Like co-ops all over Central and South America, Maya Vinic is struggling with Roya or Coffee Rust– I’ll talk about that in my next post. While the co-op is trying to deal with combatting the fungus and to reinvigorate their coffee fields they are moving to strengthen their roasting operation and their cafe in San Cristobal de las Casas.
The cafe opened in 2012 and has made slow but steady progress since its opening. San Cristobal is now chock full of cafes where when they opened there were only a handful and– with this increase in competition– they have fought to differentiate themselves. Their space is on one of the “andadors” or pedestrian streets in the heart of the city. With this good location they have built a small, but loyal, following in town. While they make some of the best espresso drinks in San Cris, their main income comes from selling coffee roasted in their shop. It is strangely hard to find good roasted coffee in the city, so they are smartly building a reputation for having great coffee to make at home.
Maya Vinic has also expanded their sales of roasted coffee nationally. Through a network built largely on their connection to the Catholic Church they now sell roasted and bagged coffee in Monterrey, Mexico City, The “Maya Riviera”, and elsewhere. In order to increase the quality of their beans they have purchased a new 70 kilo drum roaster and a very high-tech production set-up including an incredibly Willy Wonka-like silo system for storing roasted coffee. They have learned a lot about consistency of roasts and I was able to transport a new digital roast analyzer from Wisconsin to San Cris that allows them to zero in on their roast levels so that they can tweak their technique and replicate their results.
With Roya taking out over 50% of their harvest, selling coffee drinks and roasted coffee have become a much more critical part of their strategy of sustainability in the short-term. When they export their coffee they receive a significantly smaller percentage of the end sum of cash for their work. Selling coffee drinks and roasted beans gives them a much higher take of the final cash amount and they get it for coffee that does not meet export-quality standards. In the past they would have sold this same coffee to local buyers and received a smaller amount than what they get for export-grade beans. The strategy of getting the coffee all the way to the final steps of roasting and brewing is critical at a time when their overall harvests are way down and as they start to make their slow recovery from Coffee Rust, a recovery that will take years.