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.
Our friends over at Olam sent us a fresh sample from one of their washing stations and holy smokes, it has been a bit since we have seen a Congo of this quality and for a reasonable and sustainable price, a win/win in our book. We could not help but to pick it up.
Hutwe station is located at 1,790 masl in Kirumba zone, a very challenging region plagued with rebel groups. Like Virunga’s other washing stations, Hutwe operates a Penagos eco-pulper. The station processes cherries from smallholder farmers at altitudes ranging between 1,500 and 1,800masl. The coffee here is typically of the Bourbon variety, which thrives in these high altitudes, as well as a local subvariety called Rumangabo.
A super clean lot from the Congo – amazing considering all the trouble this year in the Kivu – beautiful prep on these beans. Great floral and soft fruit tones upfront with a bit of brightness balanced with a tea spiced chocolaty factor, not too overwhelming or potent like some Africans. Smooth with almost a brown sugar hint at a strong medium roast. Pretty much everyone will love this coffee, a great everyday drinker.
Easy to roast and tasty at most roast levels. Lots of small little hints that get burned out into 2nd crack make this tailored toward lighter roasting, but tastes great as you push it towards or into 2nd crack. A strong medium roast was our favorite, just starts popping out that caramelized tone without burning out complimentary floral/fruit tones.
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.