The Official Standard for Veracruz Coffee in Mexico

The majority of the nation consumes Veracruz coffee. Customers take it into consideration after seeing it in a storeroom. Its body and flavor are ideal.

The Official Standard for Veracruz Coffee in Mexico
The Veracruz coffee originates from the Coffea arabica species. Credit: Theo Crazzolara / Unsplash

Café Veracruz is the Denomination of Origin given to coffee produced in 842 communities in 82 municipalities in the mountainous zone where the Sierra Madre Oriental and the Sierra Madre del Sur converge at altitudes ranging from 600 m to 1400 m above sea level in the state of Veracruz.

The regions that contribute most to its production are: Coatepec, Cordoba, Huatusco, Misantla, and Atzalan. These regions contribute approximately 84% of the total coffee, and the remaining five regions—Tezonapa, Zongolica, Papantla, Los Tuxtlas, and Chicontepec—contribute the remaining 16%.

Café Veracruz arises from the particular combination of its deep volcanic soils, the humid climate that gives it its high acidity, intense aroma, spicy flavor, and body that characterizes it.

The Mexican Official Norm NMX-F-551-1996-SCFI establishes the characteristics, specifications, and test methods that must be complied with to produce, process, industrialize and commercialize Café Veracruz. This coffee comes from the Coffea arabica species, in which the following varieties predominate: Typica, Bourbon, Caturra, Garnica, and Mundo Novo, among others.

A Legend about the Origins of Coffee in Ethiopia

Coffee has its origins in Ethiopia. During remote times it was possible to find wild coffee plants in a wide strip of territory throughout sub-Saharan Africa, from the south of Sudan to the regions bordering the Gulf of Guinea, passing through the Congo, and even reaching Senegal. Ethiopia was the place from which coffee was taken to the Arabian Peninsula and, from there, to the world.

There is no way to explain how red berries with a not necessarily pleasant taste became the basis for preparing the most consumed beverage on the planet, with an estimated two billion cups per day. The most widespread legend says that a shepherd named Kaldi observed one day how the behavior of his goats changed when they ate the fruits - red berries - from a nearby bush.

The animals would approach, sniff the berries, chew them and, after a few minutes, begin to jump, run around briskly or move as if in a strange rage. Kaldi took the kernels, chewed them, and found their sweet to bitter taste pleasant. Happy, he cut a few and decided to show them to some hermit monks who lived nearby.

The monks received Kaldi with courtesy and were grateful for the gift. However, when they tasted the berries, they found them very unpleasant. Without further ado, they threw what was left after chewing - which was indeed pure grain - and dismissed the shepherd. As the hours passed, the fire did its work and toasted the grains, causing them to give off their characteristic aroma. Intrigued, the monks rescued them from the fire, tasted them, and, as they could not finish tasting them, put them in water to create an infusion. The rest, as they say, is history.

As is often the case, the legend schematically shows the path followed by the coffee from the bush to the consumer's table. Most probably, it was a constant back and forth of trials and errors until finding what to do with the red berries to prepare a beverage with an exquisite aroma, intense flavor, and stimulating effects.

According to some, coffee left Africa - where some wild varieties were consumed - in the 7th century AD. However, likely, it was not until the 15th century that merchants from Yemen found it, learned of its effects, and took it to the south of the Arabian Peninsula. Its consumption slowly spread northward and reached Mecca, where, at the same time, it began to be the subject of various controversies. Was it permissible to drink this liquid without contravening the provisions of the Koran? How did it act on the human body? Was it good or bad?

Doctors determined it was harmful, and authorities closed the coffee establishments and persecuted those who drank it. Despite this, coffee continued its journey and, towards the north, it found good acceptance in Syria, from where it passed to the recently conquered Byzantium and the renowned Istanbul. Towards the west, it crossed the Sinai Peninsula and took refuge in Egypt.

The Importance of Coffee in the Mediterranean

The trade of the Venetians and the Genoese with the Mediterranean Levant, although precarious, led them to know coffee and to introduce it in the Italic peninsula, where, once again, it encountered opposition, this time from the Church and the most conservative sectors of society. They argued that coffee was the drink of the infidels. The same infidels that were waging war on land and sea and that, at the slightest carelessness, would enter Europe and put an end to Christian civilization.

Coffee, a product of that civilization that was an enemy of Christianity, should be prohibited. The pope would have to vilify the preparation of the beverage and, naturally, its consumption. Before falling into irrationality, Clement VII decided to experiment on himself with the effects that coffee enthusiasts claimed to find in the beverage. It invigorates, awakens the senses, prolongs the hours of wakefulness, and invigorates the body and the spirit. The pope tried it, was satisfied with both the taste and the effects, and, instead of prohibiting it, declared that there was no obstacle to its consumption by any Catholic.

In the 17th century, coffee was already being written about in England in a very positive manner. Also, in that century, coffee arrived in France as a gift from the Sultan to King Louis XIV. It would be there, concretely in Paris, where the first establishments dedicated to selling the beverage would open in the last quarter of the XVII century. In other words, the first coffee shops -which were not yet called cafeterias-that would arrive a hundred years late in New Spain, in whose capital the first place for beverage consumption, the Café de Manrique, opened its doors in 1789.

The impact, certainly moderate, was sufficiently substantial so that, the following year, the importation of some plants from Cuba was allowed to be planted where they had the best expectations for their development. After conducting a few experiments, the Spaniard Jaime Salvetes established the first coffee plantations near Yautepec.

