coffee is analogous to a good white wine — delicate in body, with a pleasantly dry, acidy snap. That said, some Mexican coffees rival the best Guatemalan produced coffees in high-grown power and complexity, especially those grown and processed in the high growing regions of Chiapas, including Tapachula. With present-day companies such as Exportadora de Café California and Neumann Kaffee Gruppe, two of the largest organic coffee exporters in Mexico, Mexican coffee, especially that produced in Chiapas, is making its name for itself all around the globe.
With popularity in Europe on the rise, high-quality Mexican coffee is mostly exported to European countries, while less premium (yet equally delicious) coffee is sold to the U.S. Europeans can enjoy Mexican brands such as Germanis, Irlandia, Santa Catarina, and Liquidmabar, all of which are making a splash in the international coffee market and produced in the state of Chiapas. Whether you’re looking for a mild, light-bodied brew, or a nutty, light brew with traces of chocolate, Mexico and its coffee are sure to impress.
So, as you plan your next trip to Mexico and imagine being on the beach with an ice-cold beverage in hand, don’t forget to leave time for trips to the local coffee shops. While the Mexican coffee market hasn’t reached its peak just yet, it is surely on its way to becoming a globally recognized contender. With the prime coffee growing climate in its southern region and in cities like Tapachula, which are steeped in agricultural history, Mexico has all the potential to take the coffee market by storm. For the traveler, Tapachula may appear to be somewhat plain. However, with a little time and curiosity, one will find many hidden small treasures – one such treasure being its delicious and historic Chiapas coffee.