It has just been over the last few weeks that we’ve been receiving the Mexican Majomut from Alexarc at Maniac Roasting. My first inclination was to compare it to our excellent Finca Vista Hermosa Guatemalan and see how it would do. I had read that the higher grown Mexican coffees, which typlifies the Majomut, share the full bodies and rich acidities of the Guatemalans. So I was curious as to how this oddly named bean (Majomut means “mockingbird” in the local language) would hold up.
I was anticipating smoky and spicy, which were there on the bottom, but was surprised by the predominance of citrus and fruity notes, described elsewhere as strawberry. The Majomut has a smooth mouthfeel, very balanced, with a nice depth. If you are looking for something with a little more weight than the FVH Guatemalan, the Mexican Majomut is the way to go.
There is more to the Majomut story though. Being the second most traded commodity on the world, coffee is surrounded by difficult and byzantine politics. Most of you are aware of the political turmoil within Mexico and, especially, in the state of Chiapas. The Majomut Union serves to maintain a high quality of coffee producution from over 30 communites of local farmers and families. The Union also works to provide better living conditions for its members and help with education and health care. That they have not only survived since 1983 but have managed to produce some of the finest coffee in Mexico is simply amazing. Check out some of the quotes and links below for more information.
Thanks to the Black Drop Coffee Bean Guru, John Oppelaar, for the research and links listed below.
Location: the Altos (Highlands) region between the pine forests and the Lacandón Jungle; near San Cristobal de las Casas in the Chiapas region of Mexico, close to Guatemala, 1,100 km from the capital Mexico City.
Annual Production: 40 containers (approx. 10,000 bags, each containing 69kg of green coffee)
Cooperative name: Unión de Productores de Café Beneficio Majomut. S.P.R. de R.L.
Number of members: 1,700
Predominant Varietals: Typica and Mundo Novo
Elevation: 3,280 – 5580 ft.
Processing method: Wet process
Drying method: Sun
Harvest period: November–March
Certification: Fair Trade, organic
From Atlas Coffee:
The Majomut assiociation is comprised of a number of families from the municipalities of Chenalhó and San Juan Cancúc in the state of Chiapas, who have been legally incorporated since 1985. The Majomut association produces SHG coffees at elevations as high as 1,700 masl, and offers a Gourmet Preparation which ensures that 90% of the beans are above screen size 16.
Majomut means ‘mocking birds’ in the local language Tzotzil – the majority of cooperative members are of Tzotzil and Tzeltal ethnic origin.
“In order to maintain a good quality of the coffee, it is very important to apply organic fertilizers, made of compost. At this level, we have a very good climate for the coffee: it is not too cold and not too warm and humid. That is exactly what you need to produce a good quality coffee.”
From the Atlas Coffee Meet the Producers pdf:
One particular group, the Unión de Productores de Café Beneficio Majomut. S.P.R. de R.L. (or just simply “Majomut”), has established a reputation for the high quality of its coffee. Comprised of 1,700 Tzeltal- and Tzotzil-speaking families spread across 32 communities in the municipalities of Chenalhó and San Juan Cancúc, Majomut was founded in 1983 and legally incorporated two years later with the initial objectives of improving production, processing, and marketing of coffee. The association also strives to improve living conditions in these communities by focusing on housing, better production of basic grains, and food security as well as organizing women and forming micro-banks.
The coffee is grown at an elevation of 1,000 to 1,700 meters above sea level and is graded accordingly as HG and SHG. The predominant varietals are Typica and Mundo Novo, with the cup profile featuring pleasant acidity and good body. Majomut became a Fair Trade Certified cooperative in 1994 and currently sells approximately 60% of its annual production through the Fair Trade market. With the Fair Trade premiums that it has earned, Majomut has invested in educational, financial, and technical projects benefitting its members and their families. It first received organic certification for the 1995-96 crop and now sells about 80% of its coffee as certified organic.
Majomut was one of the founding members of the export organization Comercializadora Mexicana de Productos Agroecológicos SA de CV (COMPRAS), which includes several other similar organizations representing thousands of small-scale indigenous coffee growers in Chiapas. Majomut and COMPRAS have helped Atlas Coffee Importers source two different grades: the regular SHG EP and the “Gourmet Prep” that conforms to an established set of quality standards for both aspect and cup. These standards include a minimum altitude, moisture reading, minimum screen size, and cup consistency. The communities within the Majomut structure that have a proven track record of delivering high-quality coffee have earned the “Gourmet Prep” distinction and earn an even higher price.
