We select Onwards from seasonal crop to deliver a classic house espresso. Our current selection is a washed community blend from the Cafe El Zapoteco group of producers in Oaxaca's Sierra Juárez. In the cup it is rich, round and sweet, with notes of maple, pecan and plum.
The Cafe El Zapoteco group is led by Romulo Chavez, and is made up of around 180 coffee producing families based around the neighbouring villages of Santo Domingo Cacalotepec (pictured below), San Miguel Yotao and San Juan Juquila Vijanos. Most members of the group are of Zapotec heritage, and speak Spanish as a second language after Zapoteco.
Although not certified, the vast majority of the coffee produced in this region is organic. There is also a strong focus on community in the region, and rather than the more common practice of employing pickers during harvest, when a producer's coffee is ready to be picked, they will do so with the help of their neighbours. Instead of payment, the producer whose coffee is being picked is expected to cook lunch, and in turn help pick their neighbours' coffee.
Each individual family pulps its own cherries, usually the day after harvest, followed by a 12-36 hour fermentation, prior to washing and drying on rooftops under direct sun. Although sun-dried, the drying is relatively slow due to the cool air, high humidity, and misty afternoons in the region. The coffee is then delivered to the UNTAO dry mill in nearby Magdaleno Apasco for quality control, lot separation, sorting, dry-milling and onwards transport.
Low production volumes, and low yields from historic poor tree maintenance are the biggest challenges facing producers in the region. Our exporting and importing partners Red Beetle and Raw Material are working closely with Romulo and the rest of the group to pass on better agricultural practices, and they have implemented a better payment system that ensures higher prices and earlier payment to the producers.
We had the great pleasure of visiting Romulo in Santo Domingo Cacalotepec in February 2023, visiting a number of the producers' farms, and learning more about the great work that the Cafe El Zapoteco group are doing in partnership with Thomas and Shaun from Red Beetle and the team at Raw Material. Our hope is to revisit the coffee from the group year on year, and to share news on how things develop over the years to come.