Oaxacan coffee is grown on small plots spread over a large, diverse range. Well, three ranges actually. Oaxaca is where the Sierra Madre del Sur and Sierra Mixteca ranges come together to form the Sierra Madre Occidental as it heads north. If you follow these ranges south of Oaxaca city towards the coast you find a unique climate – soft, pine-filled forested mountains that give way to steep, craggy coffee fields as you head into the heart of La Pluma. This is the district of Sierra Sur, and home to the coffee that made Mexico famous. La Pluma Hidalgo is a region within Sierra Sur, and the namesake for the La Pluma varietal (a type of typica). Before La Roya hit, this region was filled with buyers. With easy access to buyers and premiums, most farmers did not organize – and those that did had a hard time surviving the crash that came. The result is a mountain full of independants knit together by family relationships. Strong farmers in the region collect from their neighbors, separate tops out for us, and help us to get from 6 bags per family up to truck-load levels. Yet Joaquin Santana bucks this trend, andnd many other conventions, in the face. He is head of UNECAFE – Unidad Ecogica para El Sector Cafe Oaxaquenos. This 48 member group is held together by Joaquin’s will, appeal to the benefits of cooperation, and incessant cell use. While the group only meets a few times a year, Joaqin tours the different stations once a month to drink coffee with members, trade tips and talk shop. He is one of the few Spanish speakers in the group, and one with a phone, a car, and enough space in his house to stage coffee for pickup during harvest. But, aside from his personality, the proof is in the pudding.
The group’s success is apparent – since forming in the early 90s, members have grown to have an average of 5 hectares per person, each hectare of which produces 800-1200 pounds of export grade coffee (3-4 times the average). This is due to aggressive organic practices, constant pruning, and the continual investment in new trees. This is the heart of La Pluma, and there is pride that comes with planting this specific varietal.
All in all we see why they refer to themselves as a toda madre.