Neel Vohora is a third-generation Tanzanian of Indian heritage, and his family has been in the Tanzanian coffee business since the end of the second World War. The family export business based in Arusha has more than 60 years experience in the country.
Since 1971, the Vohora’s have owned about 1000 acres of farmland on the southern exterior slopes of the Ngorongoro caldera near the town of Karatu in Tanzania’s lush rift valley. The farms possess Rainforest Alliance certificate, and the family and their 50+ full-time employees on the farm have done a remarkable job of upkeep and preservation of natural beauty while also running a thriving coffee business. They are diversifying into Macadamia, provide temporary housing for harvest labor, and even supply land on the farm for local smallholders to grow beans – a mutually beneficial crop as the legumes fix nitrogen in the soil, a critical step in a healthy cycle of crops.
Neel’s sister Kavita runs the dry mill, roasters, and export business from Arusha, a two-hour drive away from the farms. Their father, Ajai, lives in nearby Nairobi, Kenya, and is still very much involved in the business of exporting coffee as well. Kavita is a licensed Q-grader, a meticulous cupper and quality agent, a lively companion for a glass of wine, and a new mother. She keeps a small army of pets around the office, including terriers and ducks. Neel, an excellent cook and a knowledgeable farmer with a persistent drive to experiment, has staffed the estate with experienced management. He’s also fond of dogs and has a beautiful Rhodesian Ridgeback that stays on the farm.
The coffees the Vohora family produce achieve consistently high quality from year-to-year despite a number of unique challenges. Water shortages prompted new rainwater basins at critical high points on the farm a few years ago. Animal damage of the coffee trees is frequent and traumatic – usually, it’s the water buffalo that are most destructive in herds, though the occasional elephant can be heard at night, making its way through the forest. Lastly, and probably most concerningly, Tanzania has struggled to properly support farmers of all sizes. An already difficult crop made unnecessarily more precarious by an inconsistent support structure, corrupt bureaucracy, and frequent delays at hot and humid ports would be enough to dissuade all but the most persistent of farmers.
This Ethiopian coffee comes to us from a single farmer named Desta Gola living in the Dodora neighborhood of Wonago, a district within the Gedeo Zone. Desta Gola is forty-nine years old and has a four-hectare farm with a little over 20,000 trees which have been in production since 2013. Desta Gola is a member of the Adame Gorbota cooperative which lies to the south of Yirgacheffe town.
The nation of Ethiopia is home to over 100 million people, and agriculture accounts for the vast majority of the country’s labor force. While large estates do exist, they are the minority. Most farmers in Ethiopia count their trees rather than their acreage, and most farms are truly gardens where food for the family is grown with perhaps a few cash crops interspersed to supplement income. Unlike many areas of the world, however, coffee is both native to Ethiopia and a part of daily life. Considered a cash crop elsewhere, it is consumed in Ethiopia in most homes, and an elaborate ceremony often accompanies its service. Ethiopia is the world’s only coffee producing country whose volume of consumption equals its export.
This coffee is sourced from the Tana Toraja region of Northern Toraja, on the island of Sulawesi, in Indonesia. The coffee is processed at the PT Toarco Jaya facility, a joint Japanese and Indonesian coffee venture established in 1976 by Key Coffee. PT Toarco Jaya is one of just a handful of Indonesian producers that utilizes a fully-washed process. PT Toarco Jaya also has a long history of contributing to the region’s economic development and social improvement programs by building roads, schools, and processing stations.
This is one of our most consistently high scored and delicious coffees from Indonesia. PT Toarco Jaya sources coffee from the mountains that surround a large bowl-shaped central valley with the city of Rantepao at its center.
Toarco Jaya circumvents this process not only by growing coffee on their own Pedamaran Plantation which surrounds their processing facility but also by sourcing coffee from trusted producers throughout the region and subjecting the offerings to strict quality control. While most of their coffee comes from these surrounding farms, their quality control is so stringent that they have made a name for themselves in specialty coffee by upholding these standards over the course of more than 40 years.
The Kochere district is a few kilometers south of the legendary coffee town of Yirgacheffe in the Gedeo Zone. Coffees from this region are among the finest on earth. Kochere grows under a semi-forested shade canopy at the peak altitude for Yirgacheffe’s coffee production.
The farmers in this region cultivate their Ethiopian heirloom varietals without the use of chemical fertilizers – in fact, nearly all coffee in Ethiopia is default organic regardless of having certification. Pristine growing methods combined with precise processing makes coffee from this region world renown.
Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Konga is produced by small coffee producers organized around the Konga mill in the Yirgacheffe Zone of Ethiopia. Ripe cherries are carefully selected at the Konga mill and immediately placed on raised beds and dried over a period of 15 to 20 days. The raised drying beds are carefully constructed to ensure proper air circulation and temperature control for an optimal drying process. Cherries are also turned regularly on the beds to prevent damage during the drying process. The cherries are stored in a local warehouse after the moisture is reduced to between 11.5 and 12 percent and then transported to Addis Ababa where the coffee is milled and exported.
