Cocoa, dried banana, and wafer cookie on the nose introduce a cup with deep sweetness, a pleasantly round mouthfeel, and flavors of graham cracker, strawberry, milk chocolate, and cherry jam.
Ricardo Romero is a producer from the Sierra Sur region of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Red Beetle Coffee Labs, a small team based in Oaxaca that sourced and exported Ricardo’s coffee for us this year, are doing impressive work in the region: regularly traveling to remote coffee producing communities to provide on-site quality analysis, and paying excellent price premiums to producers based on clearly defined quality metrics.
This is the first year that we have had the opportunity to share a coffee from Ricardo Romero, a coffee producer from San Francisco Ozolotepec, in Oaxaca’s Sierra Sur region. While Mexico generally, and Oaxaca specifically, is a coffee producing region of significant interest to us, Passenger’s green buying team has only recently begun to explore opportunities and partnerships in this fascinating country. Thanks to the support of our supply chain partners at Osito and Red Beetle Coffee Lab, we are proud to share this stellar microlot from Ricardo Romero this year, and we hope it will be possible to return to Mexico in the near future to visit producers, and improve our understanding of the coffees of Oaxaca through more conversations, and a lot more cupping.
The majority of coffee farmers in Oaxaca are smallholders, often with less than 2 hectares (about 5 acres) of land under cultivation. Many of these small farms are located in mountainous regions at significant distances from Oaxaca City and other more densely populated areas where dry mills and large exporters tend to be located. Given the logistical difficulty of transporting coffee from farming regions to export centers, and an economic climate that severely limits credit and financing for small producers, it should come as no surprise that many farmers end up selling their coffee to predatory traders, known as coyotes, that travel throughout producing regions offering low prices, in cash, for coffee that is ultimately sold to other traders at a profit.
Red Beetle Coffee Lab is a small specialty exporter with a particular focus in Oaxaca. The company is named for the red Volkswagen Beetle that founder Thomas Pingen outfitted as a mobile cupping lab a few years back. By regularly traveling to remote producing communities in Oaxaca, offering on-site quality analysis and competitive prices based on clearly defined quality criteria, Thomas and his partner Shaun Mace have gradually established Red Beetle as a well respected source of highly traceable coffees that are notable for their physical integrity. Given the very small volumes that most coffee farms in these regions produce, it takes an unimaginable amount of work to individually screen and analyze vast numbers of tiny lots to share feedback and confirm pricing with producers. In contrast to large-scale coffee estates in other parts of Mexico that comfortably produce bulk lots numbering in the hundreds of bags, a 40 bag community lot from Oaxaca could easily require the individual contributions of hundreds of farmers. Given the extra work required to source coffee in this way, we are incredibly grateful to the Red Beetle team for the tireless effort that they devote to maintaining impressive standards of quality consistency.
The present three-bag lot from Ricardo Romero’s farm, a field blend of bourbon and typica, was processed in a way that is quite typical for the region: the coffee cherries were briefly rested following picking before being pulped and dry fermented for 48-72 hours. When fermentation was complete, the parchment was dried in the sun on handwoven Petate mats. In 2021, Red Beetle Coffee Lab paid a base price of $55 MXN/kg (dry parchment) to producers in the Sierra Sur. Additional premiums were paid to each producer based on how their coffee performed with respect to Red Beetle’s standard quality metrics: moisture content, water activity, UV scan, cup score, etc. The final price paid to Ricardo Romero for this particular lot was $85 MXN per kg of dry parchment.