Here at Green Beanery, we carry the world's largest selection of roasted and unroasted coffee. But it's not just our beans that come from all parts of the planet, the Green Beanery team is a reflection of that geographical reach, too. Most of us are from elsewhere, in some cases, the same countries we source our beans from.
Although coffee is a currency we have in common, it certainly isn't a standardized experience - a coffee is a coffee is sometimes a Türk kahvesi or a café cubano or an Americano but with ice cubes. And just as coffee culture differs from one place to the next, our coffee worldview likewise varies across location.
This inspired us to introduce our very own Coffee World, a new feature that aims to explore the global phenomenon of coffee in snapshot, and, today, we're training our lens on our very own beans inventory manager, Maria Hinojosa Leyva [pictured on the right alongside Priscila Fonseca - the creator of two of our new in-house blends].
Maria comes to us from Mexico with beans in her blood. In 1880, her great-grandfather bought a coffee farm in Pluma Hidalgo, a small, mountainous village in the south of Oaxaca, known for its organic coffee. Passed from great-grandfather to grandfather, the farm is now run by Maria's uncle, Carlos Leyva - and the coffee sure must be good there. Swimming in beans though she may be at Green Beanery, Maria favours her coffee homegrown prepared in the traditional Mexican way as café de olla, a "delicious pot coffee" infused with cinnamon.
It has become a tradition in Maria's family to visit her uncle's farm every December, which coincides with the month of harvest.
Q: Maria, can you tell us more about your family farm?
A: My grandfather took over the farm from his father when he was 40 years old. Production from 1940 to 1980 was very good and profitable, with export markets in Japan and Switzerland. My mother grew up on the farm and we return there at least once a year. As kids, we would swim in the fermentation tanks [used to loosen up the mucilage that remains on coffee beans after the cherry pulp is removed]. I should add, there was no coffee in them at the time! I remember playing on top of bagged coffee stored in tall stacks in the barn. Nowadays, production isn't what it used to be due to an ongoing issue with coffee rust and other reasons, more to do with economics. My uncle and cousin have had some success with their own artisanal blend, Nube Pluma, which they sell to coffee shops and small businesses in the city. [The farm's drying patio appears below. Visit the farm website here: https://www.nubeplumacafe.com/.]
Q: Do people drink more domestic coffee than imported?
A: Before I came to Canada, I thought all the good coffee that existed in the world was Mexican! Most people do drink Mexican coffee from the various major growing regions like Veracruz, Oaxaca and Chiapas. But one Colombian brand does come to mind: Juan Valdez, but it's still relatively new to us. Coffee from Costa Rica also has a presence in Mexico. Something I've discovered is that there is little economic support available to small farmers from the government. The lack of investment means these farmers don't realize their production potential and a lot of very good coffee never leaves the farm or winds up in blends with low quality beans.
Q: Has Starbucks infiltrated the market?
A: Oh yes. Mexicans adore Starbucks! But people aren't looking for a "good coffee" per se; they're more interested in brands. Most of the coffee sold by Starbucks is a dark roast, which is too bitter for me.
Q: You're not a fan of dark roast which is a roast profile you've had to endure too much of in Canada by the sounds of it ...
A: Dark roast! I still can't get used to it. That's the main difference between how we drink coffee in Mexico and here. When I first saw dark roasted beans at Green Beanery, I thought: Oh my, God! These will be burnt! They'll taste terrible. My mom thought the same thing when she visited me here at the store.
Q: You like café de olla. What's that like?
A: Café de olla can be found in the little towns around Mexico City. It's made in a pot, which is what olla means. You pour ground coffee into water before it boils and then add sugar and cinnamon. It's usually served at breakfast. The taste is sweet and delicate and really smooth. It doesn't require good coffee to make it either; people living in the countryside use just any beans and it's still good. My grandmother used to roast coffee beans in a comal, which is a flat griddle made of clay, and my family outside of the city still make their coffee that way. This is a photograph of café de olla I took in summer at my aunt's house made with comal-roasted beans. Weirdly, it tastes delicious! I realized last year that people living in the countryside don't know any other type of coffee! I think families that live close to the coffee plantations still use the comal to roast their beans.
Q: Is there a city mouse, country mouse divide when it comes to coffee?
A: A lot of people living in the city have never been to the countryside. The way people prepare their food, including their coffee, in the countryside is very different. In Mexico City, like any big city, people follow trends.
Q: Describe the quality of coffee in Mexico?
A: We're experimenting with washing and drying coffee in different ways; for instance, honey-processed beans are more common now. More and more baristas are learning new techniques for serving coffee. Even so, specialty coffee lovers face a hard time trying to find good coffee.
Q: Why is that?
A: Restaurants and coffee shops don't really care about the quality of their coffee. Ordering a coffee at a restaurant in Mexico is too risky if you care about good coffee. Coffee tastes burnt because it sits in thermal carafes for several hours (and the beans are usually months old). But here's a tip: If you do dare to order a coffee at a restaurant, check to see if they have an espresso machine; if they have one, order "an americano from the espresso machine, please." That might sound redundant, but, in Mexico, we don't necessarily know the difference between americano and drip. If there is no espresso machine, you will probably be given a cup of overheated, drip coffee.
Q: What do you think of the way we consume coffee in Canada compared to Mexico?
A: I don't think we drink as much coffee on average. We worry about the effects of caffeine on sleep - a widespread concern in Mexico. Work commutes usually take longer than an hour and workers leave their homes very early in the morning so they prefer a corn drink [aka atole - a thick, hearty, maize-based beverage] with their breakfast to go from a street vendor. Also, coffee is expensive compared to the minimum wage in Mexico City.