Cupping in the Congo
Monday, June 29, 2015
Anne Costello, Peace Coffee Director of Coffee
Earlier this month, I visited the Democratic Republic of Congo to participate in the Saveur du Kivu, the first specialty coffee cupping competition in the DRC. As a result of years of intense conflict and violence where millions of people lost their lives, the coffee market had fallen into a drastic decline. In the mid 1980s, the region produced an estimated 30,000 tons of green coffee; by 2012, that number shriveled to 8,000 tons. The small amount of coffee produced often had to be smuggled across Lake Kivu into Rwanda as there was little to no export infrastructure in the DRC. Many coffee farmers lost their lives during this perilous journey across the world’s tenth largest lake.
Slowly but surely specialty coffee is returning to the country. An important step in rebuilding the coffee market is creating an understanding between coffee farmers and coffee buyers of the potential and quality of coffee from the DRC. This was the motivation behind the Saveur du Kivu event. My trip began with a visit to the Muungano coffee cooperative located in the town of Kinisiere along the shores of Lake Kivu. Muungano, meaning “togetherness” in Swahili, was founded in 2010 with 300 members. Today, there are over 5,000 members, a testament to the cooperative’s success. Through a program called the Gender Action Learning System, or GALS, they are actively working to promote gender equity in the community. Men and women learn to work together to set common goals for their families, agree on how finances should be used in the household, and identify obstacles that may occur. Working together strengthens family units--and the cooperative, and that in turn improves the quality of coffee that can be produced and the price received for the coffee.
Next up on the trip was the Saveur du Kivu in the city of Bukavu, located on the south-western edge of Lake Kivu. For this event, 18 samples from North and South Kivu were submitted for judges to score over two days. This event was the first of its kind and garnered much excitement in the community. Coffee farmers from around the region gathered to witness the cuppings and the governor of South Kivu and his entire cabinet attended the closing ceremonies. The quality of the coffee on the cupping table was outstanding and greatly impressed the group of international judges, many of whom scored samples above 90 points. When the winning cooperative was revealed at the closing ceremony, the room erupted with cheering and applause.
Peace Coffee has been buying coffee from the DRC for the past two years from the cooperative Sopacdi, which took third place in the Saveur du Kivu! Sopacdi’s coffee is currently highlighted in our summer seasonal, the Breakaway Blend.
Before heading home, I couldn’t leave the DRC without visiting Virunga, Africa’s oldest national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This park houses an immense amount of biological diversity, including the critically endangered mountain gorillas. Virunga park rangers risk their lives on a daily basis to protect the park’s valuable natural resources, and I was honored to have the opportunity to visit this amazing park and learn from its incredible staff.