Shade Coffee looks like this: grown under the canopy of indigenous trees. The white barked taller trees are commonly known in Central America as “Inga”. They are great for coffee because they not only provide shade for the trees, but also habitat for biodiversity and leaf litter for soil nutrients. Leaves decaying on the forest floor is natural fertilizer. An additional benefit comes from the tree being “leguminous”, meaning its roots deliver nitrogen to the soil, further reducing the need for oil based fertilizers.
This environment is perfect for the cultivation of organic coffee. This site is located in Northern Nicaragua and is typical of the Mesoamarican Rainforest that stretches from Panama thru Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, all the way up to the Yucatan Peninsula. These forests are the home of Black Panthers and the National bird of Guatemala, the famous Quetzal. The trees are full of birds and Howler Monkeys and hundreds of species of orchards. At the higher elevations, coffee trees reflect the quality of this forest in the flavor of their fruit, and finally, in your cup.
When you taste coffee from regions like this, you are experiencing a message from the forest spirits. The expression, “There is magic in this package, only you can let it out” is derived from a walk through this place that I took with my good friend Byron Coralles long ago.
Although the region is best known for its excellent teas, an alternative agricultural product has attracted interest in the farmlands of the Yunnan Province. While tea plants have been grown in China for a millennia, the coffee tree has only been cultivated there for under 150 years. Larger scale coffee production didn’t begin until the 1950s, and at that point too, the coffee being grown in China was only really being consumed in China, with little being exported to the rest of the world.
China’s coffee production has been through some changes in just the past decade, and as this origin comes into its own and enters the specialty market, coffee drinkers around the globe are taking a look at what Yunnan has to offer.
Here at Thanksgiving Coffee, we’ve been bringing rare and unique origins to the table for almost half a century. Co-founder and CEO Paul Katzeff was one of the founding members of the Specialty Coffee Association of America back in 1982, and has long been an on-the-ground advocate for guiding coffee producing countries into the world of specialty by helping farmers bring out the best in their coffee beans.
In the 1980’s, when specialty coffee was still a new idea and Starbucks wasn’t yet a household name, Paul was traveling to coffee origins and learning about what makes coffee great. We spent our time developing relationships with farmers and educating workers at origin on what makes an excellent cup of coffee.
With this decades-long history of providing for farmers at origin, Thanksgiving Coffee was the first call that Karen made when she was ready to start finding roasters for her newest rare coffee: Manlao River Specialty from the Yunnan Province of China.
“Paul is a visionary in many ways, and was the logical first call for this project. As the first roaster to travel to origin and understand the urgency of combating the pollution of our planet, Paul has been the champion of numerous movements in the SCA(A). Our culture has a problem with China on many levels, and I think Thanksgiving Coffee is the right leader to take on this coffee in this rather tough political climate.”
– Karen Cebreros of Global Coffee Trading
Karen is a mainstay in the world of specialty coffee, and a great friend of ours for many years. Paul and Karen have traveled to Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua on various origin trips together, and she was an instrumental piece of bringing the first certified Organic coffees to the United States. We are delighted to be the very first coffee roaster in the United States to roast and sell this coffee, both online and in grocery stores and cafes.
Manlao River Specialty Coffee
The Manlao River project began as a poverty alleviation initiative in the Southern Yunnan region, near the border of Laos. The opportunity arose to use a 10,000 hectare lot in this area to help impoverished farmers with a new product—coffee.
The coffee from this region of Yunnan comes from two estates, ManZhongTian and Nagy. ManZhongTian sits at 1300-1500 meters, with a lot of shade. The fruit coming out of this estate is denser, with beans that mature a bit slower than their counterparts at the Nagy estate. Nagy is situated between 1200-1400 meters, and the cherries here are harvested a little earlier in the season.
These two coffees come together to create a profile that Roastmaster Jacob Long calls “Rich and full-bodied, with notes of chocolate and toasted nuts.”
Thanksgiving Coffee and China
We first sourced from Yunnan in the early 1980s, as the first coffee roaster in the United States to sell coffee from China. Three decades later, we are excited to once again feature this unique single origin as a part of our ongoing lineup of specialty coffee. Coffee from Yunnan has come a long way in the past few decades, and we are happy to support the continued growth of these new coffee farmers that are bringing their product to the world.
This year, China was featured as the Specialty Coffee Association’s “Portrait Country” during the annual Specialty Coffee Expo in Seattle. This new emergence of coffee from China’s Yunnan Province is due largely to the work of Ted Lingle. Ted was also a founding member of the SCA, and served as the executive director of the Coffee Quality Institute for a number of years, as well. Ted has been working with the Yunnan Coffee Exchange to improve the coffee coming from this region, and coffee drinkers everywhere should be extremely thankful for his work.
Thanks to Ted and Karen, the farmers of the Yunnan Province of China are growing better and better coffee, and we are the very first to bring Manlao River Specialty coffee to you, our customers. This coffee is available online, and you can also look forward to seeing a selection of Yunnan Province Coffee at grocery stores throughout California and beyond.
