It’s entirely possible to travel around Mexico and never find this place — after all even in better known places like Oaxaca, the tourism is largely Mexican — but here, in Chiapas, outside of Tapachula, there’s a string of turn-of-the-century coffee plantations that form the Ruta del Café, where a place like Argovia Finca are still run by fourth generation German descendants.
The typewriters and accounting machines. Since the finca was established 130 years ago and they’ve kept many of the pieces that were once used.
Coffee presses and grinders.
Inside the coffee processing plant, there’s a mixture of new slick displays (like the full color illustration of the coffee process) and the tools they use, many of them quite old.
Twine for closing bags.
They mostly sell their organic coffee to distributors but they had a small retail operation, selling bags at the resort or in a few dozen cafés in Mexico.
Unroasted coffee beans.
After they are roasted.
Coffee! Glorious coffee!
It was all really fascinating to look at because they still have these turn-of-the-century pieces. You could see where pieces were made, some from Germany, many from the US. Their generator was a Rolls Royce engine.
Made in the USA. Shipped to Mexico. Dragged up into the jungle near the Guatemala border. Making coffee for over 100 years.
Everything was very organized.
It wasn’t the high season, but we were told they hire as many as 2,000 season pickers during the fall. The regular staff live on-site and make perhaps 100 pesos a day (about $7.50).
The coffee dries in the sun. This is their off-season crop — used for extracting caffiene.
In the last 20 years, they have changed they way they harvest coffee, so instead of clear cutting the jungle, they let it all grow back, offering some shade for the coffee plants, then trimming back for the last part of the season. Because of this they have also restored the local fruits and plants, like this spice which is the main ingredient in achiote, the paste used to make Pibil Cochinita.
They didn’t grind the coffee on-site because it loses quality too quickly, but they did do small batches for their own use.
So how does this all become eco-friendly? Well when the original owner built this place, there was nothing. Just a jungle and the potential to grow coffee. He cut a road into the hillside, the same road that now takes an hour to drive — it must have taking hundreds of works and months of time to just clear the vegetation. Then the equipment was dragged up to the finca. But for the majority of it’s time, the plantation has been without any electricity or connection to the grid in Mexico. The work-around? Water. There is kilometers of waterways built zig-zagging across the mountain. It collects the rain water and that powers the coffee processing equipment.
Beyond the power, it’s also built into the sorting process for the coffee. The fresh picked beans are poured into the water (the benefit is the bad ones float to the top — they are removed and then re-used as kindling). The water also moves the beans from station to station, until they are dried. They control it with a series of gates and collection pools. It’s the marvel of this place to see how clever the original owner was.
The beans get sorted, and a batch like this shows some of the duds.
Who would have ever thought to take these beans, shell them, roast them, then grind them and steep hot water in it to make coffee? How many things did they try to roast before they found coffee?
Beyond the coffee production, the entire finca is enveloped in a deafening silence. The jungle absorbs all noises and it’s just you and the buzzing nature that creeps up to your cabin door. So you sit. You think. You relax. Then you meander down to the restaurant to eat.
A sample of the tortilla soup.
A mixed plate of appetizers from the chef. They try to use as many local ingredients as possible.
But it’s also a mix of European touches as well. For the largely Mexican clientele the finca serves, the chef aims to elevate the food. It’s an interesting perspective to consider because if they aimed for international clients they might go more traditionally Mexican, but for the Mexicans visiting, perhaps this plays as too homey. Comfort food. Regular. So there was a lot of European inspiration on the menu.
Best ceviche ever… here’s the secret, and I am definitely making this as some point: mango and avocado. It was so spicy, sour, toothsome and smooth.
Hibsicus flower sauce, grilled chicken and peanut sauce.
Steak with a local herb sauce.
Not exactly Mexican, but I’ll take it: carrot cake!
Of course there is the coffee.
I am completely routing for this place. The owner was amazing. The staff was so sweet. We had car troubles and ended up staying three days while it got fixed and they took excellent care of us. I’m told they are working on making their own shampoos and soaps with the local flowers. There is so much potential. It’s hard to imagine that they’ll be able to convince many tourists to drive 6 hours south from Oaxaca to Tapachula, then to trek an hour into the jungle. But if you’re traveling south along the highway towards Guatemala, it’s worth a stop, and you can take a tour even without spending the night (they also have a full spa and some cool sounding adventure activities).
If you go, get the tarasco for breakfast. It’s delicious — over easy eggs, ham and tortilla, covered in a spicy tomatillo sauce.
Then enjoy the view and the all encompassing quiet.