Mount Elgon is a massive peak split nearly in two by the border of Uganda and Kenya. The “mountain” itself, now an extinct shield volcano, is more an enormous expanse of successive plateaus that float dramatically above the surrounding valley floor. It is also home to a dense patchwork of farming communities growing some of the best organic coffee in Africa. Mountain Harvest is a very young and big-thinking group, first established in 2017. The company is dedicated to long-term economic and environmental sustainability for smallholders on Mt. Elgon.
These farmers are Uganda’s highest and most diversified coffee growers with incredible quality potential thanks to the climate, soil fertility, and a longstanding culture of land stewardship, but who historically struggle to meet specialty standards by processing coffee in tiny amounts on homemade equipment. In an effort to raise the economic standard in remote coffee-growing Elgon communities, Mountain Harvest began as an impact investing project underwritten by Lutheran World Relief (LWR). It has expanded in just a few years to include farmer education and training, central processing infrastructure, storage facilities throughout the region, detailed quality control, and international marketing.
Tasting Notes: Great from medium to dark. Has some exotic notes at lighter roast points, floral/citric acidity and a soft fruit tone, but can come off a little earthy. Medium to dark roasts turn the cup much more chocolaty with just a hint of crispness. Fuller bodied, semi-sweet, smooth and creamy with some spice notes lingering in the aftertaste. We liked it best in the medium roast ballpark, retains a little hint of crispness and presented the most balance between light and dark tones.
Roasting Notes: Darkens up a bit quickly so don’t let it trick you, will look a shade darker than it is. Has some very fresh acidity upfront at the light to medium roasts that many African fans will love, but if you like lower acidity cups, make sure to take it a bit darker. Even roasting with medium to low chaff.
As of this year Mountain Harvest works with 850 individual smallholders across 8 communities on Mt. Elgon, with each farm growing between 600-1,000 coffee trees. And their coffee stands up to the best fully washed Ugandas arabicas we typically taste all year. Mountain Harvest organizes growers by local community, administering farm management and processing training to calibrate coffee production to high standards, and expedites parchment to their centralized location in Mbale, at the foot of Mt. Elgon, where each delivery is cupped against a strict and detailed qualitative and physical grading system and allocated accordingly.
A typical smallholder picks coffee daily during harvest, depulps on hand-cranked or generator-powered depulpers, sometimes shared between neighboring households, and ferments overnight in small plastic tubs or nylon sacks. Coffee is then rinsed clean and dried in a thin layer on ground tarps, or, increasingly, raised screens to improve air circulation. Over the course of a full harvest coffees are built into blended containers, single-community lots, and single-delivery microlots for sale, the minimum of which is priced 10-30% above local market prices.
Unlike other regional buyers who exclusively process centrally or buy lower grade smallholder parchment, Mountain Harvest invests in farmers’ capacity to produce high-specialty, fully-dried parchment coffee within their own resources, helping them maximize their margin when they sell.
Makali is one of 8 community zones in which Mountain Harvest works, and one of the first to start selling them coffee. The high level of social cohesion and collaboration among Makalai coffee growers always made them a leading example of smallholder production. Over the past 5 years Mountain Harvest has invested more and more in their community infrastructure, to the point where Makali now has a central pulping facility for cherry and a central drying greenhouse for parchment—both of which are in the farmers’ ownership to manage according to standards set by Mountain Harvest.
As part of their wholistic farmer investment in Makali, Mountain Harvest distributes beans for cultivation and nitrogen fixation, avocado and macadamia tree seedlings, and honey bee hives. Mountain Harveset has most recently established a microfinance program that gives farmers here access to formal bank accounts—previously denied to them without membership in a larger finance association.