Approaching the small villages of Santa María Yucuhiti municipality by car, a one-lane dirt road dips and curves around a landscape of trees with moss beards. At 5,600 feet, the region is a place ripe for coffee production—one of the principal productive activities of the people who live here. The municipality is home to Mixteca Specialty Coffee (or Café maa va’a nuu Ñuu Savi, in the local Mixtec language), a project supported by Vibrant Village Foundation.
Coffee producers check their cupping scores.
Sunday, February 22nd marked the Second Annual Mixteca Alta Specialty Coffee Competition in the village of Reyes Llano Grande. This village of approximately 300 people is today a hive of activity, with over 100 attendees, three times the attendance last year. Producers, buyers, coffee aficionados and the press arrive from neighboring villages and cities as far as Oaxaca, over 6 hours’ drive, to participate in the event.
The gathering marks a second year of tremendous work for the Specialty Coffee project, which, under the guidance of Director Dr. Karen Rasmussen, is benefitting local coffee producers in the Mixteca Alta region of Oaxaca, one of the poorest states in Southern México. The Mixteca Specialty Coffee Project offers training in the cultivation, harvest and processing of specialty coffee to producers from marginalized villages where indigenous families live and work. The goal of the project is to increase the quality and quantity of coffee to increase prices, sales and overall household income for growers and their families.
Coffee buyers tasting local coffee.
While Mexico hosts the Cup of Excellence, an international specialty coffee competition, a regional event such as this one had never been held in Mexico in such remote, indigenous communities before the Specialty Coffee Project arrived.
Clemente Santiago Paz, an agricultural engineer and coffee production consultant explained, “The minimum volume requirements, as well as registration costs for national and state coffee competitions are a real obstacle for small producers, like the ones in this region.” This regional competition has a lower minimum coffee requirement for a coffee producer — 40 kilos in comparison to 172.5 kilos and is held locally, which makes it more feasible for producers to attend.
Coffee growers discuss the results of the competition.
In addition to the increased accessibility for small producers, the Mixteca Alta Competition affords producers and buyers an opportunity for direct exchange. Producers have the chance to promote their coffee with the public, and have conversations with buyers. Carlos, a buyer from Oaxaca commented, “A coffee’s origin is really important in the industry. This project as a whole, and especially this event, has created a stronger and friendlier relationship between buyers and producers, as well as between producers in the region.”
A coffee grower and buyer signing their first sales contract.
That direct contact adds up to higher prices for quality coffee, and relationships that ensure producers have access to a valuable market for the long-term. Knowing the story behind a kilo of coffee helps buyers sell to their clients and promote the Mixteca Alta region as a place where specialty coffee is grown.
According to Abigail González, another local buyer, “Having a direct relationship also allows us to ensure that the higher value we are paying for quality goes directly into the hands of the producer, and not to an intermediary.”
3rd place winner Marciano Filogonio Aparicio Lopez with his certificate and prize money.
The winner this year is Onesimo Elias García Pérez from the community of San Isidrio Paz y Progreso. In a short speech he explained, “Our coffee is ignored by the industry. Thank God for this competition. It inspires us to keep going. And that’s what we need—something to inspire us to continue to improve.”
The second place scorer for Female Coffee, Florencia Heriberta López García, says with a smile, “I am so happy seeing my score. I’m aiming for even higher next year. I will push myself, or die in the attempt!” She is 78 years old.
Coffee growing women placed well at the competition too.
According to Paz, “The event represents an emotional and economic acknowledgement for these producers and the region. I see the great satisfaction of the producers to have this space to recognize their efforts and highlight their coffee. It is a strong motivator for producers to continue improving the quality of their coffee.”