The man responsible for bringing us coffee from Mexico's El Eden Cooperative is Roberto Delgado. Roberto is the founder of Tiger Orchid Coffee Company, which specializes in importing Mexican coffee. This is the third year we've bought coffee from El Eden and we were pleased to see the quality is better than ever. Roberto was kind enough to answer some of our questions about what he does and why this coffee is so good.
How did you first discover the El Eden Cooperative? How long have you been working with them?
I met one of the producers in a trade even in 2011. They gave us a roasted sample, which was rancid but there was enough there to entice us. The next crop we got a green sample, and off we went. We bought a little coffee in 2012 and have increased the amounts ever since.
How have you seen their coffee improve over the years?
The consistency is much better. In the first couple years, the fermentation could really vary from bag to bag and from producer to producer. A big part of this improvement has been to reinstate drying beds to control air temperature, moisture and pile depth. We have also charged the better producers with overseeing the weaker ones. The production is now pretty consistent, within the limits of their technology. We now see differences in the producers themselves, which is where we want to be.
This is the first year that we've bought coffee from a single producer in the cooperative. What are the benefits of keeping the different lots separate?
The incentive is the main benefit. In a traditional co-op, the commingling of coffee creates a free rider problem so their coffee is only as good as the worse producer. The star producers are not paid for their work, so why put the extra effort. We are trying to side-step this issue by keeping each producer separate. In this way, we can give each one individual feedback and control consistency. We have also started to price discriminate producers, and we will continue to implement this going forward.
This has been one of our most popular coffees these last two years. What's so special about coffees from Guerrero?
Everything about this coffee is unique. The production area is very close to the coast but the elevation rises very quickly. It can take 4 to 5 hours to travel the 50km from the coast. It may be the highest growing region in Mexico. The soil is also incredibly fertile, and we need to do more work on understanding this. Because of their isolation, they have developed their coffee program separate from the main Mexican coffee regions. People in Mexico are still surprised to hear that the state of Guerrero produces coffee. Their focus on naturally processed coffee is a deliberate effort to differentiate from other coffee regions. These outside factors are important, but the main element is these producers are bad asses. They are resilient and focused like no one we have met. This has cultural underpinnings and historical influences. No one has ever given these communities anything. What they have, they have developed themselves in a very harsh environment. Their culture is quite unique, the same as their coffee.