Cofi-Com’s John Russell Storey explores Tanzania’s countryside that reveals committed farmers, impressive coffees and a real life animal kingdom.
Arriving in Tanzania was a world away from the bustling, crazy capital city experience of Kampala. Kilimanjaro Airport is bang in the middle of the countryside, with the nearest major town well over an hour’s drive away.
Most arriving passengers are whisked away by tour operators heading off to big parks like Serengeti. For us, it was a short drive to a nearby lodge for an afternoon of R&R before driving almost two hours the next day through arid scrub and acacia trees to Burka and Mondul Estates.
On arrival, the greenery and shade of the estate seemed like an oasis. Edwin Agasso, who looks after quality and export, took us through a tasting session and history of the farm. As we drove through the estate, Edwin explained the complex cycle of pruning and stumping. It was clear was that this was a tightly run operation. The thriving trees were a shining green that cames from care, water, and fertilisation. Signs on the various blocks showed the trees were of the Blue Mountain varietal, which we had just cupped: bright, bold body with chocolate and deliciously complex fruit notes.
The visit finished with a truly wonderful Burka AA coffee as we sat on the veranda of the original 1940s farmhouse on one of the highest peaks of the farm. Edwin wryly pointed out that the owner could see who was doing what at just about every point on the farm. The farmhouse is now heritage listed and maintained by the estate.
Then it was off to Karatu, our base for the next three days. The drive had its moments: a troop of cheeky baboons, the amazing sight of very young Masai boys chatting on mobiles herding 30 or more cattle, and kilometres of Tanzanian countryside. Then, an inevitable puncture. Fixing it was a masterclass in minimalism in just 10 minutes flat. An elderly gent and his assistant pulled out the offending screw, rammed in a soft rubber plug and cut off the excess with a penknife.
The final climb up through the mountains to Karatu was magnificent. Lakes shimmered in the late afternoon sunlight and the views went on forever.
The following day, our host Harriet Ndola from Taylor Winch had us on a busy schedule of farm visits. Harriet’s background as a field support officer for three years meant we had an in-depth insight into each farm’s production cycle, the challenges farmers face, and how Taylor Winch has assisted.
For most field officers, their office is a dusty Land Cruiser travelling hundreds of kilometres every day on rough roads. They have to earn the trust of farmers in their area through offering practical advice, covering everything from agricultural practices to personal finance. Often the areas are remote, with the nearest large town a couple of hours’ drive. The reward is seeing increased yields and projects coming to fruition like a framer building a new house or a mill being rebuilt. It’s hard work and only for the motivated and committed.
During the visits we saw how coffee borer disease was affecting farms and the expense that went into fighting it.
Another estate showed the steps they had taken to focus on specialty grade coffee. One estate brought home the fact that few children want to carry on the family business, and sadness as two generations of hard work come to an end.
The final visit on day one was Ngila Estate. Paul and Emmanuel, both senior managers at the farm, showed us around the mill. Their knowledge and passion stood out as they explained the improvements that had been implemented. Every area was signposted, the channels and fermentation tanks were white-tiled, and there was even the estate management structure on display. The place was immaculate.
In the parchment storage area, we were shown gorgeous honey processed coffee and two barrels containing parchment. The coffee had been sitting in the old Burgundy barrels for a month or two and smelt divine. This was exactly what I’d been looking for.
In a walk around part of the farm, Ngila’s owner and director Vera Meyer pointed out an elephant fence that had to be put in place next to the bordering reserve. Apparently the local jumbos had a habit of taking a shortcut to a spot on a nearby hill where they liked to eat the high-mineral-content soil. The fence was a polite reminder to take the long way.
We were invited to stay for dinner, which was truly something special. Imagine sitting on a veranda watching the African twilight approach. Monkeys chattered in the trees, night insects sang, and a breeze cooled everything down. We had great conversation, ate delicious food, and drank cups of the estate’s honey processed coffee.
The next day we took a safari trip to the Ngorororo Crater. It’s one of the wonders of the world, 100 square kilometres inside an ancient crater. Absolutely stunning. At the main viewpoint overlooking the crater is free Wi-Fi. It speaks volumes about how Tanzania values their tourist trade.
The next few days were hectic with Harriet making sure we saw an educational cross section of farms. First was Kongoni Estate where the last of the season’s cherries were being picked. Reuben, the General Manager, explained that the estate was concentrating on improving every process that directly affected taste. This included fast processing of the picked cherries to covering drying parchment with shade cloth during the midday heat.
Then at Heights Estate, Owner Vimax gave us a personal insight into the challenges of coffee growing and the effects of coffee borer disease. Coffee prices, cost of fertilisers, fighting pests, finding pickers during harvest, and being totally reliant on rainfall is not an easy life. Once he retires, the farm has to be sold. None of his children want to carry on the family business and Vimex understands why.
Next was Karatu Estate where very little coffee is wasted. Manager Vitesh knows how to make the most out of his harvest, picking every last cherry on the tree. Even after processing, rejected cherries and beans are hand checked for anything that could be salvaged. Vitesh’s day goes go on well after sunset.
his article appears in FULL in the April 2019 edition of BeanScene Magazine. Subscribe HERE.