East Africa – Transformation Through Coffee
Tagged "East Africa"
East Africa – Transformation Through Coffee
Divided from the rest of Africa by the immense Rift Valley there are many reasons why East Africa is the granddaddy of the coffee producing world. Encompassing two of Africa's tallest mountains, the world's second largest freshwater and second deepest lake not to mention home to the Big Five of the animal kingdom. This undulating landscape boasts a generally moderate climate with highs of 25c and lows of 15c at 1500masl creating some perfect coffee growing environments, and did I mention that its also the birthplace of coffee?
Although there are some great coffees coming out of many other countries in this region, this blog post will be focusing on four particular countries - Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya and Burundi.
The specialty coffee scene in Africa is dominated by the largest trade platform in Africa, the African Fine Coffee Conference (AFCA) formerly the East African Fine Coffee Association it consists of 11 member countries (Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia, DRC, Cameroon, Uganda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Malawi and Zambia) and is a member driven, non-profit and non-political association. Their goal is to create 'Sustainable Businesses for Happy Coffee People', what a great ethos to start from and it is really reflected in the quality beans that we are seeing coming out.
Home to Bourbon, Typica, Blue Mountain and Kent cultivars which are typically grown at around 1350 - 1800masl. Tanzania produces around 800,000 bags of coffee annually and is in close running with Kenya for being the 3rd or 4th largest arabica coffee exporter in Africa.
In Tanzania, we purchase our coffee direct from Acacia Hills, a beautiful estate owned by Mark Stell from Portland Roasting Company and Leon and Aideen Christianakis (local Tanzanian coffee farmers). The farm is surrounded by some of Africa’s most famous landscapes including the Ngorongoro crater and National Park which is teeming with all the quintessential African wildlife which make this area a spectacular and unique part of the world.
Elephants, giraffes, hippos, buffalo, zebras, wildebeest, rhinos, lions, leopards, cheetah and hyenas are all found here — to name just a few! One of the biggest challenges of the farm is keeping its workers safe from elephants stamping through the fields. Acacia Hills Estate has been in existence for over 50 years, but it was only five years ago that it was re-invigorated with a new ‘speciality’ approach.
Now things like variety, processing, soil analysis, sides of the mountain etc. matter and are taken into account over the whole growing process. What had become an old, disused farm is now thriving and green and is finally producing the abundant crops of beautiful coffee which they always knew this region was capable of. It’s a real testament to their hard work and effort — and also their passionate belief that they could make their little place on the top of the ridge into something special. The farm currently harvests Bourbon and Kent varieties and is in the process of experimenting with Geisha, Pacamara and Castillo.
The farm house looks over the lush coffee trees with an unobstructed view of the mountains and Lake Eyasi. The farm itself is the highest altitude farm in the region and they have planted the Geisha and Pacamara varieties at the very top at 1900masl. This small estate has its own purpose-built cupping lab with everything required to analyse coffees onsite. They use a brand new Penogas wet mill and specialise in micro-lots and honey milled coffees; all the coffees are dried on raised beds. It’s all about the small details here and we consider this estate a bit of a diamond in the rough.
The Rift Valley is steeped in human and religious history and often considered not only the birthplace of coffee but all of mankind after 3.2 million year old 'Lucy' and her 4.4 million year old big brother 'Ardi' was discovered here. The latter inspired the name of one of our much loved singles - Ardi Sidama.
Around 10,000 years ago, Ethiopia not only created the perfect climatic conditions for human reproduction but also for the Coffea Canephora T and Coffea Eugenioides to create a little arabica baby. So began a coffee production in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is the 5th largest producer in the world, exporting an astounding 6.6 million bags a year and employing an estimated 15 million people in some way along the production line. A real powerhouse of on the global coffee market.
We have been working with Sammy at Keffa Coffee for the last five years. Over this time we have managed to secure constantly outstanding lots through the ECX (where most of the Ethiopia's beans are traded) which maintain their flavour and quality consistency.
The coffees from Kenya are renowned for their unique fruit character, intense acidity, rich body and constant cleanliness with many factors contributing to these great qualities in the cup. From Kenya’s location, right along the equator, to uncommon varietals and exceptional growing conditions, Kenya is perfectly suited to growing great quality Arabica coffees.
Ranked 16th as a global producer they have been honing their craft since 1890s and held the first ever coffee auction in the 1930s. Producing a similar annual yield as Tanzania, Kenyan coffee is typically grown between 1400 - 2200masl in its rich red volcanic soils and the shadow of Mount Kenya all creating perfect growing conditions.
Co-ops and private estates produce the majority of coffee which is, for the most part, wet processed or double fermented and then dried on raised beds to ideal moisture levels of 9.5-10.5%.
We work with Cafe Imports to bring some delicious coffee over from Kenya and maintaining the reputation for clean, crisp and consistent beans.
Burundi, not unlike Rwanda, is quite unique as most of the country lies at a very high elevation, the lowest elevation being 700masl with the majority of the land is over 1000masl - perfect growing conditions.
Burundi is a land locked country but it has access to the 2nd largest fresh water lake in Africa but means they must export through neighbouring countries rather than directly themselves but they still manage to export around 200,000 bags annually.
We work with the Long Miles Project which is headed up by Ben and Kristy Carlson. They started with just one washing station and have gone on to set up three more, working with over 140 family units at the stations. They produce beautiful washed and natural coffees here such using bourbon and local bourbon hybrids.
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!'
As we come into a new season (at least in terms of coffee) here in Singapore, let's take a closer look at one of our new exciting beans from a little known region of East Africa. I am of course talking about the honey process bourbon from the Heza Washing Station on Nkonge Hill, Burundi with its delicious notes of syrupy raspberry, vanilla bean and a smooth, lingering body.
Some of you might be scratching your head in confusion as to where exactly in the world Burundi is; I know when I first heard of this fine bean I had to have a quick Google geography brush-up. Let me be your search engine and give you a little run down on this small but promising coffee growing country.
Nestled between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in East Africa, Burundi is a small country with a population of about 10 million people. It is one of the five poorest countries in the world with the lowest GDP on earth. Agriculture is their biggest industry, accounting for 58% of GDP and coffee is Burundi’s largest source of revenue, making up 93% of exports. So coffee is a big deal there!
Burundi has been producing coffee for decades, but has only recently looked to enter the specialty market. The underlying quality is undeniable and the producers’ desire to produce world class specialty coffee in this relatively young industry is encouraging.
One such star is a set down a winding six kilometre walk from the Heza Washing Station on Nkonge Hill, where water from the natural springs find its way to these hillside coffee farms, making sure the soil is always well irrigated. Nkonge’s high elevation, at 1200masl, fosters a denser, slower growing coffee bean which, coupled with the nutrient rich soil, produces some of the most floral and sweet cups in the Long Miles Coffee Project collection. Unlike coffee from well-established origins, the ‘typical Burundi coffee character’ is hard to isolate especially since the region has battled with the the greatest and smallest bug, the Antestia bug. This bug infects coffee cherries by drilling a small hole into the skin, once roasted and ground the overall effect is to make the coffee taste like raw potato. However, through schemes like the Long Miles Coffee Scouts, farmers are given the training and support they need to spot this defect in the beans before they reach the packer, creating a more reliable crop and producing the clean, fruity, sweet and complex cups that we have now come to expect from Burundian coffee.
Have you tried a cup of Burundi yet? Head down to the cafe from Thursday to try out a filter brew or grab a bag of your own from CMCR Online shop. Trust us, you won't be disappointed it's UnCommonly good.