Sweet Maria's Home Coffee Roasting

Mexico Chiapas 2006: Page 1

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Motozintla means “land of the squirrel”. I am in Motozintla and, while I haven’t been here long, I can say that there are no squirrels here. I came here on a bus, a wheezing, smoking diesel behemoth that used to be a painted Greyhound, probably the same one I took from Bakersfield back in 1983. Now it seems that 3 of its transmission gears still work, and to find them the driver either needs to synchronize with the engine rpm at a very particular speed, or he has to stop completely. It’s a charter, a buss that seats 50 for just 15 of us. But as far as coffee trips go, that’s about 10 too many on my book. No offense, but I am tired of groups. It feels like I am stuck in some gelatinous cytoplasmic goo. I prefer to be my own amoeba. The goo moves too slow, too much inertia. We let Tapachula, hot, sweaty Tapachula, in the morning. If the bus doesn’t have a major seizure, we will be in Motozintla, home base for the coffee co-op best called “La Union”. Or would you prefer the ugly acronym UDEPOM. Or would you like the full name: Union de Ejidos de Professor Otillio Montano. We arrive at Hotel Alberto. If that is Alberto at the desk, he is hard to rouse, in fact he is asleep most times I walk up to the counter. I get room 43. Room 45 has a syringe on the floor, I am told. Room 43 is good enough for me, but it is not the place you want to hang out.

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welcom to tapachula, chiapas, as far south as you can go without being in guatemala! as usual, i am a sucker for commercial painting. i don't know what this was for.
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in tapachula the word is ... don't be a pig!
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more typical trash you find in Tapacula, Chiapas.
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the zocalo (i.e. town square) in Tapachula, with effective, zhedged shade trees.
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typical portable taco cart. head of cow tacos? thony? jhony? i dunno.
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revolution, a horseshoe, a chicken head, a bull. and an ad for professional assessor services. yep, we're in rural mexico.
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after a morning in Tapachula, the bus came. it happened to be the same one i rode from fresno to bakersfield in '83, i think. it didn't run as well, though.
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they can't fool me with the reupholstry - i know this bus.
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relacing the fuel filters. however many gears the bus originally had, there were 3 remaining, and the driver has to sync engine and tranny rotation to shift. or stop.
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along the way, some beautifully painted houses.
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typical buying station for non coop coffees, or storage for the coyote (buyers who roam the hills offering low payment in cash for coffee).
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sentiments in sympathy with the leftist protests in oaxaca are all around.

The group is a mish-mash of U.S. and Canadian roasters. Big ones, and little ones, varied in concerns, with I-don’t-know-what in common. I end up in a conversation I really don’t want to be in, about packaging machines. I guess I just have a compulsion to relate to people. It’s a weird trip. As it happens, I won’t need the cupping spoons I brought. I won’t even see a sample roaster or a cupping table. The Union office is stacked with their roasted coffee, in jars, labeled “Organic Instant Coffee.” The local supermercado, across from the Alberto, has only instant coffee too. What’s with that? Maybe it makes sense – where else would Instant be so useful but in a place with unreliable electric power, and a brewer costs money. Boil water, add a spoon of coffee, stir. Fact is, if you want to have a competition for the world’s worst coffee, go to an area where they grow it. Now it’s not like coffee from the area, roasted “for local consumption” would save the farmers of Chiapas, or anywhere. Coffee is a cash crop, made to bring outside funds into an economy that needs it badly. But local coffee wouldn’t hurt; it also would be ideal if producers understood the varying qualities of their own product, which they might if they all roasted and cupped the coffee. It’s not like discriminating taste is strictly and urban quality. I challenge you to find a more disciplined, discerning and frugal customer of fresh produce and meats than a Latino woman in an open-air market. It’s a typecast I know, I am sure some don’t care at all about the quality of their purchases. But I have sat and watched them shop, and they are discriminating and tough. What’s the big difference between sniffing melons to anticipate which will be the sweetest, ripest, juiciest one, and what I do when “cupping” coffee? In addition to selling local roasted coffee, a bit of tourism dollars wouldn’t hurt, but outside our awkward pod of gringos, there are no out-of-towners in Motozintla. I like that, but I am not going to infuse the economy with much money so what’s that worth. Consider that my roundtrip plane fare from SFO was $1100, and right now SFO to Paris is around $1050. Hmmm… City of Lights or Land of Squirrels?

