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Wednesday 17 September 2014 1:37pm

Mario Fernandez FS labs
Mario Fernandez

With almost two centuries of coffee growing in his family history, it's little wonder Mario Fernandez knows a thing or two about coffee.

It's not enough, however, and Mario has moved from Mexico to Dunedin, New Zealand, to learn more – he is now part of the way through a PhD in Food Science at the University of Otago.

When he first started in the family business, Mexico was the fourth largest producer of coffee in the world, but it has now fallen behind, and today the Mexican industry is trying to gear towards quality and flavour rather than just yield.

That's where research such as Mario's comes in.

Coffee vs. Wine

He compares coffee to wine, in that there are a huge range of flavours of coffee available, and all can be altered by the post-harvest process method to change the flavours even more.

“We are purposefully following the lead of the wine industry in developing consumers who understand and appreciate the differences and flavours of coffee.”

Here in Otago, so close to the prestigious Central Otago vineyards, and drawing on the flavour profiling expertise of the University research staff, Mario has narrowed down his focus to one type of the three post-harvest processing methods for coffee.

He will try and find more about what happens to flavour when the natural process is used (the other two are “washed”, and “pulped natural”).

Long way from home

It is a long way from Dunedin to the heart of the coffee industry, but Mario, who gained his Masters in Food Science at the Université de Montpellier in France, said he and his family were sold on New Zealand through a Kiwi friend who worked with them in their own coffee shop in Mexico.

'For my two children, it will give them both a new language and experience of a very different culture.

“And for me, I am at the best university I have ever been to. The Food Science department is not large, but it is so supportive in every way. The whole system here is designed to make you feel supported at every step, and not just me, but my whole family.”

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