Melisa and Jimena de Gasperín come from a coffee family. They are the fourth generation to run Rancho San Felipe. Benni and Melisa met while studying in Mexico. Melisa was studying architecture at the time and then emigrated to Switzerland with Benni. That was before she decided, along with him and Jimena, to get the coffee farm up to scratch.
Who wants to buy 10 tons of specialty coffee?
When Benni founded the Distl coffee trade as a sole proprietorship in 2019, he had big plans. He was ready to ship 10 tons of green coffee to Europe without having a single customer. Nobody knew whether the plan will work out, but Benni and Melisa believed in the success of their grown specialty coffee. That wasn't the biggest hurdle though, as he tells us.
Before the 10 tons made their way to Europe, they first had to be produced: “Producing specialty coffee without experience and the right infrastructure was a real challenge,” remembers Benni. “I approached the matter quite naively back then. We had a loose agreement with a leading company in the global coffee business, but I didn’t think that it could bust.”
The original plan was for 7-8 tons of the green coffee to end up with this company and the rest in Switzerland. The deal went bust and Benni had to come up with another plan. He looked at customers in the EU. “The time was challenging, but also very educational,” he says.
Fair Coffee for everyone
When Benni, together with Melisa and Jimena de Gasperín, decided to continue the Cafetalera San Felipe (Cafetalera is Spanish for coffee plantation), one thing quickly became clear: it should be fair, for producers, employees and the environment. The product therefore had to be more expensive and of higher quality.
In order to finance themselves, Benni and Melisa worked part-time in Switzerland for the first two years. In 2021 they decided to go to Mexico together. Melisa now works full-time at the ranch, where Benni occasionally supports as a roaster in addition to his tasks in Europe (import, sales). He also opened his own café in the summer of 2022.
For their specialty coffee, the two work with 20 families from the Sierra de Gallego Veracruz. They cultivate comparatively small areas of 0.1–1 hectare. During the coffee harvest between October and March, the farmers only pick ripe cherries, which then end up at a collection point in Paredones.
Here Señora Eugenia is checking that everything is going well. She collects, weighs, sorts and pays the farmers. Every evening the day's harvest comes to the San Felipe farm for further processing. The de Gasperíns have also been working with Señor Jose Reyes for several years. They advise him on coffee cultivation and processing. The better quality commands higher prices in the national market that the sisters serve.
Sustainable initiatives at Cafetalera San Felipe
Benni and Melisa are working to restore more wild species of plants and animals to the ranch. Through a government-funded program, several biologists, chemists and a veterinarian work on the ranch to restore a biological circulatory system and reduce the negative impact of production.
Their environmental commitment also includes the fact that they are currently exploring how they can make their own compost from existing material and also share it with the producers. “The most promising solution at the moment is a mixture of chicken manure and pulp,” Benni tells us. “We will soon start building a “humedal”, a natural pond and water cycle through which the contaminated water will be clarified before we return it or reuse it.”
Since 2021, they have also been growing food on the farm and aiming for self-sufficiency as far as possible. To show and share all of this, Melisa and Jimena also offer tours for tourists to learn about the ranch's biodiversity and coffee production. School classes also enjoy the agritourism tours, making it easier for them to understand the importance and necessity of biodiversity and nature conservation.
One can quickly notice that Benni is passionate about the environment. He tells us that the plants and animals on the ranch are meticulously cataloged. “We also breed Abejas Meliponas, an endemic species of bee from the Mayan period, as well as rabbits and various types of chicken. Added to this is our king oyster mushroom production, which we will soon be expanding to include more mushrooms. We inject the fungal spores into a substrate made of sterilized pulp," says Benni. "The goal is to create a circular economy that is as self-sufficient as possible."
How Mexican coffee comes to Germany
Once the coffee has been processed at Rancho San Felipe, it goes to the port of Veracruz via logistics company. From there the green coffee begins its journey by ship towards Germany. The warehouse of Cafe San Felipe GmbH, the official name of Benni's company, is in Singen on Lake Constance.
We purchase specialty coffee from Benni and Melisa, which we offer as decaffeinated coffee DECAF Mexico and as a Lowcaf Blend with less caffeine. You can find more impressions of Melisa, Jimena, Benni and Rancho San Felipe on Instagram.