Jan – Feb 2001: The “Other” East African Coffees; Questionable Politics & Quality Coffee

The “Other” East African Coffees
It’s almost a crime: some of the most balanced, complex coffees in the world are overshadowed by the powerhouse of East Africa … Kenya. Great Kenya coffees are showstoppers … they stun the palate with volatile aromas and fruity acidity, the flavors complex, the aftertaste is long and intense.
But in the wake of Kenya you find great, balanced coffees that might not have the hit-you-over-the-head flavors but are in no way diminutive in the cup. Zimbabwe and Zambian continue to impress, although the presence of too many non-Estate, lower grade coffees from these origins threatens to confuse people in this market. In fact, uneven quality is the downfall of both Tanzania and Burundi too. It takes a lot of work at the cupping table to find an especially good lot of these coffees.

With the new crop arrival of the aforementioned coffees imminent, I know it will take a lot of sampling in the next 2 months to source the best. The good news is that we have one early arrival that is simply outstanding: Uganda Bugisu AA. Our first shipment has arrived and it has great body, intense wild flavors that distinguish the East Africans and good acidity to boot! It’s hard to describe these flavors in a way that makes them sound positive. I get nice bitter chocolate notes, with a distinct and aromatic leathery flavor. Now how can I make that sound as pleasing as it actually is? Chocolate and leather? I probably can’t! But despite my lack of salesmanship, give it a try.

Questionable Politics & Quality Coffee
Coffee producing nations are sometimes the poorest and most politically unstable on the planet. Origins like East Timor, Sumatra, Myanmar, Uganda, Congo, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Yemen (to name but a few) are currently experiencing great unrest or have a culture of poverty that has persisted for many years. As a consumer, one response would be great concern about the possibility of perpetuating injustice with each purchase … and it is great to be asking those questions. Coffee does travel a very direct route to the consumer and our purchases do impact the producers! These are the very same questions I ask of our coffee brokers around the country, since in essence I am their consumer.

Many improvements need to be made in the coffee market to make it a more equitable place for coffee producers. There is a lot of talk in the trade about trying to free Specialty Coffee –the top 5% of coffee grades and the quality of coffee that we deal with — from the tyranny of the New York “C” market that determines the base trading price for even some of the fanciest coffees available. The “C” is intended for commercial grade coffees. (I keep a few novelty samples of these around the so people can see the atrocious quality that trades at those levels). But in fact some very good coffees are traded at the “C” plus a differential price. And that’s not right.

Fair Trade certification is a way to ensure equity for a small amount of coffees out there. (Sweet Maria’s is currently in the certification process). But what coffee producers really need is broad reaching stability. Fair Trade insures equity for a few. On a broader scale, the main problem is that we pay too little for coffee! With all the labor that goes into producing a pound of Specialty Coffee, and the fact it costs us pennies per cup, as consumers we are getting a grossly cheap pleasure. That said, quality coffee still pays more equitably that cheap coffee. If you want to really stick it to the farmers, buy coffee in a can! Coffee is a cash crop. It extends beyond local economies and brings in much-needed capital to expand and improve conditions. Many, many coffees from politically unstable origins are grown by farm cooperatives. Some were started under bleak political conditions and became a form of economic resistance. The reclamation of abandoned coffee farms in East Timor was due to a US AID grant that helped farmers organize, get Organic certification, and buy milling equipment. At the time of the political upheaval people asked me if it was ethical to buy coffee from the Timorese. Of course it was, and continues to be a way to infuse money into a desperate economy, money that goes directly to a farming cooperative, and get great coffee in return! The same is true currently for Myanmar, which is under despotic rule. But the Myanmar coffee we offer comes from the Golden Triangle co-op which circumvents the government and provides support directly to member farmers. It’s probably one of the few products from Myanmar you can currently buy in good conscience.

In these cases, boycotting coffee from politically unstable regions only hurts the coffee producers This is true for regions that are adjacent to unstable areas as well as directly from a particular origin. Because the origin is the brand, it’s the name these small farmers depend upon to allow their coffee to reach a market like the US. In the case of canned coffee, their brand name is key and they can switch the blend at any time to ensure the absolute lowest cost of production possible. And that can never work in favor of the small farmer.

While more needs to be done, Specialty Coffee in itself has done much to make consumers aware of the origin nations, and the means of production that makes such fine coffee possible. And everyone in this trade, without regard to personal ideology, knows that quality cannot survive at the current prices.

