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Veracruz Enlightenment: One Coffee Cup at a Time

The coffee at El Cafe de Avelino in Coatepec, Veracruz is heady, fragrant and strong. On a balmy July afternoon, owner Avelino Hernandez, with the slicked dark hair and off-white guaybara shirt of a 1950s Mexican movie star, is behind the counter manning the cafe's roaster. He's a man with many talents but only one passion – coffee.

“This space is for promoting beans that are of an exceptional quality, not volume,” he says gesturing to his narrow space tucked into the entryway of an old convent. “Each bean has its own essence and through the roasting process we allow it to demonstrate that essence, express its spirituality.”

He hands us two cups of steaming espresso and pours himself a shot of coffee-laced liqueur.

“Through tasting coffee you have a conversation with it, with its spirit,” he says. “Much more than saying it's good, or I don't like it, it's a reflection and an evocation to feel everything within the coffee on an emotional level. This breeze, this energy, is not a coincidence, it's the vibration of this place. In the end, all of this is what we drink.”

We all take a sip from our mugs.

“You just drank a coffee landscape. This is the act of drinking coffee in Coatepec.”

Preserving the Tradition

The state of Veracruz is said to have had the New World's first coffee plantations on the mainland. When the Spanish brought plants from Cuba, Coatepec's high altitude and mild climate made it perfect for cultivating shade-grown beans. Up until recently, however, the best beans were exported and locals drank the leftovers in the form of instant Nescafe. Avelino is calling this moment – when exportation has become more cost prohibitive and kept high-quality beans in the domestic market – an invaluable opportunity for everyone, down to the producers themselves, to appreciate a good cup of coffee.

Coffee farmers like Avelino's grandparents -- growers with a tiny plot in the mountains -- are becoming more and more rare in the era of big agro-business.

“We look for places that use the old methods of production and have beans that are pure, indigenous varieties,” he says. This means non-commercial, small-scale farmers that dry their beans in the sun, grow their plants among the natural vegetation and don't use pesticides and genetically-modified seeds.

No longer cultivating the family plot, Avelino is now cultivating awareness; about coffee, about nature, about slowing down enough to enjoy life's simple pleasures. He's a kind of caffeinated zen Buddhist. His romantic ideas and obsession with the perfect espresso have made him an enigma to his family and community.

Next, how best to enjoy coffee with tips from the pros...

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