Quetzal Co-Op roasts coffee with a conscience

Quetzal Co-Op remains a community project of the greater Tonatierra nonprofit organization, but is in the process of becoming a benefit corporation. (Valerie Quintana/DD)

Quetzal Co-Op is a local coffee roaster with a mission to use a simple cup of joe to help protect the indigenous peoples community.

The nonprofit is a project run by Tonatierra, a community-based organization of indigenous people, to sell fair-trade organic whole coffee beans online.

Established in 1994, Tonatierra was born out of the struggle to secure rights for everyday farmworkers in Arizona. Today, it continues to serve as an indigenous peoples grassroots community by fighting for social justice and sustainability, according to its official website.

The organization’s project coordinator of 18 years, Evie Reyes-Aguirre, said Quetzal Co-Op remains a community project of the greater Tonatierra nonprofit organization, but plans to change this are underway.

“We are in the process of becoming a benefit corporation,” Aguirre said. “A business with a specific mission.”

A benefit corporation is a for-profit corporate entity that also provides general social benefit as part of its legally-defined goals. Arizona is one of 30 states that authorize this type of corporation.

The organization sells its coffee by the pound. One pound of coffee costs $15 and a 10-ounce bag costs $10. Buyers can contact Quetzal Co-Op to schedule appointments or purchase the coffee directly online.

The at-or-above fair-trade coffee is imported from Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico.

Aguirre said the organization is not currently working with local coffee shops or restaurants, but is in the process of doing so. She said a couple of meetings have been set up with potential coffee retailers.

According to Aguirre, the co-op mostly sells coffee to local and Salt River Reservation fire departments, as well as online.

Phoenix residents Alicia Vasquez and Gina Mendoza have both tried the organization’s coffee.

“I love it, it’s the best coffee I have ever had. I fell in love with it the second I tried it,” Vasquez said. “It’s fresh, rich and just amazing.”

Mendoza said that she used to think all coffee tasted the same before she tried this one.

“It’s not like Starbucks, it’s not like Dutch Bro’s, certainly not like McDonald’s,” Mendoza said. “It’s unique.”

Aguirre said what differentiates Quetzal Co-Op from other coffee is that it comes from sustainable farms.

“Our project focuses on sustainability and we work with indigenous cooperatives,” Aguirre said. “We pay them fair prices.”

Aguirre said the organization works with indigenous people because they are often the ones who are taken advantage of by larger corporations. She said the organization also works as an advocacy group.

“The workers themselves get paid so little,” Aguirre said. “It wasn’t just about the advocacy, it was about how we can help the communities. It’s important for us to give back to the community.”

Aguirre described Quetzal Co-Op as an organization “building community ecology.”

“It means everything to me. The organization itself is a cultural educational organization,” Aguirre said. “It’s also an indigenous advocacy group. It’s about how we can help indigenous communities help themselves.”

Contact the reporter Valeria.Quintana@asu.edu.