It all started with my photo of this beautiful woman from Amacueca, Jalisco. Her name is Juana. The plan for our sunny-day-drive was to travel to the pitaya corridor to see the harvested pitayas, which are the colorful fruit of the Stenocereus Queretaroensis cactus. They are farmed abundantly throughout Mexico, but the farmers from our area will proudly tell you that theirs are the most delicious. This woman selling the pitayas had the twinkliest eyes and the kindest smile. I was immediately taken with her and asked if I could take her photo. There was a warmth and sweetness to her quiet mannerisms. I loved her silver hair and the patterns of her apron against her blouse. I can imagine sitting in her tiled kitchen, sipping on cool agua fresca, while she stirs pots of bubbly sauces, roasts vegetables and hums along with the crackly radio. It feels like she is looking right through me and saying, “It will all be fine. You’re going to be okay. Here, eat some chilaquiles, you’ll feel better.”
A month after posting the photo on Instagram, I received a message from her grandson, Jose Angel or “Pepe”. He saw my Instagram post and struck up a conversation with me. He lives in Amacueca and on Friday I traveled there with my friends Lorinda and Brian to visit him. He is a third generation coffee farmer and he has expanded the family business to include roasting and distributing their product, both in beans and ground. I delivered copies of the photos of his grandmother to his lovely mother, Concepción, and we visited with them while drinking a delicious shot of their freshly roasted espresso. My coffee is usually comprised of more cream and sugar than coffee, but their espresso was perfect on its own. It had a slight sweetness and some berry undertones. A perfect pick-me-up for a long day of photography. < photos by @lorindatisdellimages >
Pepe invited us to his workshop space, where he roasts all of the coffee. He walked us through the whole process and described the various ways he processes the beans. Some are dried with the shells on, and some of the beans are split from the shell. Each gives a different flavor and composition to the brewed flavor. Being the third generation and very entrepreneurial, he has introduced the roasting process, which amplifies their business opportunities. In addition to running this company with his father, Pepe is pursuing a doctorate in e-waste management at the University of Guadalajara. Previously, the family was growing, harvesting and then selling the beans to other companies who processed the raw product. The shiny roaster is the focal point of the workshop and it takes a mere eight minutes to transform the beans from a pale golden color to the rich brownish-black of a bean that is ready to grind. The aroma of roasting coffee is lovely and over the course of the eight minutes it changed from a yeasty scent, like baking bread . . . to chocolate or caramelizing sugar . . . and at one point smelled to me like popped corn. It was pretty cool. < photos by @lorindatisdellimages >
We drove through the charming cobblestone streets of Amacueca, past high walls and lazy street dogs to their family garden. The farm is just up the hill from their home where they hosted us, have a papeleria and brew the coffee for friends and customers. For over fifty years, Pepe’s family has been tending coffee plants on this green, forest property. Through the trees, views of the mountains can be seen on the horizon. Coffee plants are nestled between walnuts, avocados and fruit trees. The soil on their land is black. It is dark and thick and felt like squishy carpet under our feet. It is so rich in nutrients that they have never used any fertilizer and use no pesticides or chemicals to treat their plants. It is completely organic and tended with such love. Under the canopy of lush trees, I could sense the history surrounding us and this secluded plot of greenery had the serene calm of a private cathedral. Coffee farming is hard work and Pepe and his father, Adan, do it all themselves. Planting, tending, harvesting, drying, bagging, roasting and packaging. It was a pleasure to sit in their home and enjoy their coffee, to see the open-air workshop and walk their farm.
I am going to try and help Pepe to bring his delicious coffee to Lakeside. For now, you can find him on Facebook @Cafe Maestro Tostador. He is on WhatsApp @ (331.227.9720). I will be sure to let you know when you can find his products in Ajijic.