East Africa – Transformation Through Coffee
East Africa – Transformation Through Coffee
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.
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!'