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Coffee Tourism in Chiapas: Recasting Colonial Narratives for Contemporary Markets


  • Sarah Lyon is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Kentucky who researches coffee production, certified products, economic development, and ethical consumption. She is the author of Coffee and Community: Maya Farmers and Fair Trade Markets (2011) and the co-editor of Fair Trade and Social Justice: Global Ethnographies (2010).


In contrast to specialty coffee marketing, which tends to overlook the history and political economic position of real coffee producers, coffee tourism provides producers with the opportunity to shape their own self-image in the marketplace. This article employs two coffee tourism projects in the Mexican state of Chiapas as case studies, one that is managed by a cooperative of small coffee farmer organizations and another that is situated on a plantation that is one stop on a coffee tourism route. Both projects actively work to differentiate their coffee within an increasingly competitive specialty coffee market by recasting colonial narratives. In the case of the plantation, which is recast as a family farm, the historical exploitation of laborers is framed as patronage, whereas the smallholders are represented by the cooperative as savvy businessmen who have overcome inequitable power relations through self-organization and the entry into direct markets. The comparison is used to initiate a conversation within anthropology about the understudied, yet rapidly expanding, domain of agritourism. Consequently, the article concludes with a discussion of some of the important questions the comparison raises.