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we are here to see the effects, almost a year later, of hurricane stan. it wooped this area. a mudslide.
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rivers were filled with debris, homes washed away.
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there was hardly a stretch of river on our route from Tapachula to Motozintla de Mendoza that had been worked on, boulders moved, gravel rearranged, barriers installed, etc.
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hillside town where they replaced the road with concrete and cobble.
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Motozintla de Mendoza, about 20k people.
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our destination, the udepom cooperative: union de ejjidos professor otilio montano... whew.
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the main 5 folks at the coop. eddie is on the left, antoniel on the right, and severiano in the middle. the other 2 i don;t recall.
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at the supermercado, 100% instant coffee. coffee trees all around, not one local coffee, whole bean or ground, in the shops.
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more grafitti opposing the govenor of oaxaca state.
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at the community center, a little model coffin, for halloween, but with a religious statement. "we are dust and in dust we are reconverted.
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Motozintla de mendoza in the early morning. i walked alone...
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... well, people were on their way to market, and the packs of dogs were in full action. in this way, typical mexico. stray dogs everywhere.

Well, we came for the annual meeting of La Union, where all the “socios” (members) come in from the hinterlands of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, to sit through rousing speeches, a list of accounts (including – I am not kidding- every desk, table and chair the co-op purchased that year), a few words by the gringos, and – finally- some food and beer. There are around 600 socios from 5 areas, and 29 small mountain communities. They expect around 450 to come. And they do, with their wives, their kids, their grandmothers. Motozintla de Mendoza is the central town for coffee here, where the Union has its warehouse and milling facility. But all the coffee is processed from cherry until dry parchment on the farms. The co-op radiates out from here to Huixtla, south to Amatenango, over to Esquintla, and up to Tuzantan. Here we are, as far south as you can be in Mexico without stepping into Guatemala. Smashed up against the frontera with San Marcos and Huehuetenango districts of North Guatemala, the coffees have that same distinct acidity, and makes them unique among the other major Mexican regions: Oaxaca, Veracruz, Coatepec, Nayarit.

The trip is short. I can’t even pretend to understand this area, what’s really going on here. Chiapas has always been fiercely independent. Zapatistas, Commander Marcos, all that seems more like a Telenovella than what I see here. (Namely, there’s a lot of graffiti supporting the leftist uprising in Oaxaca). Chiapas is distinct in its topography as it is in its culture. I also can see how well the co-op is organized, as they must be to keep track of the individual efforts of 650 micro farms, 29 communities, 5 municipalities, producing a whopping 60 containers a year loaded with 250 bags weighing 154 pounds each. It’s why every desk and chair must be publicly accounted for, because it’s shared money. All this transparency is to alleviate the natural paranoia found among rural farmers that they are getting screwed. You would be paranoid too if you handed over your sole means of support to an agent who, you pray, is working to get you the best results. Coffee farmers don’t understand the market, who buys their coffee, and why. They join together in coops because there is no other way to get fair results for their effort. The alternative, selling to the “coyotes” who drive around and offer low-ball pricing (in cash though) probably makes more sense than the delayed payment they receive from the Union. But to do anything more than survive they need the coop, and they have to trust it.

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what's going on here ... hmmm.
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government office, covered in oaxaca grafitti. either there is wide support for the problems there, or there is one guy with a lot of spray paint.
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where you find a Motozintla Macho Man.
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local market, farmers bring in the potatos and onions
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indoor section of the saturday produce market
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coop minibus station
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ice cream cart
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christmas elf/pig likes converse.
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garden in town
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the fair price is 5 bucks, i guess.
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mangy coffee tree at the udepom offices
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another great commercial painting
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okay, back to coffee. at the warehouse for udepom cooperative
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one of their 2 warehouses for dry-milling coffee. this is the annual producers meeting. all the "socios" come to hear the financial report, and have a big meal together. 650 socios, about 450 will come today.
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the second warehouse, nearer the river, severly damaged by hurricane stan.
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another view of the former offices.
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bathroom inside, filled with debris.
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dogpack at the coffee warehouse
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you can't have a get together in chiapas without a marimba band
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the farmers, from a wide area centered on Montozintla.
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