La Sierra Mixteca

A cooperative of small family farms in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico

Year founded:

2012

Partnered with Stumptown:

2013

Varieties:

Typica and Bourbon

Processing technique:

Washed

What’s new:

We helped the farmers build two new drying beds on our last visit to demonstrate construction techniques

The Producer

The producers in Miramar, a close-knit village of around 1,000 people, speak a dialect of Mixtec, a pre-Columbian language. Each morning, a loudspeaker in the middle of the village crackles to life, and the morning’s news and announcements are read in the dialect — when we were in town, they announced our arrival and invited everyone to the plaza mid-morning to meet us. The farms here are all small family affairs, with people growing and processing their coffee in their backyards.

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The Place

The village’s name, Miramar, literally means “see the ocean.” It is at the very top of the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca-mountain range, and on clear days, you can see the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles away. On our way there, we always stop for tacos in Tlaxiaco, which was established as a city around 400 BCE.

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The Process

Coffee is a relative newcomer to this region, considering its millennia-long history, but the producers in Miramar benefit from an incredible old-growth shade canopy that protects and nurtures the coffee trees. This co-op broke away from a larger group in 2013 to focus on quality and sustainability. In just those two years, we’ve seen an incredible rise in quality and clarity in the coffee they produce. Since all the coffee is processed in small batches, you get unique nuances and flavors within the same harvest.

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More Details

La Sierra Mixteca is a group of smallholder farmers high up in the remote mountains of Oaxaca. The primary language in this area is Mixtec, one of over 20 surviving indigenous language dialects in Mexico, while Spanish is a second language. Incidentally, there are over 16 different indigenous groups just within Oaxaca.

In 2013, the Sierra Mixteca cooperative broke off from a larger umbrella co-op in order to pursue a better market that appreciates quality coffee. They cultivate Typica and Bourbon at a high altitude under a nice shade canopy.This coffee represents a newer ‘project’ where we hope to instill our Direct Trade model in a new area with tons of potential to see improvements over time.

These farmers have an unusual connection to the Northwest: in previous years, many of them worked as migrant pickers for 7-8 months of the year in Washington and Oregon. They picked berries, onions, asparagus and other crops, and then went home to work on their own farms for the rest of the year. As the border crossing has become increasingly treacherous and less work for migrant laborers has been available in the US, most farmers have decided to stay home and to reinvest in their coffee farms and focus on quality at home.

This group of farmers value organic and sustainable production processes as well as quality. In order to keep healthy plants and increase yields, they invested in centralized vermiculture (or worm composting) stations where they produce a rich and fertile compost to distribute to the members. They utilize cow manure, coffee cherry pulp, green vegetation and other fruit and plant scraps as the base of the compound.

While in the Northwest, many farmers picked up some great production and irrigation techniques which they have since applied to their own farms. Most of the farmers maintain their own nurseries so they can continue to renovate the plants by replacing aging trees.

Each producer picks and processes their own coffee on farms which average 1-2 hectares. They use small hand-cranked depulpers and cement or plastic fermentation tanks. They dry ferment the coffee for 24-30 hours after depulping and then wash it in the same tank. They dry the parchment in the sun on small concrete patios.