“Community” is a bit of a buzzword in the coffee industry. Throw a rock in any direction and you're likely to hit a coffee shop stating they exist to “foster community,” serving as a meeting point for paying customers and well-wishers.
But there is a broader sense of “supporting the community,” whereby coffee is a vehicle of economic growth and opportunity to support a wider swath of humanity. It is within this sense that Star Village Coffee Roasters operates. Members of the Paiute tribe, co-owners and twin brothers Joel and Josh Zuniga are using Star Village to bring coffee—along with its economic potential—to the Reno Sparks Indian Colony in Nevada.
We spoke digitally with co-owner Joel Zuniga to learn more about Star Village, their approach to coffee, and how they want their company to have a positive impact on their community.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Hey Joel! Can you give our readers a brief introduction to Star Village Coffee Roasters?
Star Village Coffee Roasters is a Native American owned and family operated coffee roasting company located on the Reno Sparks Indian Colony. SVC embodies a cultural ethos of indigenous entrepreneurship, which are self-determined, resurgent, and self-sustained.
We understand all too well the undisputed historically degrading traumas of the American Indian (seldom addressed or rectified), is hardly a secret to those paying attention. From our vantage point, we see it every day. Statistically speaking, chronic poverty is perhaps the most malignant collective trauma affecting most tribal nations today, which is why we intend to fund projects and get behind unconventional remedies to resolve longstanding social plight, in our disenfranchised tribal communities.
Our vision is to foster community, empower our customers, and assure greater quality.
Who are the people behind Star Village?
Star Village is an assemblage of Great Basin, desert dwelling, coffee obsessing, combination of Type A and Type B personalities through and through. My twin brother [Josh] and I are Paiute members of the Reno Sparks Indian Colony and we both grew up on the Hungry Valley reservation in Sparks, Nevada.
Our first eureka moment associated with coffee occurred to my brother and I while traveling through Costa Rica in 2013. We arrived rather inadvertently, at a finca during harvest season and were thunderstruck with the coffee operation on this small farm outside the Cloud Forest. Upon arrival back in the states, we purchased a few books and took a deep dive in all things coffee. A few months later, we purchased a Quest M3 and started roasting coffee incessantly.
You mentioned self-determination and being self-sustaining as they relate to indigenous entrepreneurship. How do you feel like these qualities have informed your coffee career?
Not only have these qualities informed my coffee career thus far, but it’s also informed our companies business practices, which represents a mode of thinking that’s predicated on resiliency, cultural preservation, adaptability, and self-determination. My dad used to say that we have to work for everything our ancestors were denied, so it’s along this same vein that we attempt to implement a sustainable business model for our company and the tribal communities we serve.
How do you see Star Village contributing back to your local community?
We will invest in tribal owned businesses; to generate Indian ownership within our communities. By circulating portions of our profits throughout our underrepresented neighborhoods, we hope to uplift tribal owned businesses, and spark a chain reaction of Native ownership. With ever-growing disparities between Main Street and Indian Country, we understand intimately, the residual nature and high impact of tribal enterprises and their positive stimulus within our local economies.
We understand that ownership amongst specialty coffee companies has a cultural diversity problem and we believe it is in the industry’s own best interest to serve coffee community’s with greater representation.
From the Great Plains, to the Great Basin, there are so many examples of indigenous innovation gaining momentum in Native Country. Star Village Coffee hopes to introduce specialty coffee to a wider, (more diversified and inclusive) audience.
What are some of those indigenous companies, coffee or not, that Star Village admires or has relied on in the creation of your own business?
We work closely with and admire greatly, Loretta Guzman (Shoshone-Bannock Tribe), who owns and operates Bison Coffee House, Portland’s only Native owned coffee shop.
Another admirer of SVC, is our coffee obsessed cousin, Brian Melendez, who started a podcast called Coffee with an Indian. His podcast provides transparent anecdotes of modern (and conventional) tribal living in America. Coffee with an Indian also explores tribalism, social stratification, spiritual connectivity, and contemporary indigenous storytelling.
Furthermore, I have another equally inspiring cousin, Phil Gover, who is responsible for creating The Sovereign Community School in Oklahoma City. This non-profit charter schools vision is to activate the next generation of indigenous leaders by engaging the youth with rigorous, culturally relevant curriculum that challenges them to understand and affirm their roles as citizens of our many Native nations.
Tell us a little bit about Star Village's coffee. What sort of roast and/or flavor profiles do you tend to gravitate towards?
We’re students of Scott Rao, Tim Wendelboe, George Howell, and of course, Tom Owens.
Our objective at Star Village is to optimize the flavors of coffee’s chemistry though proper bean development. We understand that each coffee has its own particular set of properties and when conjoined with coffee’s distinct taste modulation, creates a specific flavor profile, which should both strengthen and compliment the coffee as a result of proper roasting techniques. Star Village additionally understands the importance of integrating a deductive and analytical approach to roasting coffee, especially as it relates to adopting certain tools and technologies meant to enhance and facilitate the ritual of roasting coffee.
Any plans on opening a cafe in the future?
We definitely have plans to open a cafe in 2021. Our hope is to introduce customers to specialty beverages that represent the influence of tribal people and tribal places, by offering indigenous sourced ingredients that are endemic to the Native tribes of the Great Basin.
Where can our readers currently purchase your coffee?
At the moment, our coffee can be purchased online and if your live in the Reno area, our coffee can be purchased at our roastery in Verdi, NV.
All photos courtesy of Star Village Coffee Roasters