José Perez Vazquez, our longest standing farmer-partner and good friend, stops to take a break while working in his coffee farm. José works as an advocate for peace and justice in his Mayan community, traveling around the globe to build awareness of the challenges coffee farmers face.
Cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg
Best brewing: filter
Recommended ratio: 16:1
Acidity: mild citric
Toasted almond, dark chocolate, lingering
Best brewing: immersion
Recommended ratio: 15:1
Acidity: very low
Rooted in the friendship between HG’s owner and director Chris Treter and former Maya Vinic president Jose Perez Vazquez, HG’s relationship with the organic coffee producers of Maya Vinic represents a partnership at very foundation of our identity: a commitment to long term, mutually beneficial trade relationships with on-going interactions that includes water projects, emergency relief, educational collaborations, and a tireless commitment to peaceful, resilient, and sustainable communities.
Higher Grounds started small, first purchasing just a few hundred pounds of green coffee from Maya Vinic, outsourcing the roasting process before purchasing our own roaster, and packaging the coffee in a Leland, Michigan basement to sell at the local farmer’s market. The business grew from there, ultimately expanding our offerings and forging relationships with other farming groups around the world. Even though HG now sources coffee from over a dozen different countries, each of those trade relationships is modeled after our very first one with Maya Vinic—whom we still purchase coffee from every year.
Maya Vinic is comprised of some 500 coffee farming families located in 38 highland communities in the municipalities of Chenalhó, Pantelhó and Chalchihuitán, in Chiapas, Mexico. Each member has on average one hectare of coffee and produces about 400 kilos annually. Inspired by the traditions of their ancestors, Maya Vinic operates with a respect for local language and culture, and a reverence for Mother Earth and traditional forms of self government.
José and his family in Chiapas, Mexico.
The founding members of Maya Vinic come out of the base organization “Las Abejas” – a network of Liberation Theology catechists in the region. They envisioned the cooperative in the aftermath of the 1997 Acteal massacre, where 45 of their members were caught in the political cross-fire of the era. The day of their funeral, survivors and sympathizers arrived each carrying a brick, which would be used to build a mausoleum to commemorate their dead. Yet it wasn’t until three years later, with the birth of Maya Vinic that they were able to create the foundation for new life in the community.
The founding members worked hard: organizing, training, reclaiming the land, composting, pruning, communicating – all looking for a better alternative to the life they had just come from. Striving to offer a consistently high-quality coffee, the coop offers their producer members regular educational and capacity-building activities focused on sustainable farming techniques and the importance of a strong social economy. Maya Vinic in the cup has a classic Chiapas profile, with medium body, bright acidity and balanced with sweet, deep flavors of caramel, dark chocolate and spices, and a hint of fruit.
As a collective initiative to improve the living situations of their farmers, Maya Vinic understands that in addition to producing great coffee for our roaster members, they must also provide even greater economic benefit to their producers. They strive constantly to support dignified livelihoods and living conditions through the production and marketing of their green coffee as well as roasted coffee sales across Mexico and through their producer managed coffee-shop located in San Cristobal de Las Casas.
Our other long-standing partnership with Mexican farmers is with the Yachil cooperative. Yachil Xojobal Chu’lchan, which means “new light in the sky” in the Tzeltal language, was founded in 2001 with an initial 383 small-scale coffee farmer members from the Tzotzil and Tzeltal Mayan indigenous communities in the municipalities of Chilon, Pantelho and San Juan Cancuc. A defining characteristic of Yachil membership is their progressive, political position of solidarity with the Zapatista movement, struggling for autonomy and respect for Indigenous rights. In the cup, Yachil features prominent bittersweet cocoa tones with a toasted almond finish.
Coffee is one of the few viable export options for small-scale farmers in Chiapas, and in particular for Yachil farmers, who do not accept any financial support from the Mexican government. The sale of their coffee is their primary source of income. Yachil exported its first lot of coffee to solidarity buyers in Germany in 2003, and their first organic certified lots to Coop Coffees roasters in Canada and the USA in 2005. Since then, Yachil has worked hard to expand its volumes and sales in both solidarity and gourmet markets across Europe and in North America.
Despite their many accomplishments, Yachil farmers continue to live under a cloak of uncertainty. Members of this cooperative have formed their own local Indigenous governments, supporting development in keeping with their values and traditions, and promoting democracy, equality, and empowerment. Over the last decade of resistance, members of Yachil have suffered repression at the hands of government security forces and the paramilitary. Many members and their families have been forced to flee their communities and continue to live as internal refugees, victims of political oppression and intimidation.