COFFEE WITH AN ATTITUDE Brewing Great Mexican Coffee at Lakeside – May 2009

Brewing Great Mexican Coffee at Lakeside

By Kevin Knox


mexican-coffeeFor many expats, living at Lakeside is their first experience of being in a coffee growing country. Familiar brands may be hard to find, but Mexican coffee is everywhere. With a bit of know-how you can enjoy some of the freshest and most delicious coffee you’ve ever tasted, for pennies per cup.

Buy the best fresh, locally-roasted beans: Mexico’s finest coffees are grown in Chiapas and Oaxaca, but other states produce good but less flavorful beans, including Jalisco. The crop is harvested from November through March.

Many think coffee is a staple like flour or rice, but it’s highly perishable, with the shelf life of fresh-baked bread. Just-roasted whole bean coffee remains fresh for only 7-10 days, while ground coffee is stale in 24 hours. The first thing to go is the aroma. Keep your whole beans in a cool spot and buy only what you’ll use within a week.

At Lakeside you can buy fine quality high grown coffees from Chiapas, Oaxaca and Veracruz at Café Grano Café in Ajijic, and carefully-sourced “farm direct” Jalisco beans from The Coffee Tree in Chapala. Both places offer super-fresh coffee and friendly service.

Grind just before brewing: While a more costly burr grinder that cuts rather than chops the beans is ideal, even an inexpensive blade grinder will work just fine for most brewing methods. The faster the brewing method, the finer the grind, and vice versa. For drip brewing 15 seconds in a blade grinder is just about right, while plunger pot or café de olla (see recipe) need a coarse grind produced in 10 seconds.

Use the right coffee/water ratio: For each six fluid ounce cup of coffee (a coffee “cup” is based on a fine china cup, not a giant American mug), use one heaping coffee measure (2 Tbs.) of beans or grounds. By weight (much more accurate), the formula is 60-70 grams per liter or about 2 dry ounces of coffee per quart. This ratio ensures that you only extract the flavorful “heart” of the coffee, leaving the bitter components in the spent grounds where they belong.

Use boiling water, and keep brew time short: The boiling temperature of water decreases 2°F for every 1000 feet of elevation gain, meaning that here at Lakeside it’s just over 200°F. Optimum brewing temperature for coffee is 195-205° and correct brew time for drip ground coffee is 4-6 minutes. Now while all commercial coffee makers easily meet these standards, the average home electric drip maker heats the water to around 170-180° —at sea level—and takes 8-11 minutes to brew! In fact there is only one brand of home electric drip maker that brews the way commercial units do, and it costs $150 and has to be special ordered.

These limitations can be easily overcome by simply boiling water on your stovetop and brewing by hand. At our altitude a simple pour-over drip maker such as a Melitta® makes far better coffee than any electric unit, while a plunger pot (French Press) makes even richer coffee. In the meantime, if you’re stuck with a typical electric unit try brewing only half a pot to get the brew time shorter and use warm water rather than cold to trick it into brewing a bit hotter.

Make it fresh, drink it fresh: Once brewed, coffee stays fresh on a warmer burner for 20 minutes, double that in a thermos. For best results, make it fresh and drink it promptly.

Discover classic Mexican coffee: Well-made traditional Mexican coffee tastes fantastic and requires no equipment other than an open pot on a burner and strainer to make. Try it once, and you may never drink anything else.

(Ed. Note: Kevin Knox is a 28-year veteran specialty coffee buyer, roaster and taster living in Chapala. He is happy to answer your coffee questions and can be reached at

For more information about Lake Chapala visit:

Ojo Del Lago
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