From the Union Majomut pdf:
With the Fair Trade price, Unión Majomut has been able to invest in several social and productive programs, including:
- Twenty-eight women’s groups promoting organic coffee production, chicken farming, food safety, and healthcare
- An education program that addresses issues of small-scale coffee production
- A small-scale coffee roasting and milling business that sells ground coffee to the local market
- A micro-credit program for co-op members
- A technical assistance team of agronomists, agricultural technicians, accountants, anthropologists, and computer specialists.
If you would like to know more, especially about some of the problems of the Fair Trade System, please check out the fascinating pdf: Poverty Alleviation through Participation in Fair Trade Coffee Networks: The Case of Unión Majomut, Chiapas, Mexico by Víctor Pérezgrovas Garza and Edith Cervantes Trejo
From Sustainable Chiapas:
My trip to Chiapas was full of excitement because of my own coffee background. I was thrilled at the prospect of visiting coffee co-operatives and learning how they were practicing sustainability and surviving the global market. We first visited Maya Vinic where we learned about the coffee production process,basically turning green beans into the coffee beans we love to drink. At UnionMajomut, we were given an insiders’ perspective into running a co-operative. Union Majomut believes their most important struggle is for land and coffee production. They feel it is their duty to empower the indigenous coffee farmers by helping them grow quality beans and providing micro credit. They also keep profits out of the hands of middlemen or coyotes.
Interestingly enough, both Maya Vinic and Union Majomut complained about the cost of maintaining a Fair Trade label. FLO comes out yearly for 2 or 3 days to certify the co-operatives. The cost to both is $35,000 Mexican dollars or 2,300 Euro annually. However Fair Trade is still the best answer to balancing the volatile global coffee market. It is also less confusing to consumers. Many coffee retailers, large (Starbucks) and small (Intelligentsia) have converted to direct trade. Thereby, eliminating Fair Trade as the middleman and claiming they would rather the $3,000 branding fee go toward the coffee farmers.
If you would like to know more about the History of Coffee in Mexico, please check out the Equal Exchange website – quoted below:
Coffee, which had previously accounted for $882 million of agricultural exports in dollars in 1985, quickly dropped to less than $370 million in 1991. The price for coffee at the farm gate plummeted, credit dried up, and farmers had no way of selling their crops. Predatory coffee brokers, or coyotes, quickly filled the vacuum left by INMECAFE, exploiting farmers’ isolation, lack of access to information, credit or transportation. The years that followed saw a spike in migration to the city and immigration to the United States. The fate of small Mexican coffee producers had never been bleaker. Even before the official demise of INMECAFE (waning government support met the corruption and bureaucracy that had plagued the organization for years prior) the need for civic organizations to replace government support was clear. The role of social organizations in weathering the storm of Mexican political and economic instability is immeasurable. For centuries, communal land tied families together and provided support and innovation; after land privatization, social organizations based on common values, economic stakes or ancestry would replace them. Out of the intersection of various labor organizations and agrarian movements, and often with the support of the Catholic Church, arose the first coffee cooperatives in Mexico. Groups like CEPCO and UCIRI in Oaxaca were crucial to the survival of thousands of coffee farmers in the early 1990s.
Cooperatives were formed to replace the transportation, processing and marketing arms of INMECAFE, saving farmers from the exploitation of coyotes. They began to share information on organic certification (the price for organic coffee being much more stable than conventional coffee), and decreasing dependence on capital-intensive inputs like fertilizer. Co-ops contacted European “alternative trade organizations” like Equal Exchange began successfully exporting fairly traded coffee, securing a stable price and pre-harvest financing for their members.
These co-ops have survived not only to replace INMECAFE and become powerful players in the organic coffee industry, but also to extend their purview to economic diversification, environmental initiatives, and to provide and lobby for social services like school and hospitals. They have come to represent islands of self-determination within a political spectrum that barely recognizes their existence. The model and success of Mexican co-operatives and civic organization has laid the groundwork for some of the most compelling social movements in the world.