Peñas Negras Especial - Oaxaca, Mexico
Peñas Negras Especial - Oaxaca, Mexico Peñas Negras Especial - Oaxaca, Mexico Peñas Negras Especial - Oaxaca, Mexico Peñas Negras Especial - Oaxaca, Mexico

Notes of cane sugar juice, buttercream, amber honey and dutch cocoa.

Growers: Smallholder Farmers, Peñas Negras Community
Region: Pluma, Oaxaca, Mexico
Altitude: 1500-1800 masl
Variety: Pluma
Process: Washed. 12-18 hours of fermentation. Patio dried.


Mexican coffee can be exciting. In fact, a coffee from Oaxaca which I had at an SCA Global Coffee expo a few years back was the nicest coffee I tasted at the entire show.

 Pluma, a subregion of Oaxaca, has an incredible history along with incredible coffees. Boasting the singular Pluma Hidalgo variety, an offshoot of Typica, at elevations as high as 2200 masl, Pluma coffees present a wide range of flavors: distinct dried fruit notes like raisin and prune, saturated sweetness like brown sugar, richness like drinking chocolate, complex malic acidity like green apples, and even florals like amber honey and peach blossom.

Over the last few decades, Pluma’s coffee production has evolved dramatically, shifting from the hands of large estates into the hands of local smallholder farmers. Nowadays, Pluma is almost exclusively the province of smallholders with farms averaging just 1-2 hectares, but going back 80 to 100 years, the coffee production landscape looked completely different. Huge, lower-middle elevation coffee plantations ruled the territory, buying the higher-grown smallholder coffees and blending them into their own bulk, undifferentiated coffee despite their superior quality. In the late 80s and early 90s, Pluma gained a widespread reputation for producing quality coffee. However, a combination of factors including low market pricing and coffee leaf rust (known as Roya), saw estate holders abandoning their farms and moving on to more lucrative ventures in the 2000s.

Once the estates were decimated, local smallholder farmers continued farming—mostly out of necessity, though their operations were no more fiscally sound than the estates had been. Pluma’s smallholders struggled to make enough to thrive and reinvest in their farms, and many have lived on the brink of giving up and following in the footsteps of the estate holders before them. Without access to a differentiated market where customers are willing to pay viable prices, there has not always been a real value proposition for Pluma’s producers to keep growing coffee.

Over the last couple years, this has started to shift. Being able to introduce these coffees to a group of buyers willing and ready to purchase them at a viable price has started to build trust in this region and reinvigorate local farmers, who are beginning to understand that their coffee is worth more than they have always been told. They are ready to be able to dictate their own futures and gain access to new pathways to finance and reinvest in their own success.