Farm: Las Flores Community
Varietal: Bourbon, Caturra & Typica
Processing: Fully washed & dried on patios
Owner: Various smallholder farmers - members of E-Cafe Chiapas
Town / City: Chicomucelo
Overall: Floral, dark and milk chocolate
Las Flores - Mexico
This ‘Las Flores’ coffee was produced by 13 smallholder members of E-Café Chiapas farming near the community of Chicomucelo in Mexico’s most southern state. ‘Las Flores’ means ‘flowers’ in English, perhaps alluding to the delicate scent of coffee flowers that wafts through the mountains during the height of the flowering season. However, the story behind Las Flores goes beyond the product of coffee, itself, into transforming the lives of coffee farming families.
E-Café – the organisation to which the contributing producers belong – is a faith-based social enterprise established to improve the livelihoods of farmers within Mexico’s poorest state, Chiapas. The organisation seeks to alleviate and, ultimately, eliminate poverty by helping small scale, indigenous coffee farmers in Chiapas to improve the quality of their coffee and find new markets for their product. E-Café provides support, training and financing to their members (in addition to milling and exporting their coffee) and is committed to ensuring that the ‘E’ (in E-Café) continues to stand for Enterprise, Environment, Empowerment and Eternity, reflecting the organization’s commitment to community development through economic empowerment. While coffee is the largest income generator and primary livelihood improvement activity for the organisation, it is a relatively new endeavour for them. They began their charitable work in the region by fully funding a University-prep high school for rural young people, an activity which they continue to fund today.
The Las Flores community is a two hour drive from Chicomucelo along unpaved roads through a virtual wilderness deep in the Sierra Madre Mountains. The town appears out of nowhere shortly after you see the ‘Las Flores’ sign. The families living here are heavily dependent up on coffee production for their livelihoods, though many don’t make enough from their production to meet their families’ needs year-round. E-Café has been successful in reaching out to 13 of these producers and has offered them the support that they need to continue producing coffee and improving the quality of their production, including helping them establish their own drying patios.
E-Café member groups are asked to select a group leader, who works with E-Café to secure resources and create cultivation schedules for all lots. In this case, Las Flores producers have increasingly taken steps to improve soil fertility, impacting both cup quality and productivity and have established worm composting modules to process coffee pulp and other organic waste into fertiliser for coffee plants and other crops. Some producers in the group supplement this with additional fertiliser, which is usually applied once or twice a year. Pruning is done on a tree-by-tree basis, but there has been very little renovation in recent years due to lack of resources and governmental support. As such, each contributing farmer currently only produces 10-20 bags of coffee annually. E-Café aims to work with the group leader of Las Flores to improve this in the coming years.
Coffee is usually pulped at the individual producers’ homes – though some share infrastructure according to family affiliation. Coffee is delivered via multiple methods – from walking to trucks to donkeys – on the same day that it is selectively handpicked. The coffee is then sorted to remove any under-ripe and damaged beans and is floated in clean water to remove debris and insect-damaged beans. It is then pulped, in most cases using a 0.5-1 HP motor pulping machine, after which it is delivered to tanks where it is covered with jute for fermentation.
After fermentation, the coffee is washed with clean water, which is filtered to remove solids and pollutants before being released. The coffee is then delivered to producers’ patios to dry, where it is raked every 20 to 30 minutes to ensure even drying and constant temperatures. In most cases, parchment dries for 7 to 8 days before being bagged and delivered to E-Café’s warehouse and dry mill.
Visiting Las Flores and E-Cafe mill
E-Café buys coffee only from members – in all cases producers with whom they share a strong relationship of mutual trust. They are able to distinguish lots according to originating community and also according to variety or category of coffee tree.
Making their first export to the United States only in 2007, E-Café’s vision of changing the world through coffee is becoming more of a reality every day. They have gone from producing/exporting 100 tonnes of coffee in 2012 to producing 300 in the 2014/15 season, and their new dry mill and warehouse (established in 2013) gives them the capacity to process 700 tonnes by the end of 2017/18’s harvest season.
Mexico was severely affected by coffee leaf rust in the 2014/15 harvest. Producers across Chiapas saw 50 to 80 percent decreases in their production volume, and small producers, who typically can’t afford the additional inputs necessary to combat coffee leaf rust were particularly hard-hit. E-Cafés advice and support has been crucial for producers in these communities. In order to deepen this impact, they have also recently purchased a demonstration farm, Las Chicharras, which works not only as a productive farm but also a research and development facility where they are experimenting with less-known varietals, such as Guacamaya, Marcellesa and Costa Rica 95.
E-Café provides pre-financing with zero interest to its members and in 2014/15 provided financing for up to 30 percent of the upcoming harvest. For 2015/16 they plan to pre-finance up to 60 percent, and for those who are not registered as coffee producers with the government, the organisation helps with registration so that they can receive government supports for production and processing.
E-Café mobilises a wide network of NGOs and churches to fund additional non-coffee-related social development programs in the communities where they work, as well. For instance, in 2015, they established 4 mushroom farms in rural communities that will supplement families’ diets as well as generate additional income. They have initiated income diversification projects directed towards corn production and fish farming and have extended medical services to the communities where they operate, including rural health clinics, pre-natal and early childhood healthcare, vaccinations, and eye care.
E-Café’s most important social project, however, is the Centro Educativo Ichthus A.C. which was founded in 2005. A tuition-free boarding school, it was established to give rural kids the opportunity to obtain a high quality education that they would otherwise be unable to obtain. Students qualify based on academic performance and family need. In a country where the high school graduation rate is less than 45%, a vast majority of the program’s students graduate with a strong grasp of the English language and over 90% of graduates matriculate to college. The school currently has half a dozen alumni studying in Korea on full scholarship while another handful are currently attending Mexico’s premier university, UNAM, in Mexico City. The school is fully funded by Ichthus (the E-Café affiliate program) and several graduates of the program have gone on to work directly as E-Café employees.