The Benefits of Organic Coffee


In the beginning, all coffee was organic and shade grown. Coffee cultivation began in the ninth century in Africa and since most varieties of coffee are naturally intolerant of direct sunlight, coffee was originally grown under shade trees, most often fruit and nut trees which also helped to replenish the soil with valuable nutrients and allowed the land to remain fertile generation after generation.

Beginning in the 1970s, full sun coffee varieties were developed to increase productivity by allowing coffee plants to be grown closer together. As a result, chemical fertilizers and pesticides such as DDT, marathon, and benzene hex chloride had to be used to compensate for the lack of nutrients being added back into the soil. These types of chemicals harm the soil they are used on by destroying natural soil organisms, the surrounding wildlife including insects, birds and other larger species, adjacent water supplies, the farm workers themselves, and the taste of the coffee.

The increasing number of full sun coffee plantations has also led to incredible deforestation of tropical forests around the world, particularly in Central America and Mexico. This has destroyed the natural habitat of many varieties of flora and fauna, especially migratory songbirds and butterflies that fly annually between Latin America and the United States.

Fortunately, increasing consumer awareness of damage to our environment and our health through harmful production methods has led to greater demand for organic products, although organically produced consumer goods still only account for a small percentage of all grocery sales. Organically and shade-grown coffee sales currently represent about 1% of the U.S. market for coffee beans.

Tim Sheehan founded Ruta Maya Coffee Company in 1990 in Austin, Texas on the simple premise of creating a marketplace of superior products produced in Latin American countries and to return to the producers of those products a fair portion of profits generated. The Ruta Maya guiding principle is "Opportunities para las Americas" (Opportunities for the Americas).

Ruta Maya imports 100 percent organic Arabica coffee beans shade-grown by a cooperative of farmers in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. The name Ruta Maya means Route of the Mayans and refers to all the areas where Ruta Maya purchases coffee beans. The Ruta Maya or Mayan Route is not a single road or itinerary and cannot be located on a map of Mexico or in the index of a geography book. The Ruta Maya is not a specific place - it is a concept.

The organic coffee beans imported by Ruta Maya Importing Ltd. from Chiapas, Mexico are grown by Maya Indian farmers following traditional principles of sustainable agriculture that create a healthier product as well as a healthier environment. Crops are regularly rotated to avoid depleting the soil and are typically fertilized with compost and disease-resistant mulch. Keeping fields fertile for coffee production as well as other crops allows farmers to avoid cutting down trees to clear new land, preserving the delicate ecosystem. These small, family-owned farms also benefit economically from having secondary crops.

Besides eliminating the need for clear-cutting to keep adjacent forests intact for birds and other wildlife, shade grown coffee fields provide a home for many species of birds and butterflies, including the Wood Thrush, Baltimore Oriole, Ruby-Throated Hummingbird and American Redstart Eastern. Large scale clear-cutting to create agricultural fields has resulted in an estimated 20% decline in migratory bird populations in the last ten years due to habitat loss. The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center has reported sightings of up to 150 species of birds on "bird friendly" shaded coffee farms such as the ones found in Chiapas as compared to just 5 to 20 on a conventional coffee farm. Shade trees also filter carbon dioxide linked to global warming and help to retain soil moisture to minimize land erosion.

In addition to supporting the environment, Ruta Maya is also committed to the principles of Fair Trade. Fair Trade prohibits forced child labor and provides living wages for farmers while sustaining indigenous communities. More than two-thirds of Mexico's 280,000 coffee farmers are small-scale, indigenous families who historically were not allowed to directly enter the coffee market. Instead, a middleman, euphemistically known as a "beneficio," has contracts with large corporations to pay farmers cents on the dollar while he and the big companies profit. Instead of paying the middle man, Ruta Maya owner Tim Sheehan travels to Chiapas to buy beans from farmer-owned cooperatives at higher prices than those offered on the commodities market. By doing this, Ruta Maya makes a difference in the lives of the farmers in Mexico and offers the consumer in the United States an opportunity to make a difference in the world economy.

Most importantly for the coffee consumer, Ruta Maya Organic has an exceptional richness due to combining the ancient growing techniques found in Chiapas with gentle roasting to extract the ultimate in coffee depth and flavor. Coffee grown in the shade matures more slowly thereby increasing natural sugars and producing a superior tasting bean. The perfect altitude paired with the amazing richness of the land and the knowledge of traditional Maya farmers produce a perfect coffee bean. Every organic bean is hand picked and processed for shipping in the Highlands of Chiapas. These carefully harvested green coffee beans are imported to Texas, where they are custom-roasted to exacting standards and packed fresh daily. The Ruta Maya product line includes certified organic coffee in medium, dark, and espresso roasts.

Ruta Maya Coffee House in Austin, Texas was recently honored to be named in the top ten coffee bars in the United States by premiere national publication Food & Wine Magazine in March 2006. Food & Wine editors spent 410 man-hours tasting 157 gourmet coffees to find the best of the best. Ruta Maya was only one of two coffee bars in all of the southern states to be chosen.

Our complete line of products embodies Mayan, Mexican, Ecuadorian, El Salvadorian and Nicaraguan cultures working together with Texans to foster a universal message of respect and friendship through economic cooperation. Working hand in hand with producer communities helps to create self sustaining economies and improves the lives of everyone involved with the quality and freshness of our Ruta Maya product line.