“We don’t know enough about ourselves. I think it’s better to know that you don’t know, that way you can grow with the mystery as the mystery grows in you. But, these days, of course, everybody knows everything, that’s why so many people are so lost.”– If Beale Street Could Talk, by James Baldwin
Over the past couple months, Portrait Coffee Roasters has been having a bit of a moment. They’ve been routinely selling out of their coffee since being promoted in coffee publications like Sprudge, Barista Magazine… and this site! I’ve been checking their site weekly since July and was finally able to snag their Uganda Rwenzori.
For many, Uganda might not the first country that comes to mind when thinking of high quality Arabica coffee: the country has been traditionally known as a producer of Robusta. However, in many regions of the country the challenges are more a matter of infrastructure, history and knowledge than environment. The Rwenzori Mountains are just one of many regions in the country ideally suited to the production of high-quality specialty coffee.
Benefiting from a bi-modal rainfall season and high altitudes, the country has a pleasant climate all year round and is lush with greenery. The mountain ranges to the east and west are home to Uganda’s Arabica farmers; Robusta is produced on the central plateau.
The Rwenzori Mountains are famously known as the “Mountains of the Moon.” They stretch for 120 kilometres along the Western Uganda border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. The slopes of this range is one area where the government of Uganda is promoting coffee production as a key driver for rural development.
The area is home to the Bakonzo tribe, a people who have farmed the foothills of the Rwenzori for as long as they can remember. The high altitude, fertile soils and plentiful rainfall provide perfect growing conditions for Arabica coffee. Coffee offers the Bakonzo farmers a stable income that allows them to support their families and develop their homes. The coffee is grown under the shade of banana trees, while the mixed farms also produce cassava, maize, beans and groundnuts for local consumption and additional income.
Most farmers have around 1 hectare of land, and all work on the farm is done by hand, usually by immediate family members. Families work together in groups, usually community based but sometimes also extended family groups, to process and market their coffee, an approach known as ‘share farming’. This helps them to improve processing, better control quality and increases their marketing ability.
Kyagalanyi Coffee is one of the entities tapping into this budding potential and making it possible for smallholders to participate in specialty markets. Kyagalanyi aims to build long term relationships with the groups in the region and works closely with them to develop the value chain. The work in the Bakonzo County has only recently begun, but already Kyagalanyi is assisting farmers with better market information, improved prices for better quality and advice on how farmers can improve their primary processing techniques. This area will soon become part of the Kyagalanyi Coffee Services program which aims to sustainably increase coffee production and quality.*
region: Rwenzori, Uganda
farm: Kisinga Washing Station
producer: smallholder farmers
association: Kyagalanyi Coffee
elevation: 1750 meters above sea level
cultivars: SL14, SL28
The aroma of the Uganda Rwenzori is full-on with scents of dark chocolate and dark berries, with some hints of roast on the nose.
This coffee is full-bodied, with a velvety mouthfeel. It leads with flavors of earth and spice, but dark chocolate and dark berry jam quickly break through. As the coffee cools, those jam flavors become juicier rather than jammy and a grapefruit acidity cuts through, hitting right in the middle of the tongue, rounding out through a clean finish.
Portrait Coffee’s Uganda Rwenzori is a terrific coffee – flavorful, with loads of depth and presence. It took a long time for me to be able to get my hands on this coffee, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It was a fantastic introduction to Portrait.
*content courtesy of Mercanta
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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.