Eco-Conscious Coffee in Chiapas

No sooner had I set foot on the Argovia Finca Resort, when the owner, Bruno Geisemann, made clear his philosophy: “We need to simply observe and let nature do its work.” Sounds like the utterance of a Zen master, rather than an agronomist. But Bruno Geisemann isn’t your average coffee plantation owner. He walks with determination, carefully watching, sniffing, and touching the plants as we walk the grounds of his almost 500-acre property nestled in the hills of Chiapas, Mexico. “The fields will tell you what to do,” he says.

People and nature are in balance at Argovia. Water from three gushing rivers that converge on the property is used to power the mills, with the used water then cleaned and returned to the river. Though you’d expect mosquitoes in such a damp environment, you won’t find many because fruits and other insects attract birds that feed on them. The waste from coffee production is dried and sent to a compost shed where worms take over the work. Moles, armadillo, and other small mammals are allowed to burrow in the soil, supplying much-needed irrigation. Everything plays its part.

One of the terraced two-person cabins on the property. (Photograph by Jeanine Barone)

The past is not forgotten at Argovia, where Bruno pays homage to his great-grandfather who built up the property after emigrating from Germany. The building where he receives guests dates back to the 19th century, as do some of the machines used in the dry mill (which were transported from Germany). “This whole place is like a living museum,” he says.

Much of the fare the plantation’s open-air restaurant, Tierra de Cafe, offers is locally sourced and features a pronounced Mexican fusion flare (and a wealth of bird-watching opportunities). The butter is flavored with garden-grown basil. The starfruit-papaya marmalade is made from fruit picked from trees on the property. Even the honey they drizzle on their yogurt is sourced from a nearby finca that Bruno owns. Coffee, of course, figures prominently on the menu, whether it’s the coffee flan served with whipped cream at dinner or a lunch that culminates with pancakes drizzled with coffee sauce.

Bruno wasn’t always a spokesperson for the eco-conscious movement. It took the coffee crisis of 1989 (and finding that a U.S.-made pesticide that he used on his squash fields caused cancer) for him to wholeheartedly turn his attention to organic alternatives.

The plantation isn’t the only organic part of his enterprise. Feeling pressure from the crisis, he thought smart and started an organic ornamental flower business and began providing low-key accommodations for travelers. Even the room names are in tune with their surroundings, reflecting the name of a viewpoint, nearby trees or a type of coffee.

Guests can hike to El Mirador (just over the border in Guatemala) and watch the sun rise over the Tacana Volcano, go bird-watching (watch for yellow-crested parrots or white-throated magpies), visit the newly opened museum that displays artifacts found on the property, steep in the temazcal (an indigenous steam bath traditionally used for purification) and explore the soon-to-open botanical garden to get a glimpse of the region’s myriad medicinal, edible and aromatic species. White sagebrush, angel trumpet, and marsh horsetail are some of the indigenous plants that grow in Argovia’s fertile soil, each species labeled for the benefit of guests.

Guests can take a dip in the sun-heated pool. (Photograph by Jeanine Barone)

This is just one way that the owner shares his concern for nature with the people who come to stay in his casas (one is set beside a saba tree that the Maya considered sacred). A stay at Argovia is all about the experience. “We want our guests to touch, smell and taste,” Bruno says. This makes sense, considering the plantation’s motto: “A celebration of the senses.”

When I visited, I signed up for a coffee tour. We walked through the thickets sampling red coffee cherries still ensconced in pulp (they taste sweet) and watching the harvesters gather them up in bamboo baskets. Everyone wanted to know what goes into a good cup of coffee (besides the beans, of course). Just about everything, it turns out — from whether or not the beans are polished (Argovia forgoes this step) to how they’re roasted. “A cheaper coffee is heavily roasted so you don’t see mistakes,” Bruno says.

That night, as I sat with yet another latte trying to pick out constellations in the clear night sky, I was reminded of something Bruno said during the tour: “You should cherish your cup of coffee just like you cherish a glass of wine.”

Coffee drinking will never be the same.

Follow Jeanine’s travel adventures on Twitter and on her personal blog

 

 

Comments

  1. Megan Snedden
    New York
    March 21, 2012, 11:19 am

    Hi Jeanine, a great article to accompany my morning coffee! I never thought of Mexico in terms of starfruit marmalade. Also, I heard that red coffee berries are an even stronger anti-oxidant than acai; worth looking into.

  2. Jeanine Barone
    http://www.jthetravelauthority.com
    April 1, 2012, 12:56 pm

    Hi Megan, Yes, coffee berries are rich sources of all manner of antioxidants. And, interestingly, the roasting process actually creates another set of antioxidants. Thanks for pointing this out.

  3. Roxanne
    Colorado
    April 3, 2012, 6:14 pm

    I’ve never actually seen a coffee plant / tree, but I read recently about how seedlings / cuttings were smuggled back in the day because coffee was such a prized commodity. This place looks lovely.

  4. [...] Intelligent Travel recently posted an article about sustainable coffee farming in Chiapas, Mexico. It’s a wonderful story of  man and nature working together for the best of both worlds. Read all about it here. [...]

  5. sahand@travel marketing
    http://www.blog.travelist.biz
    May 29, 2012, 5:00 am

    This report made me happy. I think It’s really possible to have a sustainable travel business. Each activity has a soul and each product has a history. The scale of the activity is not important. The product’s authenticity is the first key success factor. You can promote the process of the production and activity as an attraction. PYO (pick-your-own) is a good example of sustainable tourism. A U-pick or pick your own farm is a type of farm where customers are allowed to harvest their own produce. Since customers are allowed and often encouraged to eat while picking, the entry fee usually covers any produce customers may eat. Despite this, the produce at U-pick farms often cost lower since the cost of hiring farmers to harvest the produce is precluded.
    Argovia Finca Resort has considered three dimensions of tourism sustainability: environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development.