Agriculture was a driving force in Rwanda’s recovery from the country’s horrific genocide in the 1990s, and coffee – particularly specialty coffee – has played a significant role in that regard. Working side-by-side, coffee cuppers and aid workers helped train and educate an entire generation of Rwandans who are now coffee business owners or occupy senior roles in export offices and quality labs across the country.
The coffee washing station is of critical importance in Rwanda. Nearly no large estates exist; instead smallholders will sell cherry outright (the government sets a minimum price) to the closest washing station. Because of the high population density even out in the countryside, and the good price on the global market, turf wars between washing stations can emerge. Some will send trucks out to local farming communities to “poach” cherry from other stations.
Regardless, it’s the washing stations that get to control the quality of coffee cherry, starting with presorting and flotation, through pulping and drying and parchment sorting and storage. This particularly clean example of Rwandan coffee comes from the southwest of the country: Cyanika town in the Nyamagabe district. The Karambi washing station was established in 2003, and sources coffee from over 700 nearby farming families. Coffee processed at Karambi took 6th place in the 2015 Cup of Excellence.
The lot is built on a blend of common Kenyan varieties. SL-28 and SL-34 are two of the most highly regarded varieties produced by Scott Laboratories in Kenya in the 1930s. Scott Labs no longer exists as such, but is now the National Agricultural Laboratories, a part of the larger Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization. Both varieties are Bourbon derivative cultivars, though from different lineages: SL-28 was developed from a drought-resistant variety originally cultivated in Tanganyika, a territory that makes up part of modern day Tanzania; it’s generally considered to be of the highest quality but is not very productive compared to other commercial Arabica varieties. SL-34 is a Kenyan mutation originally found near Kabete, and excels at lower elevations. Both of these SL variants exhibit bronze-tipped leaves on the newest growth.
Joining the classics are two relative newcomers. Ruiru-11 was developed in the mid-1980’s as the result of attempting to make an SL-28 more productive and resistant to Coffee Berry Disease and Leaf Rust by crossbreeding with varieties as disparate as Sudan Rume (for quality) and Catimor (for disease resistance), among others. In response to qualitative feedback, the Coffee Research Institute retraced the steps to creating Ruiru-11, attempting to improve cup quality without compromising disease resistance. Since 2010, the new variety called Batian has trickled into production, and early results are promising.
Ethiopia is widely considered the birthplace of coffee. Many experts say that Ethiopia is the only place that coffee grew natively and the apocryphal story of Kaldi is told over and over. Kaldi was a goat herder who discovered coffee after witnessing the vigor that his goats received from eating the cherries.
The Yirgacheffe region of Ethiopia is celebrated for its wet processed coffees. These coffees are processed by removing the fruit and washing the beans before drying. These coffees are very clean tasting and complex, with pleasant acidity and floral notes.
This coffee comes from the Aricha station, formerly known as the highly coveted Misty Valley station and sometimes called Idido. This station is located at around 1,925 masl in the Yirgacheffe highlands of southern Ethiopia. Approximately 700 small holder farmers contribute their coffee to this station.
Honduras Santa Elena Catracha Dulce Meloso is sourced from a family-owned farms organized around Catracha Coffee Company, which works directly with small producers in the municipality of Santa Elena within the department of La Paz, Honduras. Traditionally, farmers in Santa Elena have sold their coffee in cherry to a middleman, eliminating the possibility of earning better prices based on the quality of the coffee.
Catracha Coffee works with a select group of farmers who participate in monthly educational seminars that provide guidance for harvesting and processing coffee focused on quality. The profits gained from quality premiums are returned directly to the producers so they can better support their families and reinvest in their farms. Dulce Meloso is a selection of coffee from Simeon Vásquez, Antonia Sánchez, Pilar Gonzalez, Sinforiano Gonzalez, Juan de la Cruz, Francisca Vásquez, and Fausto Vásquez.
Burundi one of the, “other” east African coffee producing countries/regions, along with Tanzania, Rwanda, and the Congo all share a similar flavor profile to their more prolific neighbors; Kenya and Ethiopia.
Sogestal Mumirwa washing station is located in eastern Burundi outside major city of Bujjumbura. Located in the mountainous area of Kumugaruro about 10 miles south west of the Kibira National Park.
This is an FW A grade washed coffee from the Sogestal Mumirwa growers association in the Mumirwa region of western Burundi. Sogestal Mumirwa was founded in 1991 and has since grown to include 13 washing stations and produce between 1200 and 1500 tons of coffee annually. Growing altitude for this lot is around 1,750 masl and it is comprised of entirely Bourbon variety.