Tagged "Coffee"


East Africa – Transformation Through Coffee

Posted by Keith Yee on



East Africa – Transformation Through Coffee
 
It was the middle of June and ripe coffee cherries were abundant, thriving at the peak of harvest season in the heart of East Africa. Without second thought we seized the opportunity to journey across the ocean and meet our producing partners and friends, good people with an adamant drive to transform farming communities through specialty coffee in this part of the world.
Our first stop was Burundi – landing in the capital city of Bujumbura – and visiting the team at Long Miles Coffee Project.  It’s the busiest time of the year with their washing stations running round-the-clock operations, farmers delivering coffee cherries daily and going straight into the sort, process and drying.
 
Sorting coffee cherries at a transit center to track quantity and quality of farmer’s harvests, before reaching the Bukeye washing station.
 
Raised drying beds at Bukeye washing station. Some beds are allocated for natural process coffee, others for washed process coffee.
 
Heza washing station perched in the middle of Gitwe hill.
 
Post-sorted coffee cherries running through a McKinnon wet pulper, outer layers of the fruit is removed and then separated by density.
While it all happens, various roasters and coffee buyers from all around the world are travelling in to taste and select fresh crops to eventually go onto their coffee programs in the coming months. To current day, the LMCP team works with farming communities of 12 neighboring hills that are within vicinity of the washing stations, Bukeye and Heza. Each hill expressed their distinct merits – and among hundreds of lots – we’d find the occasional off the wall coffee of astounding qualities, simply blessings for the tongue.
 
Various lots from the washing stations that were milled at the LMCP headquarters in Bujumbura, ready to be roasted and sampled.
Tasting through different lots and hills in a traditional coffee cupping.
 
The team at Long Miles is confronted with new challenges every harvest, yet there’s nothing under the Sun they wouldn’t better just to realize potential for their growing communities. As production scales so does the difficulty of managing a consistent process. This year we’re seeing new takes on controlled, measured, and monitored processing to ensure our coffee continues to be delicious and more.
 
Visiting Burundi held us spellbound, and we’ve recognized its contagious gift. As you step into the Long Miles office, it doesn’t take long to realize the potential for Burundi, the coffee, and the people.
 
As we said our goodbyes, the memorable coffees and luscious local avocados, our journey didn’t stop there as we took to the southern highlands of Tanzania to meet a remarkable couple that founded social enterprise and specialty producer, Communal Shamba.
 
Overlooking ripe coffee crops in Songwe, Tanzania’s southern region.
 
Keremba and Mkunde, the founders of Communal Shamba.
 
Keremba, passionate for agricultural development and Mkunde, an expert in medical research, both decided to return to Tanzania after living in Australia for many years. The goal is creating sustainable impact for farming communities in rural regions of Mbeya and Songwe. Enrolling themselves as farmers into the local farmer co-operative ‘Mkulima Kwanza’, they emphasize on collaborating with growers, connecting them to an international market for specialty coffee.
 
Here is Keremba with contributing farmers from Mkulima Kwanza. The farmer’s daughter, Rebecca, helps her father with translations now and then. Her generation of young Tanzanians study English in school.
 
Coffee cherries are being sorted before drying. The ladies at the producer level that help with farming and processing are known as the ‘Mamas’.
 
Communal Shamba is one of the youngest producing partners and exporters we’ve been so fortunate to meet. Last year was the first production, with just over 1 ton of ready-to-export green coffee, the least possible amount needed to start the ball rolling. Understandably, farmers take time to build trust in supplying their coffee cherries to a very new, completely foreign processing facility.
 
Let’s not forget to mention, they are the only recognized natural processing facility in Tanzania. The first year has proven the benchmark potential for a specialty grade, natural product for southern Tanzania. This resulted in an increased dollar value for better picked, sorted, and processed coffee. Inevitably motivating new farmers to collaborate with Communal Shamba.
 
