Uganda Trip 2015 – Part 2
In Sipi, (redacted) and farmers were certified Rainforest Alliance and Organic. This particular visit proved to be the most influential moment of my trip. Rainforest Alliance is touted as being a well rounded, ethical and sustainable certification. Marketing presents the certification as a means to ensure estates provide workers housing, education, medical care, and fair wages. What I witnessed was a multi-national taking advantage of impoverished farmers by paying them only 50% to 80% of coffee’s real value. Farmers have to sell their coffee to the multi-national because it is the only mill that can process their coffee for miles. There was no premium for quality and farmers were essentially slaves on their own land.
Kabum organic farmers in the region were very knowledgeable about organic agriculture and techniques. They used chili peppers to kill coffee berry borers, trenches to prevent top-soil run off, and indigenous plants to fight leaf rust.
After our farm tour we went to our cabin, perched on the cliff next to the famous Sipi Falls. Kerosene lanterns guided us to sleep under thatched roofs tucked away in the mountainside.
In Buginyanya, at close to 7,000ft, we toured several farms under the guidance of local farmers and a UCDA agricultural expert. I explored a farm with unusual looking trees- planted in the early 1900’s. The farms owner informed me that his trees were called Nyasaland. Locals believe that Nyasaland means “from afar or far away” and have lost the plants’ history. I did some research and found that Nyasaland coffee comes from Malawi, formerly Nyasaland, where it arrived in 1878. It was distributed to Tanzania and Uganda by Nyasa Seed Company in 1900. Coffee is originally believed to have been brought to Nyasaland by the British from the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens (UK). If it came from the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens, Nyasa would have been derived from a single Typica plant originating in western India. This plant’s parents would have traveled from Ethiopia to Yemen in 575AD and to India in 1665. When I saw Nyasa coffee growing in the field, it appeared to exhibit features present in both Bourbon and Typica. It grew like vines and had thin pointy leaves but had bark similar to Bourbon. The farm owner stated that Nyasaland can grow above other trees and outwards up to 50ft. Bourbon was also viewed to grow tall and to curve over other trees but was distinguishable by its thick tree like trunk and uniform branches. Photos of a Nyasaland coffee tree:
Photo of a Yemeni coffee tree for your comparison:
The Arabica varieties most commonly found in Uganda are Nyasaland, SL-14, and SL-28. In Uganda and Malawi, Nyasaland tastes like apples and can be distinguished by its long bean shape and winding center line. I noticed that some coffee lots exhibit herbal, tomato, and metallic flavors that I suspect come from SL-14, a hybrid of Bourbon and Tanganyika.
After another TV interview, tour participants mingled with locals and ate lunch. I ran into Oliva Kishero, chairperson of Buginyanya Women’s Cooperative, a member of Gumutindo, and spoke with her about her coffee. She stated that she only grows SL-14 on her farm but that other Gumutindo farmers grow Nyasaland. Soon I will cup micro-lots of each variety to get to the bottom of this mystery. Tour participants set up a miniature coffee shop and brewed coffee for local farmers. Farmers were able to compare coffee from their growing regions to the best coffees from Kenya and Ethiopia. Farmers preferred their coffees to others and pour-over to aeropress.
There were several speeches and farmers were awarded drying beds from funds raised by roasters in the states. At one point we were whisked away through a dark alleyway to a small hut. We sat and drank a local favorite called Ajono, a semi-fermented beer, out of a small clay pot. It tasted a lot better than it looked.
After lunch we were driven to the edge of a cliff where we could see for miles. I felt my legs tremble as I approached the edge of what appeared to be a 5,000 foot drop.
We passed through the village and on to several washing stations and exporters including but not limited to: Buginyanya, Gibuzaale, and Kygalnayi. I suddenly realized that the homes we drove past on our way back to Mbale were made of poop. Children spotted us driving by and yelled Mzungu!
On our way out of Mbale and on to Kampala we stopped at UGACOF for a tour and cupping. Once in Kampala we began to formally judge many of the coffees available for purchase on the trip.
On our final day we cupped another round of the best coffees we tasted the entire week. Coffees included: Bukonzo, Gumutindo, Kibale, Bugisu AA, among others, and some Drugars (natural process). After our cuppings, we went on to visit Good African Coffee roasters and cupped some more, anything worth doing is worth overdoing! I spotted several ugly birds and was told they are Marabou. Its common knowledge that you cannot leave your baby in a stroller near these birds or they will peck its eyes out!
Uganda is a wild cocktail of history and flavor waiting to be discovered. This summer I will share with you some of the amazing micro-lots that I discovered on my trip. Next year I intend to visit grower groups in Rwenzori and search for wild coffee in Kibale. Stay tuned for more taste adventures!