Earlier this spring I had the chance to visit the Triunfo Biosphere of southern Mexico in the state of Chiapas. Chiapas is the largest coffee growing region in Mexico, but conversely also one of the most economically struggling regions of Mexico. Roads are rough, and the climate is harsh. The coffee region is butted up directly against the mountains that make up the Biosphere Reserve El Triunfo, which is the largest and most diverse evergreen cloud forest in Mesoamerica. The Biosphere is a working reserve that has between 12000 – 18000 people working primarily in coffee. The center of the reserve is protected from the further establishment and a series of dirt roads surrounding the area provide access to the coffee grown around the region.
While the area is known as a cloud forest and is largely considered a producer of water in the region, we were visiting the inland portion of the forest that abuts to the mountains that block much of Pacific moisture. We were also visiting during the dry season, and this year, because of drought, much of the farmland we saw was being hit by the dry weather.
We have had incredible crops from this region since opening Black Coffee in 2010. In fact, our Chiapas coffees are often some of our most popular and consistent. Year to year these crops have been rich, full-bodied coffees, that are balanced and approachable. Because of this, I’ve been excited to visit the region for years, and it was incredible to witness firsthand where these crops originate and what it takes to get them to market.
Being a “cloud forest” I carried with me the assumption that the region was going to be lush. The hours of back highways and roads we took into the region were anything but lush. This arid landscape is much harsher a landscape than I would have predicted. The region sways throughout the year through periods of heavy rainfall and moisture and extreme dryness and aridity. And yet, regardless, the coffees are some of the most elegant we know.
In Jaltenango we arrived just before sunset and met with the heads of the Triunfo Verde Cooperative, an organic cooperative who took us directly to the nursery where we met with Pedro who oversees the massive operation that provides plants to 518 producers, over half of which are women. This nursery annually starts 400K seed starts and maintains 300K for the second year until they are ready to plant. While one family oversees the production at all times, there are up to 15-25 people that work at the nursery throughout the year.
The next two days were largely spent cupping coffees at the Triunfo Verde headquarters and driving back roads, miles and miles of back roads visiting small plot farmers who were busy doing maintenance work on their lots. We visited between seasons so there was no production in the works. Instead, we were able to witness the less glamorous but all important work that takes place to make coffee farms work. Thinning and clearing debris and other plants, culling coffee plants affected by rust, fixing pipes and other infrastucture, including roads and paths. The labor that goes into coffee on the ground never ceases to astound me. And all in brutal heat, in areas with snakes, biting insects, and steep harsh terrain.
I can’t wait to get back to Chiapas. I’d love to see the wet side of this landscape. It is absolutely inspiring to see where and how these coffees are produced. We feel lucky to carry such incredible coffees that derive from such incredibly challenging environments. The people and the landscape are nothing short of impressive. The dedication it takes to bring these coffees to market is not something to be taken lightly. We will have this coffee for a few months and then we are picking up a coffee from Majomut where were able to visit directly afterward on this trip. This coffee is equally something to look forward to.