a cup of relationships
I had the pleasure of meeting Jose Juarez through Avoca’s roaster. Garold LaRue is working with Jose to distribute the coffee they produce through La Selva. I was quite nervous as I have not spoken to a coffee farmer before and I wanted to get off on the right foot. We quickly realized that neither of us spoke the other’s language enough to have a deep conversation. So while smiling and agreeing that the coffee at Avoca was very good, I called my Sister-in-Law Tessa. She speaks fluent Spanish and came to our rescue. I had read some about Jose and La Selva before our meeting but I was eager to hear how they are doing now and what he expects for the future.
La Selva is an association of farmers in Chiapas that sell their coffee directly to consumers and split the profits equally amongst the farmers. There are 989 farmers and they each own about 2 hectares of land each. It is farmer run, originally founded by members of Jose’s family. They are involved in all aspects of the coffee chain as they also operate cafes throughout Mexico and Europe. They forged a relationship with a distributor in France, Pueblos Nativos, after he came to them, looking for quality and organic coffee. This was in 1992 when these ideas and organizations were quite new, so they have been certified for a long time. I asked him if becoming certified was a difficult process and he said it was not, it mainly entailed keeping better records and transparency, but it was very expensive. Especially since there are two separate certifications one for Europe and one for the United States. It has been worth it though to be able to have these relationships with brokers and specialty cafes.
When I asked Jose about processing the coffee he was very passionate about the work that goes into each step. The families process the coffee from the farms themselves and each step carries a lot of risk. The timing is very important, to ensure that there is no spoilage. The altitude is very important when harvesting coffee, not only to the flavor but it also determines how many beans you can produce. In Mexico the farmers only have a few months when they can harvest, where as Colombia has two large harvests because of its higher altitude. When I asked if his children, aged 9 and 12, are interested in producing coffee he said it was up to them, but the association will continue whether or not they participate.
I asked Jose why he thought it was so important to interact and sell directly to the consumers. He believes that interacting with the consumer in the format the association has created is essential because it allows La Selva to be educated. It allows them to know how their coffee is being produced and maintain quality control. More importantly though, the direct system gives them a hand in controlling the market instead of reacting to something they know nothing about. The relationship between Avoca and La Selva is new but they are impressed with the cafe and how the coffee is prepared and Jose feels they are fellow artisans so it will be a profitable relationship. I appreciated the opportunity to discuss Jose’s work with him and look forward to tasting some of his coffee soon.