Coffee in Veracruz

At the end of the eighteenth century, the production of the six existing haciendas in the Veracruz district -around 1,850 quintals, equivalent to almost eighty-four tons- was sufficient for the modest exportation of Mexican coffee through the port of Veracruz. However, according to Baron de Humboldt, New Spain consumed very little coffee, around five hundred quintals -just under twenty-three tons-a tiny amount if one considers that France, five times more populated, consumed four hundred times more.

Coffee began to be planted in Veracruz in the 1810s, first in the surroundings of Córdoba and later in Coatepec, Teocelo, Xico, and Cosautlán. In the second half of the century, new plantations were established in Jalacingo, Tlapacoyan, Atzalan, Altotonga, Tomatlán, Coscomatepec, and Huatusco, the latter being a coffee well reputed for its aroma and body.

In 1871, after the convulsions caused by the French invasion and the establishment of Maximilian's empire, the first technification of the coffee production process took place in Veracruz, when wet pulping was adopted, and machinery was imported. In 1900, Mexico already produced 21,000 tons of coffee, most of which came from the large haciendas installed in Veracruz by Spaniards, Germans, and Mexicans.

Coffee in Veracruz experienced several essential ups and downs throughout the twentieth century. First, the armed struggle ended up disarticulating the coffee properties and handed them over, in the form of small plots, to some of their former owners and the inhabitants of the communities. The members of the coffee aristocracy maintained control over the beneficio - the processing of coffee and the commercialization of the bean.

By 1930, world coffee production exceeded the possibilities of the market to absorb it, which, added to the effects of the New York stock market collapse of 1929, led to a crisis in the sector. Prices had fallen since the 1920s and fell to their lowest levels on international markets. The solution was, on the one hand, to reduce supply. On the other hand, to find channels to commercialize the coffee surplus.

Thus, while the latter was partially achieved with the development of soluble coffee -with which the Swiss firm Nestlé acquired a good part of the Brazilian surplus-, in the first case, Mexico found itself in the group of Latin American countries that, amid the Second World War, signed an agreement with the United States to regulate the quantities of coffee beans in the world, which implied reducing production. Although the task did not seem easy, the same state of war with the Axis powers meant that the farms owned by Germans -some of which were in the Coatepec area- were confiscated, and their production stopped.

Coffee production in Veracruz

The war's end meant a new impulse for coffee production in Veracruz. Contrary to what was happening in other producing states, the territory of Veracruz already had passable roads, which prevented the farms from being isolated during rainy seasons. The prices of the aromatic experienced constant increases due to the imposition of production quotas that prevented market saturation.

To give certainty to the market conditions, in 1962, the International Coffee Agreement was signed, through which the producing and consuming countries committed themselves to strictly monitor the quantities of coffee that reached the market, which, mainly, would benefit the producers since, if no abnormal situation occurred, the prices would remain stable at a high level, and could even increase even more.

On the other hand, the Mexican government created 1949 the National Coffee Commission -which became the Mexican Coffee Institute in 1958-to study the sector's dynamics and implemented the necessary measures to provide it with dynamism. The policies implemented were successful. Thus, in the 1970s and 1980s, the cultivated area grew by over thirty percent.

The anomalies that everyone feared appeared in the 1980s when Brazil unilaterally decided not to reduce its coffee production in order not to lose market presence, which put an end to the agreement. International coffee prices, which had remained at just under three dollars per kilo, fell below two dollars, and the outlook was that they would continue to fall.

On the national scene, the Mexican Coffee Institute disappeared in 1993, which did not help the climate of uncertainty created by the sudden collapse of international coffee prices. The harvest was there, but the price was meager, so much so that perhaps it was not worth picking it.

The Development of a National Standard for Café Veracruz

Prices increased significantly in the last decade of the twentieth century, even without signing a new international agreement. In March 2000, the Veracruz Coffee Council requested to the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property the declaration of protection to the corresponding denomination of origin so that the producers would have a weapon in their favor that would allow them to face an environment that, although it showed some signs of recovery, was still adverse.

Standard NOM-149-SCFI-2001 "Café Veracruz. Specifications and test methods" was published in the Official Gazette of the Federation on January 7, 2002, and extended to coffee produced throughout the state, as long as it was planted above 750 meters above sea level.

A year after the application for the issuance of the denomination of origin was submitted, the Ministry of Economy, through the General Directorate of Standards, released the draft of the Official Standard that would correspond to Veracruz coffee, NOM-149-SCFI-2001, in which it was indicated what would be understood by coffee in its different stages of maturation and production - cerereza or green coffee, for example- and where the emphasis was placed on the defects that could affect it, from damage caused by insects to the appearance of "snail" type beans, driven by their atrophy.

However, even though there was a detailed description of the main issues related to coffee production, the problem of off-flavors -caused by the putrefaction of the beans, their contamination, or poor handling- was left aside until the Mexican Official Norm NOM169-SCFI-2007, Café Chiapas, made them clear.

After receiving the corresponding comments during April and May, in January 2002, the Official Mexican Standard NOM-149-SCFI-2001, "Café Veracruz. Specifications and test methods," which, in June 2011, would be slightly modified concerning marking and labeling practices. If you are passing through Veracruz, you can go to La Parroquia to get your coffee or to any other Veracruz coffee franchise. In other cities, you will most likely find a La Parroquia franchise.