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.