Earlier this year, as part of the Cafe Imports Legendary Coffee Producers tour, Sprudge co-founder Jordan Michelman had the opportunity to conduct sit-down interviews with three of the world’s best coffee producers: Jacques Carneiro of Carmo Coffees in Carmo de Minas, Brazil; Juan Jose Miguel Sr. and Jr. of Finca Nueva Linda in Chiapas, Mexico; and Francisca Chacon of Las Lajas in Central Valley, Costa Rica.
In this interview, we’re talking with the father-son duo of Juan Jose Miguel Sr. and Jr. of Finca Nueva Linda in Chiapas, Mexico. Juan Jose Sr. started growing coffee at the age of 17, when he was brought into the family business by his own father, a strict man who championed traditional coffee growing orthodoxy. Through many years of both growth and setbacks—Finca Nueva Linda has been struck by multiple hurricanes and tropical storms—Juan Jose Miguel Sr. has helped grow the mill at Nueva Linda into a shining beacon for coffee quality in Chiapas, working with more than 24,000 small holder farmers from across the region.
Enter Juan Jose Jr., who joined his father at Nueva Linda in 2014, and has helped revolutionize farming practices by introducing a series of innovations, including a solar drying facility, triple drying techniques, new Gesha variety plantings, experimental sugar cane fermentation, and the cultivation of new and rare hybrid varieties.
In this interview, we discuss about the differences, and similarities, between this father and son duo, learn more about all that experimental processing, and ask these producers a simple question: what do you wish more coffee drinkers knew about your coffees?
This interview was conducted with a live English to Spanish translation by Luis “Lucho” Arocha of Cafe Imports, with many thanks.
Please give us a brief introduction—how did you get started working with coffee?
Juan Jose Miguel Sr.: The first coffee farming generation of my family was my father and me. We acquired land for planting coffee. This was 43 years ago, in 1973.
Juan Jose Miguel Jr.: I began working on the farm just about 2 years ago.
What is the difference in the style of the father and the son?
Junior: We both have an innovation mentality, but our grandfather really was the one who got innovation going. When my grandfather passed away, it coincided with the day we started to work with Cafe Imports, which opened a window for new and better prices for us. My father helped bring the opportunity to me to improve our techniques at Finca Nueva Linda.
Your work is quite experimental. I'm curious—do you see this as part of the wider culture in Chiapas? Coffees from this part of Mexico are sometimes not well regarded by coffee drinkers here in America.
Senior: To your question, the answer is no. To what we’ve seen is that many farmers around us are planting rust resistant varieties with very low quality. The goal for many is high yield, not high quality. Other farmers in Chiapas are planting resistant varieties that are not necessarily good tasting, and their process is just not enough to be called true “specialty coffee.”
Which experiment are you most excited by, Juan Jose Jr.?
Junior: The “honey” process—for me, it represents a lot of interest, but also the three different types of drying. But also, I am trying to improve the quality of Catimor. We have a lot of Catimor on the farm, and the highest point score so far is 87 points, so we’re aware we can produce high-quality Catimor. That is a big focus for us.
Do you ever get to try the final product, roasted product of your coffees?
Senior: No, we have not yet received a commercial roast of our coffee. But we do see photos.
What is something you wish coffee drinkers of your coffee knew about your coffee?
Senior: We want to build trust with our customers. We want them to know that they’ll always have a quite high product from us, and that you will feel comfortable drinking the coffee we produce. And that also, the customers will be aware that they’ll continue with the innovations—we will improve our quality year by year.
I would also like to add—when my dad and I were working together, my father often blocked my ideas instead of allowing me to innovate. But in my case, I want to allow my son, Juan Jose Jr. to innovate and do experiments, for constant improvement. I was not allowed to do this as a young man, but now, together, we will.
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge.com. Read more Jordan Michelman on Sprudge.
Photos by Andy Reiland, courtesy of Cafe Imports.