This year’s production is projected at least a ten-fold increase to 10 ton of ready-to-export green beans and possibly more, allowing them to reach out to a wider international coffee buying market. With support for friends in industry – even Long Miles Coffee Project –
Communal Shamba knows how to break grounds for a new coffee community.
 
This is it, the Communal Shamba processing facility. Drying beds are being built as cherries arrive to cope with rapidly increasing production.
 
One of the most exciting moments from our visit was making conversation with members of the Mkulima Kwanza co-op, including heads such as the chairman himself. We discussed opportunities and challenges for farmers. A big challenge was the picking as farmers have plenty of coffee trees and many other crops to tend to. Labor is expensive so the picking is often done by the farmer and maybe with help of his family. Sometimes cherries are picked with less attention for a time efficient harvest, resulting in a tedious sorting.
 
 
After speaking to the co-op farmers that were helping at the drying beds when we visited, where we conceived initiative ‘Champion Grade’.
 
An idea was brought to the table of producing a single ready-to-export bag (70kgs) of only a specific ripeness and color of cherries that were at full fruit maturation and sugar development. This meant harder work for farmers, but it was just one bag to see how high the cup quality bar could be set. Humorously the name ‘Champion Grade Cherry’ cropped up and that name stuck. There was an amazing response from Mkulima Kwanza farmers as they take the leap of faith, promising 500kgs – if not more – for this special project.
 
The chairman of Mkulima Kwanza taking the charge on his ‘Champion Grade Cherry’ pick at his own farm, only a day after our conversation.
 
These boys are pushing some freshly picked coffee cherries to the Communal Shamba processing facility, while striking a candid pose.
 
Champion Grade Cherry
 
As specialty coffee roasters, it’s humbling and enriching to be reminded that it’s good people producing great coffee, transforming communities along the way.
 
We’re happy and proud to share these coffees with our partnering cafes and of course the people that enjoy them as much as we do.
 
Burundi: With Ben Carlson (LMCP) and Ben Bicknell (Five Senses) on Ninga hill, where a third washing station will be built and the nursery for Trees For Kibira.
 
Tanzania: With Mkulima Kwanza, Communal Shamba, and Five Senses.
The talented Tanzanian photographer Osse Greca Sinare, who accompanied us on the trip, captured these beautiful photos. See the rest of his work online – and while you’re at it – the work of our partners, Long Miles Coffee Project and Communal Shamba;
Otherwise, please do find yourself a brew from one of these producers at our stores, because the coffee is delicious.
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Why Pay More for a Single Origin

Posted by Stella Cochrane on

It used to be that going out for a coffee was a bit of a treat but in recent years we have seen specialty coffee joints popping up all over the island so we are never far from a decent brew.

The so called third wave coffee movement hit Singapore in the late 2000s, a movement to elevate the status of coffee appreciation and promote sustainability by opting for direct trade which has been sweeping over the world for nearly two decades now.

Still in its teenage years here in Singapore, it's interesting to reflect on what was on offer, if anything(!), back then compared to what they offer now; and really evaluate whether it is worth spending your hard earned dough on a cup of joe.

A well-known US coffee chain first opened its doors here back in 1996, they offered branded coffee made on shiny espresso machines, meant to impress and wow the crowd with frothy milk techniques. It was really all about the brand and and selling this to the consumer, along with a fountain of other merc including t-shirts, caps, cup holders, pens, barista bears etc.

Then things started to change, a type of cafe started to emerge that cared more about the product than the fluff of the brand. What they wanted was fresh roasted specialty coffee made on good equipment by well trained, passionate people — and they were willing to pay for it.

Some of them lifted the price of their cups of coffee to better represent the quality they were offering and the additional (and significant) cost paid by them to achieve this higher quality. Some of the pioneers of the increased prices were slammed by the news media, but it appeared that what they were offering had already won the respect and appreciation of the discerning coffee-drinking public. If anything, the media attention, which was intended to be negative, had the opposite effect. The upshot of all of this is was consumers were getting a much better product than they were before, and they were happy to pay for it.

