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.
The Sopacdi Cooperative is one of the most forward-thinking groups in all of Africa. This group of farmers found specialty coffee to be a way forward out of conflict and civil war. Through the production of some of the highest quality coffee in their region, the group has been able to fund numerous projects for their community, from land renovation to women’s programs, and see the overall well being of their community rise. The quality of their coffee is the primary reason for their success, as their product is the first coffee since 1967 to achieve the top national grade.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping the Congo Sopacdi, from One Line Coffee in Columbus, Ohio. Feel free to pull up a chair.
region: Lake Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo
producer: smallholder farmers
association: Congo Sopacdi Cooperative
elevation: 1460 – 2050 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 brown sugar, cinnamon, raisin, and honey, and there’s a touch of zesty citrus.
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. Sweet chocolate milk and heavy molasses ooze onto the palate, carrying along notes of cinnamon raisin bread, licorice, and roasted cashews. It’s a lot like trail mix, actually. Which I love, because I am a trail mix fiend. 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): cranberry, raisin, plum, nectarine, dried apricot, papaya, and super juicy blood orange marmalade, lifting in the end to reveal a lingering clove and lemon zest finish.
My goodness. This coffee… This coffee just does not quit.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has emerged, in the past year, really, as the home of some of the most dynamic and interesting coffees in the world. And it has really been just in the past year or so. Or maybe it’s that importers have finally discovered what the farmers of Congo have known along. Which is probably more likely.
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.