Mountain Harvest’s coffee has become one of our most popular Uganda’s in a very short time. “Sironko” is the name of a central processing project managed by Mountain Harvest’s quality team, which this year produced a unique honey process coffee from select smallholder farmers in their network.
Mountain Harvest is a very progressive producer group in Uganda, investing heavily in their farmers’ equity in the final product, as well as constantly diversifying their cup profiles available to buyers. This, in our experience, is about as good a coffee anyone can find in East Africa that is entirely processed by smallholders themselves at the community level.
Tasting Notes: A crisp, clean & sweet cup with some awesome floral and fruity characteristics. A great example of honey processed, one can see similar tastes to both washed and natural processed coffees. Best served at the light to medium roast points. Although not overly fruity, one will get some hints of red fruit with a stronger citric/floral overtone. Being a Uganda, the cup will also have a fuller body with some nice darker tone balance, definitely on the chocolaty side with some classic African spice, slightly nutty at the light roasts. Although it has some spice, this cup is much more delicate than say a Kenyan coffee. Not punchy and overall, a smooth, sweet edged exotic cup.
Roasting Notes: Fairly easy to roast, make sure to get it just a shade past first crack for a light roast; or risk a bit of sour/nutty. Into second crack gets a bit bitter, so hints of oil or smoke, cool it out right away. Medium roasts are well balanced and what we thought was the best roast point. A bit higher chaff and slightly uneven roasting.
Mount Elgon and Mountain Harvest
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. Historically, however, farmers on the mountain have struggled to meet specialty standards by processing coffee themselves, most often in tiny amounts on homemade equipment and with little direction.
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. 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. Their coffee stands up to the best fully washed Ugandas arabicas we typically taste all year.
The Supply Chain
Mountain Harvest organizes growers by local community. They administer farm management and processing training to calibrate all producers to high specialty standards, and they expedite parchment to their centralized location in Mbale, at the foot of Mt. Elgon. In Mbale, 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.
Sironko Station and its Projects
With a few years under their belt, Mountain Harvest has begun contributing central processing infrastructure in certain areas of Mt. Elgon where they work, training farmers to oversee their own production in small communities with specific goals. The Sironko station is centralized to the Yilwanako, Buginyanya, Bushiyi, Makali, Bukalasi, and Sipi communities on Mt. Elgon’s northern slopes. This year produced a variety of honey, natural, and anaerobically-fermented experimental lots. Everything is overseen by Ibrahim Kiganda, one of Mountain Harvest’s quality managers, who maintains strict protocols for participating farmers in order to ensure the best quality outcomes. The goal with Sironko, and other central processing sites Mountain Harvest manages, is to empower farmers to produce and innovate as a community in ways they could not do on their own.
Honey Processing at Sironko
After the mid-season rains dry up, cherry from nearby smallholders begins to be designated for honeys and naturals. Cherry intaken for honey processing is analyzed with a BRIX meter for a minimum sugar concentration of 18%, as well as graded on a “coffee board”, a flat board with divots for 100 individual cherries where Ibrahim can assess a farmer’s harvest consistency using a random sample. Acceptable cherry is then sorted for consistency, depulped, and immediately moved to raised screen beds for drying. Drying requires a series of stages beginning with 2-3 days of open air and sun, after which it’s moved to shade until moisture reaches 15%. The coffee is finished again in the open. Once the dried honey parchment reaches a final moisture content of 11%, it is brought to Mbale for an extended rest of 3 months in Mountain Harvest’s climate-controlled warehouse, during which it is sampled and cupped for quality assurance.