Much of the world’s Arabica comes from growers with very small levels of production. Historically, this coffee has been sold to mill/exporters who then load it into their vast silos, blend it in with all the other small lots and sell the blended result by the container load to everyone around the world. The main difference now is that cafe owners are collaborating much more closely with roasters, and roasters are collaborating more closely with the growers — mainly for the purpose of providing the end consumer with an opportunity to taste and enjoy specific coffee from specific growers.

Achieving this is not easy. Firstly, one of the main reasons for offering microlot coffee is for it to showcase the potential of a particular region — meaning that it’s all a waste of time and effort if the coffee isn’t excellent and doesn’t reflect the characteristics you might expect from the geographical location, growing conditions and processing methods. This needs people on the ground working with the grower to make sure that they are employing the best agricultural and processing practices possible, and that their coffee, once ready for sale, is kept aside from the rest of the tons of coffee going into mill/exporter production lines and is hulled, bagged and shipped separately as small, individual lots.

All of this costs a great deal. The labour inputs are much higher. For example, farmers need to employ more pickers over a longer period of harvest to ensure that they are only picking ripe cherries. The labour inputs are much higher for the mill, as they need to handle the small lots manually and keep the coffee off the automated hulling lines. This separate handling of the coffee continues all the way through the process right through to the cup.

I really enjoy walking into a cafe knowing that I have an opportunity to order a single origin, micro lot coffee. I must admit that I’m sometimes guilty of taking a choice of a micro lot for granted. As an insider, I know what additional costs have gone into taking coffee from the tree of a particular farmer and I love knowing that it’s the very same coffee in the hopper I’m about to order from.

Celebrate the grower and their efforts by ordering a micro lot single origin when you have the chance. Celebrate the cafe owner who has also gone to the effort and expense of giving you the bean.

After all, it’s all about the coffee.

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Inside CMCR: Single Origins

Posted by Stella Cochrane on

Here's a piece from one of our awesome Account Managers, May Espino, where she tells us about her favourite single origin.

'I guess when asked about my favourite coffee, I never really had anything fixed in my mind. I just like coffee in season, so my choice would change. The long wait for a cup that is not available all year feels like a privilege to me, and fills me with excitement as it tingles my taste buds and I discover exhilarating new flavours. However, just like everybody else out there, I face the same dilemma of what to choose among the pool of seemingly baffling descriptions. Nothing is worse than missing out the opportunity of tasting a coffee in season, just like a fruit, it taste so much better when it’s their time of the year. With this in mind, I always think of my personal guide which I am going to share with you below.

January - March: Africa

Our Ardi Sidama is always the winner of the table. With its unique fruit taste due to its natural process and heirloom varietal. It stands out against any other Ethiopian varietal and I like to drink it black.

April - July: Indonesia

The second quarter of the year sees the rise of Asian coffee beans. It really is about time we change our perception of coffee grown in this region which is known for being robust and rough. As a matter of fact, our very own Lima Putri from Sumatra was a myth breaker when we did a blind tasting, everyone thought it was a coffee from Panama!

August - October: South America

This region is hailed as the number one coffee producing region in the world. There can be no denying that they have one of the best, and most expensive, coffees in the world - the geisha from Panama but for me Colombia really produces some of the best tasting cups. One of our latest harvests this year was the Popayan Cincuenta which left me saying 'Esto sabe como la piña! Viva Colombia!'.

November - December: Central America

Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua - wow how can I choose! This region has it all, with their mastery at processing and providing consistency year after year has created not only a dependency, but a general love for their coffee. For me Honduras stands out amongst them all, particularly the Olvin Fernandez (from Five Senses' product line) which left me with lingering memories of lychee!

That's it, go taste but please remember this is does not represent a precise timetable as it can vary from region to region.

Nothing is better than drinking a cup fresh off the container, and you're in luck as we are about to unload our latest shipment. Watch out for our upcoming Vera Cruz from Mexico; I'm sure the caramelised pear and chocolate flavours will make you go loco!'

May Espino Common Man Coffee Roasters

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