Amid the tension and instability that plague the Kivu communities in eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo is a group of small-scale coffee farmers coming together to really make a name for themselves. The last few years, we have seen the development of high quality coffees there.
However, due to political and social turmoil, farmers have historically been prevented from receiving fair prices for their crops. Many farmers had to risk their lives to smuggle their coffee across the Rwandan border, hanging their hopes on the possibility of receiving a better price there.
In 2000, a small group of farmers in the South Lake Kivu region of Eastern Congo resolved to find a sustainable solution to this problem. They laid the groundwork for the Sopacdi cooperative society, which today boasts nearly 6,000 farmer members and is helping the DRC join the ranks as a world-class coffee origin.
With support from a number of foreign importers, the Sopacdi coop was able to build the Tsheya washing station in the town of Minova, where this month’s selection was processed. This particular lot is special not only for its unique origin but also because it comes exclusively from female producers, who receive a premium for delivering their beans to the Sopacdi coop’s washing station.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping the Congo Tsheya, from Kickapoo Coffee Roasters in Viroqua, Wisconsin, courtesy of Craft Coffee. Feel free to pull up a chair.
region: Kalihi, Lake Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo
farm: Tsheya Washing Station
producer: smallholder farmers
association: Sopacdi Cooperative
elevation: 1500 – 2000 meters above sea level
process: fully washed, raised bed dried
The aroma of the Congo Muungano is deep, dark, and musty. Mysterious in a “shadows in the mist” sort of a way. Raw cocoa nibs introduce cinnamon raisin bread and molasses, but there’s also a spicy roastiness that’s akin to – and this is going to send super pretentious but bear with me – smoldering burnt cedar that’s just been rained on; the spice is there, the burnt scent is there, and the mustiness is there – it makes sense to me, anyway.
Diving into the first few sips of the coffee immediately post-brew and my palate is greeted by flavors similar to what I found in the aroma. Dusty cocoa powder, caramel, and heavy molasses ooze onto the palate, carrying along notes of cloves, cinnamon, licorice, and roasted walnut.
As it cools off, bright and “jammy” (jellied texture) fruits lazily roll out of the cup and, suddenly, this Congo coffee is playing on the same field as its African counterparts (Sidama or a dark-roasted Kenya, most similarly): bright maraschino cherry, tart raspberry, juicy and slightly astringent red grape acidity, golden raisin, and strawberry jelly.
Full body; jammy mouthfeel; grape acidity; slightly dry finish.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
I’ve been reviewing coffee for almost three years now, yet it’s taken me this long to try a coffee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It just goes to show—experiencing coffee is an infinite endeavor; there’s just no end to what you can learn and what you can experience. Having never tried a Congolese coffee, of course, I didn’t know what to expect going in, but I knew I could put my trembling hand in the trustworthy and capable hand of Kickapoo Coffee Roasters.
Their Congo Tsheya was a strange affair—complex, dynamic, dense, and heavily layered. Flavors of savories and spice collapse into bright, tart red ruits before finishing, again, with nuts, savories, and spices. The coffee comes full circle.
This was a tremendous coffee. One that is fun for specialty coffee aficionados to explore, and one that is a nice introduction for novices to specialty coffee.
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Andrew is a husband, father, dog lover, craft beverage enthusiast, content creator, and niche market Internet celebrity. Formerly of A Table in the Corner of the Cafe and The Pulitzer Project and contributor to Barista Magazine and Mental Floss, he’s been writing on the Internet for years.