Uganda: where have you been?For about a decade now the Coffee Department has been tasting Ugandan coffees in the lab. Generally speaking, they have not been very good, showcasing heavy faded qualities every single time we tasted them. This never really made sense to us because the altitudes, varieties, and potential quality all pointed to a product from which we would expect great things.
This past year, the same partners in Africa we work with on Tsheya and Kalungu from the Democratic Republic of Congo started having us taste coffees from a cooperative in the Rwenzori Mountains of Western Uganda. Not only did the original pre-shipment samples of coffee taste good, they exceeded every other Ugandan coffee we'd tasted by multiple points.
Why, you might ask? Our partners there, along with other organizations, helped to set up micro-washing stations for the Bukonzo Joint Cooperative. (Before this, all of the coffee was processed as low-grade natural sundried coffee.) In addition to the micro-washing stations, our partners have been working on cupping training, good processing techniques, and lots of other quality-oriented education. Honestly, it kind of seemed too good to be true.
Remember when I said that the pre-shipment samples tasted amazing? Before we bought this coffee this year, we had the opportunity to taste some arrival samples and not just pre-shipment samples. The outcome was sadly, once again, what we always taste in these coffee: fade. This left us at a crossroad. We could forget we ever tasted the amazing pre-shipment samples or figure out how to get the quality arrived here. Of course, we chose the latter.
Knowing that faded coffee was the main enemy of quality, the goals were to move the coffee faster than any other coffee has left Uganda and to make sure that the moisture was as low as possible to make it more stable.
We committed upfront to buying from our three favorite washing stations based upon the past pre-shipments, and the cooperative dried all the coffee to 8.9-9.4%. The coffee was approved on November 22, 2013, when the coffee was still in Western Uganda and arrived in the US on January 23, 2014. This coffee was harvested from late-September through December and arrived in January! The result: it doesn’t taste like stale bread.
Let’s get real for a moment, though. We still face a lot of challenges. From pre-shipment to arrival we still saw a quality loss. Overall, the milling, sorting, processing, and storage of this coffee need to be improved. And, of course, the dreaded potato defect that we thought was going to be very minor is there. (It is low – at about 2.5% of 12 oz single serving brews. For reference, Buziraguhindwa, Remera, Mpemba are at about 5%.)
Regardless, it still should feel pretty great to be tasting two of the lots that represent the best tasting arrivals of Ugandan coffee we have ever seen.