A Coatepec Miscellany
Colour, Coffee and Companero/as
This site is dedicated to our experiences of life in the colonial town of Coatepec, in the state of Veracruz, Mexico.
We moved to Mexico at the beginning of 1999, settling in the south of Mexico City, in the colonia of Copilco Universidad, close to the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Thanks to the kindnesses of friends we had in Mexico City and Mexicans we met upon arriving we settled in quickly, and moved into our own apartment within 5 or so months of arriving.
It had always been our plan to have a provincial home as well as a city base in the capital, and Xalapa had been recommended to us as a good prospective provincial town. We visited over our first Easter in Mexico (1999) and felt very much at home. Our first serious look at real estate took us to Coatepec, a few kilometres south of Xalapa. We had never heard of the town previously, so had no idea it featured in Hollywood and Mexican cinema and TV productions. It was certainly beautiful, and by September we had bought a long abandoned home in the Centro and had begun to restore it.
Eight years after buying our house there we are now pretty well settled in the town, and have recently added a small plot of coffee land to our stakes in the town. The three hectare block, with about 600-700 coffee bushes -- like the house we bought, an abandoned asset at the time of purchase -- in varying stages of need of rejuvenation, is on the very fringes of the town. We had our first coffee harvest in December 2006, and at the time of establishing this website we are about to have our second harvest. Last year we sold most of the 700 kilos that were picked, holding back around 10% for our own manual production. The quality of the product and the magical experiences encountered in producing it -- where networks of friends and acquaintances of friends and acquaintances materialised on a "just in time" basis at every step of the process -- made us decide to try and pick and process the entire crop ourselves this year as our way of "doing the Christmas holiday season".
Michele will arrive back in Coatepec in a little over three weeks from now (21 November 2007). I will get back a few days later. We will move back and forwards in time as we get this site underway. The main thing is to have it in place for the 2007-2008 coffee harvest as our starting point of reference for this celebration of a unique town -- one of Mexico's 21 officially designated "pueblos magicos", or magical towns -- set in the southern Sierra Madre del Oriente mountains, an hour's drive from the Caribbean coast.
January 2008 -- Making hand made coffee
We have completed the first pick of what is a very late harvest. The robusta trees at the house were barely 25% mature a full month after the first pick usually occurs. We took a few kilos of beans from them -- maybe 5 or 6 kilos of raw bean -- in the days before Christmas. By today -- 5 January -- they are roasted; a medium roast. They will go into blends with the arabica crop, and with luck we'll manage a second pick next week, and I might manage a third before I leave at the end of January. The trees were beautifully laden this year, but the ripening was so slow. These beans are entirely hand made. We removed the beans from the cherry by the old squeeze between the finger method. We washed them by hand and dried them on a sheet of plastic in one of the upstairs rooms. We husked them using a conventional hand operated meat mincer and coffee grinder, with the grinding plate open as wide as it can go. The husked beans were then roasted to a medium roast in a teflon coated frypan over a low gas flame, kept moving with a spatula. They have come out well.
The main crop out on the three hectares of land we have on the outskirts of Coatepec near the Coffee Fair grounds, on the road to El Trianon -- a coffee hacienda -- was light and late. Our trees badly need a pruning, and will get one after this crop. We picked for 4 hours on Christmas afternoon, managing around 15-20 kilos of raw beans. Gabriel offered us his crop since he was not going to do anything with it. I picked two afternoons with Goyo, the local lad who is the "base worker" for the three lots of land belonging to Gabriel, us, and our neighbours (who have had their land cleared). Goyo picked a futher half day, and our combined labours yielded a further 80 kilos or so of arabica.
The day after New Year we took 80 kilos of beans to Don Anulfo's for "pulping" (see the entry for 3 January 2008 at Joypix ) and brought the beans back to the house for washing and drying. Gabriel then informed us that he had 20 kilos more for us at his home, so we picked them up yesterday. The beans have been drying almost 4 days now and will soon be ready for husking. This begat the need for a husking machine. At the same time, having a further 20 kgs to "pulp" spurred us on to locating a pulpadora, since we knew we could not just keep calling on Don Anulfo for this service.
We knew there were hand operated pulpadoras, but had no idea what they were like. I asked at some hardware stores and they eventually led us to Casa Oken, a treasure of a shop in the heart of Coatepec that sells a rnage of high quality hardware as well as resources for coffee work, like scales. They had the names of people who make coffee implements. One of these was near a shop Michele had found and mentioned. When I got there I found the owner opening up for the afternoon. He said they made hand operated pulpadoras and I ordered one. Later in the afternoon I went back to ask if they also sold husking machines. They did, so I ordered one of those as well. Initially, Roberto said the pulpadora would be assembled and in the shop by next Tuesday. In the event we picked it up this evening, just 24 hours after first talking about it. So tomorrow we will pulp the rest of the beans.
The husker will be a very small machine oeprated by a half horsepower electric motor. It will husk 250 grams of "ready for roasting" beans at a time. This is a machine usually used in labs for testing coffee beans for quality. But given that 7 kilos of raw bean reduce to 1 kilo of "ready for roasting" bean, then such a small machine will serve our needs pretty well. The husker should be ready to pick up in 3 or 4 days, which means we will be able to husk the entire crop next week.
Over the summer the son of a friend in Calle Moctezuma -- Jorge (see him in our coffee music video, Spoonful -- made us a roasting machine that will roast 8 kilos at a time (each roast taking an hour). All these machines will come into play over the next week. We will introduce them one by one as the process further unfolds.