This past March, we lost our good friend and partner, Mario Fernandez Sanchez. When we decided to make Mexico a priority for our sourcing program, we contacted Mario via his son, Mario Fernandez Jr., a colleague of Joel’s at CQI (at that time) and now the technical director at SCA. We’d purchased very little coffee from Mexico before this trip and had very few connections, but we knew it was an important origin for us to explore and were grateful to have a friend to take us around. From the moment we arrived in Veracruz, we were welcomed with open arms, and the amount of time and energy Mario gave to us—complete strangers at the time—was remarkable. He must have introduced us to every coffee grower in Coatepec (plus a few in Xico and San Marcos) on that trip, including several people who have become key partners in our sourcing operations in Mexico.
A seventh-generation coffee grower and native Veracruzano, Mario Fernandez Sanchez’s family roots in the coffee business go back nearly 200 years. While living in Mexico City as a young man, he decided it was time to return home, and in 1978 he purchased land near Coatepec that would become Finca Garabandal. In addition to coffee, he planted macadamia nuts, boysenberries, and several varieties of exotic flowers. For Mario, the diversification of products was a way to ensure a steady income, even in years when his coffee production was lower or the market prices were down. For us, it meant additional treats to look forward to when visiting—tasting the ripe berries, smelling and admiring the beautiful flowers, and if we were lucky, going home with a big bag of fresh macadamias.
Another way Mario maximized income on the farm was through unique coffee genetics, and he is said to be one of the first growers in Mexico to produce the Geisha variety for commercial sale. The story goes like this:
In 2006, while working for the University in Xalapa, Mario was invited to visit the former varietal garden of Inmecafe, a government organization developed to support coffee cultivation among small farmers in Mexico. Inmecafe was dismantled in 1998, and the land had been sold to private citizens years earlier. Mario and his colleagues were informed that the garden would be uprooted and were asked to harvest and transplant the remaining coffee trees. Among those trees, Mario found six Geishas. He transported five to the university and planted one at his home in honor of the birth of his first granddaughter. As the tree began to produce, Mario began using the seeds to populate Garabandal, eventually replacing nearly 100 percent of his coffee production with Geishas from that mother tree.
We’ve been visiting Mario Fernandez Sanchez at his farm since 2018, and although this is the first year we will feature his coffee at Little City, it’s not for lack of trying. He simply never had any to sell us. Every year we inquired and every year it was “sold out.” So it is with bittersweet appreciation that when we finally release these incredible coffees, he won’t be here to help us celebrate. We don’t know the future of Finca Garabandal, but hopefully, it will land in good hands, and whoever takes over will continue to produce the world-famous Coatepec Geisha to honor the legacy of a Mexican coffee legend. Descanse en paz, Mario.