It's far more than just a delicious drink recipe.
Ask a group of US coffee drinkers what their favorite coffee-growing country is and it might take a while before you hear Mexico. We’ve mostly all had delicious coffee from Mexico, but the flavors we usually associate with it might not seem quite as unique as the super-bright flavors of Kenya, the balanced and diverse coffees of Guatemala, and the intriguingly savory delights of Papua New Guinea. As for the chocolaty, nutty flavors that Mexico is known for, well it just isn’t as known for those flavors as Brazil. Good news, friends: no matter what kind of coffee you like, Mexico is a country you should be looking at!
Why Mexican Coffee?
The typical cup we expect from specialty Mexican coffee contains candy bar flavors. It’s a terrific crowd pleaser and one that people don’t necessarily know to look for. And Mexican coffees often stand out in their ability to carry lots of chocolate and nutty sweetness across a lot of roast levels. When I bought coffee for a multi-roaster shop, we put a very light roast from the Chiapas region on our menu a few years in a row and it was always a top seller; it basically tasted like a peanut butter cup — much to the delight of even customers who tended to stay away from super-light roasts. And those flavors tend to hold up really well in darker roasts as well. If you like fruitier coffees, those Mexican coffees are starting to become available as well.
In fact, they’ve already been available for years, you just might have had to go to Mexico to get them. According to the International Coffee Organization, Mexico consumes not too far from half of the coffee they produce. For nearby countries like Guatemala and Honduras, that number tends to be less than 10 percent. That internal consumption — combined with the thriving specialty coffee scene in cities like Mexico City — means that some of the highest quality coffees don’t have to leave Mexico to make their producers money.
This situation isn’t anything new. In William Ukers’ All About Coffee, written way back in 1922 and a fun resource to peruse once in a while, he writes “It is claimed by many that the Mexican coffee of best quality is grown in the western regions... of Colima and Michoacán, but only a small quantity of that is available for export.” Throw in regions like Oaxaca, Guerrero, Nayarit, each with varieties that flourish and favored processing methods based on climate, and Mexico has tons of delicious, distinct coffee to offer — even if they often don’t reach the US.
American roasters and importers are taking notice, though. We’re seeing more coffees that don’t fit that chocolaty, nutty stereotype. That includes everything from citrus and stonefruit-laced washed coffees to jammy naturals that taste like berries.
What About Mexican Coffee Recipes?
But if you Google “Mexican Coffee”, you’re more likely to get drink recipes than a selection of delicious beans. The first, is the coffee preparation known in Mexico as Café de olla. That coffee is basically coffee boiled in a clay pot called an olla, alongside piloncillo (a cane sugar known in most other parts of Latin America as panela) and cinnamon (or the similar bark called canela).
Can you make real café de olla without an olla? I’m probably the wrong person to answer that question. But for an approximation that’ll carry the same flavors, you’ll do fine clicking over to our cowboy coffee article and adding a few cinnamon sticks and a chunk of piloncillo (it comes in little cones) to either recipe to taste.
The other result you might find for “Mexican Coffee” is some sort of alcoholic drink, though what exactly that might entail is hard to pin down. I highly recommend taking a peek at this YouTube video of servers preparing a so-called Mexican coffee in Cabo San Lucas, but just as highly recommend against trying that at home (for reasons that should become clear upon clicking).
Other so-called Mexican coffees seem to just be recipes for Irish Coffee with tequila replacing whiskey, which I don’t think is a great pairing. Try changing up your Irish coffee recipe with mezcal instead (the smoky notes should complement the coffee and cream well), maybe throwing in a little Kahlua (an honest to goodness Mexican product) too.
If you have an espresso machine and don’t mind shelling out for a new bottle of liquor, an actual Mexican coffee cocktail is the carajillo. There are variations, but at its simplest a carajillo consists of more or less equal parts espresso and the sweet Spanish liqueur Licor 43. Mix them up, pour it over ice, and get to partying.
Great Mexican Coffee to Try
Whether you’re making a pour over or a carajillo, Mexican coffee has a ton to offer. No matter what kind of coffee drinker you are, there’s probably a Mexican coffee for you. And for coffee drinkers outside of Mexico the selection’s only getting better!
From a small community in Oaxaca comes this balanced, sweet coffee. It's great for lovers of chocolate notes and refined sweetness.
Ruby San Pedro Yosotatu ($21.50)
This natural process coffee from Ixhuatlan is the fruity, different coffee we’ll hopefully be seeing more of out of Mexico.
A women’s cooperative in Chiapas shows us the nutty side of Mexican coffee, with almond notes for days a little subtle plum note.
Quills CESMACH Women Producers ($21.20)
PT’s found a Oaxacan coffee that has plenty of body and sweetness — even after decaffeination. This one demonstrates Mexico’s strength as a producer of organic coffees.