Sweet Maria’s Coffee
9 E. 2nd Ave Columbus Ohio 43201
web: www.sweetmarias.com
email: [email protected]

Sweet Marias Green Coffee Offerings on 1/15/01:
This list is always superceded by the current list on our web page! http://sweetmarias.com/prod.greencoffee.shtml
Central American 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 20 lb
Costa Rican Organic La Amistad $5.30 $10.07 $23.06 $81.62
Guatemala Antigua Los Volcanes $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $77.00
Guatemala HHT El Injerto Est Bourbon $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $75.46
Guat.Fraijanes Org.-La Montana Estate $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $80.08
Guatemalan Finca San Rafael $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $73.92
Guatemala SHB HHT Maragogype $5.65 $10.74 $24.58 $87.01
Guatemala Organic FT Huehuetenango $5.10 $9.69 $22.19 $78.54
Mexican Oaxaca Pluma -Fino Rojas $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $73.92
Mexican San Pablo Tres Flechas $4.70 $8.93 $20.45 $72.38
Nicaraguan SHG -Selva Negra Estate $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $77.00
South American 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 20 lb
Brazil Cerrado-Monte Carmelo $4.40 $8.36 $19.14 $67.76
Brazil Monte Alegre- Wet Process $4.70 $8.93 $20.45 $72.38
Colombian Popayan Supremo $4.50 $8.55 $19.58 $69.30
Colombian Maragogype $5.50 $10.45 $23.93 $84.70
Colombian Narino Reserva Del Patron $5.60 $10.64 $24.36 $86.24
Colombian Tuluni Supremo 18+ $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $73.92
Peru Org/FT Chanchamayo La Florida $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $77.00
Peru Chanchamayo Corona $4.40 $8.36 $19.14 $67.76
African- Arabian 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 20 lb
Ethiopian Harar Gr.5 Horse $5.50 $10.45 $23.93 $84.70
Ethiopian Sidamo Gr.5 -00 $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $77.00
Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Gr.2 $5.50 $10.45 $23.93 $84.70
Kenya AA Kiungu Estate 99-00 $5.60 $10.64 $24.36 $86.24
Kenya AA Mweiga Estate 99-00 $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $77.00
Kenya Peaberry ’00 $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $77.00
Tanzanian Northern Peaberry 00-01 $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $77.00
Uganda Burgisu AA $4.50 $8.55 $19.58 $69.30
Yemen Mokha Ismaili -Hirazi $7.80 $14.98 $34.71 $127.92
Yemen Mokha Mattari $7.00 $13.30 $30.45 $112.00
Yemen Mokha Raimi $6.90 $13.11 $30.02 $110.40
Indonesian- Indian 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 20 lb
Indian Monsooned Malabar AA $5.50 $10.45 $23.93 $84.70
Indian Pearl Mountain Est. Peaberry $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $80.08
Aged Java – Old Brown ’97 $6.20 $11.78 $26.97 $95.48
Java Govt. Estate Blawan $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $73.92
Myanmar Arabica -Rubyland $3.50 $6.65 $15.23 $53.90
Papua New Guinea Organic AA $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $77.00
Sulawesi Rantepao -Monsooned $6.00 $11.40 $26.10 $92.40
Sulawesi Toraja Gr.1 00 $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $73.92
Sumatra Mandheling DP Gr.1 ’01 $4.75 $9.03 $20.66 $73.15
Aged Sumatra Pwani Mandheling $6.00 $11.40 $26.10 $92.40
Timor Organic Maubese 00-01 $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $73.92
Islands- Blends -Etc. 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 20 lb
Dominican Rep.-Montana Verde Estate $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $73.92
French Chicory -Roasted and Ground $4.60 $8.74 $20.01 $70.84
Hawaii Kona-Captain Cook XtraFancy $15.10 $28.69 $70.22 $250.66
SM’s Moka Kadir Blend $5.80 $11.02 $25.23 $89.32
SM’s Espresso Monkey Blend $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $77.00
SM’s Decaf Espresso Blend $5.70 $10.83 $24.80 $87.78
Sweet Maria’s Fr.RoastBlend $5.50 $10.45 $23.93 $84.70
Malabar Gold Espresso Blend $6.00 $11.40 $26.10 $92.40
Decafs 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 20 lb
Brazil Santos SWP Decaf $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $83.16
Colombian Natural Decaf $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $80.08
Costa Rican SHB Natural Decaf $5.10 $9.69 $22.19 $78.54
Ethiopian Yirgacheffe MC Decaf $5.50 $10.45 $23.93 $84.70
Guatemalan SHB Natural Decaf $5.10 $9.69 $22.19 $78.54
Indonesian Komodo Blend Org SWP D $6.10 $11.59 $26.54 $93.94
Mexican Esmeralda Natural Decaf $4.70 $8.93 $20.45 $72.38
Mexican Organic/Shade SWP D $6.15 $11.69 $26.75 $94.71
Papua New Guinea Org SWP D $6.00 $11.40 $26.10 $92.40
Sumatra Mandheling Natural Decaf $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $83.16
Sumatra Org.GayoMtn SWP Decaf $6.30 $11.97 $27.41 $97.02
Premium Robustas 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 20 lb
Indian Kaapi Royale Robusta $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $77.00
Indian Monsooned Robusta AA $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $80.08
Mexican Washed Robusta $3.02 $5.74 $- $-

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