Municipality: Santa Cruz Ozolotepec, indigenous Zapotec community
State / Province: Oaxaca
Region: Oaxaca Sierra Sur
Altitude MASL: From 1,036 to 1,927
Main varieties: Típica, Marsellesa, Mundo Novo, Sarchimor
Harvest: December to March
Main process: Washed
Main native language: Zapoteco
Santa Cruz Ozolotepec is a small coffee-growing town of no more than 1,000 inhabitants in the state of Oaxaca, located in the southern part of Mexico characterized by its wild mountains and spectacular landscapes.
Its main activity is the cultivation of high-quality coffee under a diversified shade. The product is processed in an artisan way in manual pulpers and sundried patios, petates or zarandas in a period that goes from December to March, characterized by the absence of rain, conditions that allow the obtention of unique coffees. The producers are organized and are part of the UNECAFE cooperative, through which they have been able to commercialize their coffee in different parts of the world.
In 1854 the priest José María Cortes, parish priest of San Agustín Loxicha, planted some coffee bushes in the vicinity of the church out of mere horticultural curiosity and thus became the introducer of coffee in the region.
The decline and crisis of the Cochineal bean, a very important product in the 1860s, gave way to the introduction of coffee that quickly became the new crop of the Zapotec, Chatina, Chontales, Mixes communities of the south and the coast of Oaxaca. Coffee would become a daily drink for poor people who could not drink chocolate at that time.
Between 1873 and 1874, an attempt was made to plant coffee for commercial purposes on the land of San Isidro del Camino. However, it was not accepted by the inhabitants and the local authorities, so the group of shareholders formed a society that promoted this project and established themselves in a place nearby called “cerro de la pluma“, where the first 40,000 coffee plants were established in Oaxaca. These lands belonged to both villages of Santa Cruz Ozolotepec and San Mateo Río Hondo, which ceded these lands on December 1, 1880, to create the famous town of Pluma Hidalgo.
Coffee and Biodiversity
The vegetation of Santa Cruz Ozolotepec is currently cataloged as secondary arboreal vegetation of the Mesophile Mountain Forest. It belongs to the Copalita River basin, an important tributary that flows into the bays of Huatulco and belongs to the Southern Biological Corridor. CONABIO, the Mexican federal biodiversity organization, has characterized the town territory as an exceptionally important area for the conservation of birds (labeled as Terrestrial Priority Sites). The territory features, unique characteristics related to biodiversity, species richness, and endemism, taxon rarity, ecological and evolutionary phenomena such as migrations or adaptations, and by the global rarity of their habitat types, which require sustainable management and conservation measures.
Santa Cruz Ozolotepec is known for its production of shaded coffee, which guarantees the permanence of a great diversity of native species, protecting the natural environment since they are a refuge for species of epiphytic plants and fauna such as mammals, reptile birds, amphibians, and arthropods. The shaded coffee plantations in the area have similar diversity to the natural forests, their soils are preserved, they are fundamental in the capture of water and the retention of carbon. All these factors make coffee-growing an environment friendly activity.
Ozolotepec Coffee Production
The coffee production passed from generation to generation. Lands where the coffee is cultivated belonged to the grandparents and are still in the same families which led to fractionated land. The Ozolotepec average producer owns 2 hectares, and therefore emerged the necessity to be grouped in a cooperative to continue the cultivation in a sustainable way, adhering to Organic norms, private labels, and Fair Trade for example. The renovation of the farms has gained strength in recent years thanks to new varieties rust-resistant such as Marsellesa.
The process has not changed much; the cherry harvest is still a feast! The producer waits for the cherry to be at its best before starting the harvest. The whole family is gathered, music’s on, and then begins several days of picking, hoping that it will be a good year for coffee.
The depulping, or removal of the coffee pulp, is done with a manual pulper on the same day of the harvest. The bean ferments for an average of 15 hours until the mucilage is released by the action of microorganisms and temperature. When ready, it is washed in cement or wood tanks.
Once this process is finished, the coffee is moved to the town patios to dry. The drying activity is generally performed by the wife, mother, grandmother, and the producer himself/herself.
This handcrafted process ends with the manual removal of defects (bitten, stained, damaged by some insect) and storage of the parchment coffee, waiting for the selling day to the cooperative.