The Roasters Pack

This Coffee Is Meaningful: The Story Behind Mataquescuintla

10/31/2021

ethopia

The Mataquescuintla coffee you received in the November issue of The Roasters Pack all started with an article. 

The LA Times editorial written by Kate Linthicum led with the headline: "'If we're attacked, we'll die together,' a teenage anti-mining activist told her family. But when the bullets came, they only killed her". It recounted the story of Topacio Reynoso, a bubbly 14-year-old teen from Guatemala who devoted herself to opposing the construction of a large silver mine near her town of Mataquescuintla. 

The mine was owned by Canadian company, Tahoe Resources. As they sought a mining license from the Guatemalan government, locals like Topacio fought back. 

Topacio was the daughter of Alex Reynoso, who's one in a long line of coffee farmers. She felt that it was her obligation to protect her family's farm land from contamination. In 2012, Topacio went to her first protest, and alongside her father, campaigned ahead of a referendum in Mataquescuintla. 

They were successful: More than 98% of voters said they opposed it. Despite the success of the popular vote, the mining project had enough support in high places and in April 2013, the Guatemalan government granted a 25-year license to begin mining. 

A protest ensued at the Canadian mining company, and violence slowly took over. Tahoe's guards began shooting at peaceful protesters for interrupting their business (later claiming they used rubber bullets despite multiple serious injuries). Amid the chaos, Guatemalan officials deployed thousands of troops and began arresting anti-mining activists.

Still, Topacio wasn't deterred and maintained a commitment to defending her family’s land. On April 13, 2014 Topacio was returning from a music festival when unknown gunmen sprang from behind and opened fire. Within hours, Topacio had passed away. 

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"We didn't even cup it before we bought it," shares Drew Johnson of Bows & Arrows.

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The owner of the Victoria-based roastery read the LA Times article and immediately got into contact with the author Kate Linthicum, who forwarded Alex Reynoso's info. 

"I just texted him via WhatsApp, and he got back to me... I was like, 'We're committed to getting in and seeing if we can make something work.'"

Johnson made a trip down to the Guatemalan farm in March of 2018, and was met with high-quality coffee produced by the Reynoso family, as well as hope. 

"There are good growing conditions, and the elevation's nice. But, predictably, you're dealing with the kind of targeted community that's got a lot on their plate."

Bows & Arrows initially teamed up with other Canadian roasters like Drumroaster and De Mello Palheta to increase the buying power for the farm. Now, many others have joined in to support. 

"Coffee farming is certainly not lucrative on a small scale, especially with no access to specialty," continues Johnson, "so our feeling is, how can people afford to even resist a mine if they can't hold on to their farms in the first place."

With The Roasters Pack, we are able to showcase and spotlight certain coffees through our subscription. That responsibility is one we don’t take lightly - and when Drew told us about the Mataquescuintla project, we knew we had to get involved. It’s a perfect representation of the power of specialty coffee: delicious coffee for the drinkers, a transparent relationship to the producer, and a purchase that is impactful. 

Long-time subscribers know that each year, we feature many Mataquescuintla coffees in The Roasters Pack. With the launch of our own roasting project, This Coffee Co., Mataquescuintla was certainly an origin we knew we had to buy from to roast ourselves. 

We’ve bought three different lots from three different producers - Eder Jiminez, Bernardo Pacheco, and Irineo Ramirez. We’re offering these coffees as a set - so that you can try all three and understand how the differences of neighboring producers show up in the cup. We hope to shed light on a difficult situation, while also sharing these amazing coffees from the region. 

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In 2017 the Guatemalan Constitutional Court finally ruled in the protesters' favour and suspended the Tahoe resources mine's license. In 2018, Tahoe sold the halted mine to Canadian-based Pan-American Silver, under whom the mine is forecasted to be reopened in 2021. The battle continues.

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