Mexican Geisha Mysteries

BH Unlimited Update, Apr 2nd 2022.

Geisha seedlings are sometimes being given to farmers in Mexico free of charge. The catch? They are mixed in with rust-resistant hybrids like Catimor, with no way to tell which is which. To learn more about this highly unusual story, follow the link to this long form article where we follow up on some investigations carried out by BH staff writer, Tom Hopkinson. Tom’s been riding out the second year of the pandemic in the Oaxaca region of Mexico.

During this time he has discovered an incredible specialty café culture. We’ll add some links below on some of Tom’s favourite destinations. But here’s the most curious discovery he has made after a series of interviews with producers in the Oaxaca:

"Geisha seems to be everywhere [in Mexico],’ Tom tells us. ‘Apparently what happens is the authorities give out free seedlings to farmers, and they give out something like 90% Catimor to boost yield, but throw in 10% geisha in an attempt to boost the quality. A weird and not very successful strategy I think."

It’s important to note that Mexican Geisha blends have performed extremely well in recent times with several top ten finishes in the Cup of Excellence grower’s competition. Samuel Altamirano took eighth place in Mexico’s 2021 Cup of Excellence with a geisha blend. The farm took third place in the 2017 Mexican COE with a lot comprised of Geisha and Bourbon blended together because they weren’t able to produce enough Geisha that year to make up a single lot, according to Samuel.

According to Thomas Pingen, founder of the coffee sourcing company Red Beetle Coffee Lab ,

"I don’t know how common it is, but for us it was very shocking to see,” he says . “The seedlings were completely mixed up and it was impossible to separate them."

We take a close look at this more recent practice whilst also looking into where Mexican coffee production has come from in recent years. In particular, Tom gets the low down on what potential remains for the older Typica, Bourbon, and Mundo Novo (a cross between Red Bourbon and Typica) plants still in cultivation. According to Pingen, in many areas these old plants remain unpruned for up to 40 years, yielding as little as one handful of cherry per tree.

Roasting Science

Our Roasting Science course this week tackles the thorny topic of air recirculation in coffee roasters. Recirculating the hot roasting gases makes economic sense, and is claimed to reduce energy costs by as much as 80%. However, to prevent smoky flavours from tainting the coffee, the air must be thoroughly cleaned in an afterburner — and an afterburner uses at least as much energy as roasting the coffee in the first place.

The solution, invented by Gothot in 1971, is to use the same burner to heat the roaster, and as an afterburner. The original design didn’t even use a cyclone to remove chaff, but instead incinerated it, along with everything else in the roasting gases, at a temperature of 800°C.

By reducing energy costs, recirculation made air roasters commercially viable, allowing the development of roasting machines that don’t rely on a rotating drum. Gothot’s design used a fixed drum, with rotating paddles to lift and stir the beans. This kind of design — found today in roasters by Loring , or Probat’s Jupiter range — is said to have a ‘semi-fluidised bed’ as it behaves in a similar way to a fluid-bed roaster.

The Coffee Buyer’s Guide to Brazil

As well as being the biggest exporter of green arabica, Brazil is also the world’s biggest exporter of instant coffee — yet no Brazilian brands of instant coffee are well-known outside of the country. So-called ‘discriminatory’ import tariffs in Europe and other countries favoured the development of instant coffee brands in Europe and Asia, instead. This week we take a look at the issues surrounding coffee exports in Brazil, and learn why Brazilian farmers take home a bigger proportion of the FOB price than most, and why fully one third of the coffee produced in Brazil stays in Brazil.

We also dive into the peculiar chemistry of roasting Brazilian coffee . While the topic hasn’t been studied directly, the available research suggests that, given the same treatment, Brazilian coffees roast a little faster than others. Even when roasted to the same end colour, the chemical changes that develop bitter, roasted flavours seem to be more pronounced in Brazilian coffee. All the more reason to roast your Brazils gently, and make the most of the increasingly complex and diverse flavours the country’s coffee has to offer.

Quick Links

Madheads roastery in Kyiv is supplying coffee and food to hospitals and armed forces for free. These folks are looking for donations or international orders to help pay for the services. Here’s a link to their Insta post that explains their situation and a link to their webshop too.

Café Culture in Mexico

Mexico has a thriving and fiercely local coffee scene. The best cafés in Oaxaca city have close links to producers from the state, while in Mexico City coffee bars feature experimental processing or unusual varieties from Mexico alongside top lots from all over the world. Some of the best in each city are:

Kiyo , a beautiful Japanese-inspired design and coffee shop, with the sweetest baristas you’ll ever meet.
SL28 , a tiny café-roastery that takes its coffee service very seriously — the place to go if you want to explore the nuances of Oaxaca’s terroir.

Mexico City
Blend Station , for unpretentious service and an ever-changing filter coffee menu.
Quentin , a solid international range of coffees in some of the most beautiful cafés in the city.
Café Curado , to splash out on 90+ coffees from Mexico and elsewhere.

Our Editorial Policy

At BH we never do ads for products on our website. There’s no product placement in any of our courses, newsletters or blog posts. Our only income comes from what you pay for your subscriptions. When you see machinery or coffee gear mentioned in any of our educational material, or featured in our course videos, we have chosen to use that equipment because we like using it or because it shows you something you need to see. It’s as simple as that.

Roasting Science

Roaster Types
RS 1.06 • Recirculating Roasters and Afterburners
RS 1.07 • Fixed-Drum Roasters

The Coffee Buyer’s Guide to Brazil

Notes for Green Buyers
CBGB 7.02 • Coffee Exports in Brazil
CBGB 7.03 • Notes for Roasters

As always, we're just an email away if you have any queries! Have great weekends and we look forward to seeing you next time.

To the Boundaries of Coffee,
Team BH