I have always had a fascination with the Congo – perhaps from a movie I watched as a child. What a different place and culture! It is often seen in a dark light, but specialty coffee cultivation serves as a beacon of progress in a troubled place. Although I have still not personally been on the ground in the Congo (it’s on the bucket list). Our close buddies at Olam own a pretty cool coffee operation in the Congo called Viruga Coffee, it is bringing up specialty coffee in the Kivu region that is return, commands a higher dollar value and pumps much needed money back into infrastructure and expansion of the project.
This organic natural-processed ‘Kivu 3’ lot is from Katana station in South Kivu, one of 8 such stations operated by Virunga Coffee Company, set up by Schluter Ltd. (now Covoya Europe) in 2012 to produce specialty coffees in eastern DRC and improve livelihoods for smallholder farmers in the region.
The Katana area is blessed with abundant rainfall, and the excess water supply ensures ample irrigation for small-holder farmers. Situated at an altitutde of 1693 masl, the coffee in this region benefits from altitude, volcanic soils, and proximitiy to the equator, all contributing factors in its excellent quality. The station processes natural and honey coffee on shaded, raised beds.
Tasting Notes: A lovely, crisp, clean, but not overly fruity natural processed. We thought it best right around the medium roast ballpark but will make fans lighter or darker depending on your personal taste preference. Lighter roasting is a bit higher acidity, lemony and floral with some grape skin like fruitiness coming through. A bit more herbal spice right at first crack, needs a longer setup time to shine but will provide delicate chocolaty notes with much wilder acidity and fruity tones. Medium roasts were tasty without the wait! Balanced, tasty, and clean after 24 hours. A pronounced chocolaty factor, medium bodied, hints of crisp acidity backed with a little soft fruit tone and spice. Wonderfully smooth and delicate for a Congo coffee. Dark roasts were tasty right off the bat as well, roasty and stronger but with a sweeter then average edge. The smokiness does compliment the strong chocolaty undertones.
Roasting Notes: Slightly two toned at lighter roasts but even roasting for a natural. Medium chaff, have seen a lot worse out of boutique naturals but still higher than average. Darkens a little quickly, try and keep it between 1st and second crack for a smooth and defined cup. Right at first crack or into 2nd crack were our least favorite roasts. Anywhere in-between was quite tasty.
Virunga Coffee Company was established in 2011 by Schluter SA (now Olam Specialty Coffee Europe) with the vision to: “Change lives in DRC through commerce in a mutually profitable way by being a major coffee actor in Kivu.”
Virunga Coffee aims to achieve this vision by improving the quality and yields for farmers in North and South Kivu, primarily through:
– Developing and implementing field-based support activities
– Introducing Good Agricultural Practices (GAP)
– Investing in processing infrastructure
– Organizing assured organic production in close collaboration with over 2,300 farmers (with a further 1,500 by June 2020)
– Bringing an innovative spirit to the development of new products
As well as providing a stable supply chain and specialty market access, Virunga is actively involved in a number of sustainability and social programs in farming communities. These include an extensive tree planting program, disease prevention outreach to tackle critical diseases such as Ebola and HIV, and equipment to help farmers improve their agronomic practices.
Ripe cherries are delivered to the washing station for sorting and flotation to select only the ripest for processing. The cherries are de-pulped using a Penagos eco-pulper, fermented for 18-24 hours and then washed in clean water grading channels. Once thoroughly washed the parchment coffee is dried in the sun on raised African beds for 12-18 days, depending on climatic conditions.
In the daytime the parchment needs to be raked and turned periodically to ensure a consistent drying process and prevent mold or over-fermentation. The coffee is also covered in the middle of the day to protect it from the hot sun, and at night to protect it from rainfall and condensation. Once the coffee has dried to the right level it is transported to Butembo for dry-milling, grading, sorting and handpicking (triage), before being bagged in GrainPro for export.
Hutwe village is located in the Kirumba region of Nord-Kivu (North of Lake Kivu), on the edge of Virunga National Park, bordered by Uganda to the east. The region has excellent conditions for specialty arabica production with plentiful rainfall, high altitude and highly fertile volcanic soils. The region is also very poverty-stricken and has had a severe lack of infrastructure which has made high quality arabica both difficult to produce and very challenging to export. Virunga Coffee Company has sought to overcome many of these problems through hands-on farmer education and investment in local infrastructure such as roads and bridges. This has allowed quality improvements every season and, in turn, higher premiums for farmers.