Crossing borders to Congo takes time and even if you are ready and prepared for it, it still beats all expectations. It is how it is, you just have to go with the flow. After the usual delay and hassle we managed to cross the border and were heading for Mahagi, the closest city. In Mahagi we spent the night in one of the few guest houses the city has. Don’t expect running water, electricity is only available between 6 and 10pm. So you have to grab the opportunity. And totally forget about internet… with that last point maybe being an advantage!
Before going to sleep our Congolese colleagues asked us to wake up early in the morning as we really had to leave early as the roads were very bad due to heavy rains the last days. So our European mindset tells us to be ready for pick up as they asked us. However 3 hours later we were still planning, programming, deciding on how we would organize the day, very different how things work here. But finally everything comes together, somebody takes the decision and off we were.
We wanted to visit a number of micro washing stations situated on high altitude with the potential of producing great coffee. Most of them recently started or got recently united in a cooperative. However until now they did not sell specialty coffee. They produced some but everything got blended with the rest due to the lack of buyers who want to pay for it. So we went around from one station to another explaining who we are, what we do, what we are looking for and of course the most important thing what we are ready to pay for that quality!
To support our message, we made 1500 bracelets in the red colour the cherry should have when ready to pick and printed on it “only pick the red cherry” in Swahili.
Of course we don’t have to teach farmers how to pick coffee, it is their job, they know their trees, fields better than we do. The most important thing of these kinds of visits is creating the awareness, partnership and alliance between the farmers and us and especially motivate them to do all this work as it should be done when aiming for specialty quality.
Another goal of our journey was supporting Rikolto (the NGO we work with and who is managing all the micro stations here) in their message regarding the illegal coffee trade to Uganda. Until recently almost all coffee out of this region was illegally crossing the border and sold as Ugandan coffee. The main reasons for this were the unstable/insecure situation in the Kivu – Ituri region and the very high taxes the Congolese government is raising on green coffee compared to much lower taxes in Uganda. This together with the low prices they receive didn’t leave them any choice but selling to local buyers in Uganda.
The harvest season started at lower altitudes 2 weeks ago, at the higher altitude they just started a few days ago, so samples will still have to wait a little. Anyway, we can’t wait to cup them!
Expect rather high acidities and very distinct fruity flavours. Most of the producers have a very small production, as little as 0,5Ha up to 5Ha. Varieties are mostly Bourbon.
We can tell you that buying coffee in this region truly makes a big difference to those people as it will be the first shipment of specialty coffee with entire traceability, transparency, split lot by lot from this area.
Next to this we will plan a trip to origin in this region, part of the budget our customers will pay to join us on this trip will go to very specific and concrete changes to their infrastructure such as a hydraulic pump for water (today they have to carry the water all the way from the spring to the washing station), build extra drying tables,…..
Interested to join us? Interested to receive samples as soon as they arrive? Contact us at Katrien@cup-a-lot.com