Thanksgiving Coffee Company 2017 Roaster of the Year
Thanksgiving Coffee Company was established in 1972, on the Mendocino Coastline by co-founders Paul and Joan Katzeff. Almost fifty years later, Thanksgiving continues to operate its roastery on the shores of the Noyo River, with Paul and Joan at the helm, along with their son, Jonah Katzeff. Thanksgiving Coffee is a certified B Corporation, and has won a number of awards over the year, including Roast Magazine’s Roaster of the Year title in 2017, the SCAA’s Sustainability Award in 2004 and 2012, and B Lab’s Best for the World commendation in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Did you miss your opportunity to try our Sulawesi last month? Not to worry, this month we have an equally exciting origin: Malawi. This is our second year of purchasing coffee from the Mzuzu Coffee Planters Cooperative Union, and we are again impressed with what they have to offer.
Malawi is tucked away below the equator, in the center of Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia in Eastern Africa. This country is on the same lines of longitude as coffee-growing countries like Bolivia, Brazil, Southern Peru and the islands of Java and Sulawesi. The country of Malawi is growing in popularity as a coffee origin, and every new shipment we receive continues to improve in quality.
The Mzuzu Coffee Planters Co-Op
This coffee is sourced from family-owned farms organized around the Mzuzu Coffee Planters Cooperative Union, which is an umbrella organization operating in the North Region of Malawi. This Northern Region shares a border with Lake Malawi, one of the African Great Lakes known for its rich diversity of wildlife. The Mzuzu cooperative provides support to 3000 members in six regional cooperatives where the average producer cultivates .5 hectares of land. The Mzuzu cooperative emphasizes gender equity and supports community improvement projects, including the construction of a hospital with the help of coffee premiums.
Altitude Grown: 1300-2000 meters Processing: Fully washed, dried in the sun Cooperative: Mzuzu Coffee Planters Cooperative Union Region: Chitipa & Mzimba District
Join the Roastmaster’s Select Coffee Club
This coffee is only available to members of our Roastmaster’s Select Coffee Club, during the month of May! If you sign up for a Coffee Club subscription before June 1, you will receive two bags of this splendid Medium Roast coffee from Eastern Africa. Don’t miss it!
In the fall of 1967, 35 year old Dian Fossey of San Francisco founded the Karisoke Research Center in the Virunga mountains of Rwanda.
Dr. Fossey would have turned 86 on January 12, 2018. In honor of her birthday, we are featuring our coffees from Rwanda and the Congo: two single origins that directly benefit the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. Her shoes may be hard to fill, but the DFGFI continues to lead the charge for gorilla conservation in Africa, and education across the globe.
We are excited to begin yet another year in partnership with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, and we look forward to many more to follow.
The pictures below are from the @savinggorillas social media accounts, from the years that Dr. Fossey was living and working among the gorillas in Rwanda.
Thanksgiving Coffee Company Not Just A Cup, But A Just Cup
We’re featuring two great coffees from the beautiful island of Sumatra! With this particular single origin, you have the unique opportunity to try the same coffee roasted to two colors: a medium roast and a very dark (or French) roast.
Learn a little more about the origin of these Indonesian coffee beans below…
Our Sumatran coffee was grown by members of the Asosiasi Kopi Gayo Organic Cooperative, also known as ASKOGO. This cooperative currently has 760 members, growing Fairtrade and Organic coffee in the Aceh Tengah and Bener Meriah regencies of Sumatra which are renowned for producing excellent coffee. The small farms are tucked into the dense tropical forests of the Northern Gayo Mountains, from 1000 to 1500 meters above sea level.
ASKOGO offers regular training activities to each of the farmers in their co-op, in order to improve the quality of their coffees, learn new harvest techniques, and implement more beneficial farming practices. This group was founded in 2008, and has continually improved their coffee in the subsequent years. We have been purchasing coffee from ASKOGO since 2015.
Sumatra Coffee Varietals and Origin Specifics
The Sumatran coffee we purchase is of the Typica, Bourbon and Catimor varieties. This coffee is grown in volcanic loam, a common soil for growing coffee, since you find these farms at particularly high elevations. The Takengon Highlands (where we source our Sumatra) have excellent soil, which accounts for such spectacular coffee coming from this region.
The processing method that most of Sumatra uses is “Wet-Hulled.” This process is traditional to Indonesia, and not something you’ll typically find at other origins. While it’s similar to the more common “washed” or “wet processed,” there are a few differences. Perfect Daily Grind does an excellent job of explaining the “Wet-Hulled” process in their 2015 article: www.perfectdailygrind.com/2015/10/indonesian-wet-hulled-coffee-your-one-stop-guide
You can purchase a Medium Roast and a French Roast Sumatra here on the Thanksgiving Coffee website. If you’re a member of the Single Origin Club, you’ll be receiving a bag of our medium later this month! If not, shop organic Sumatran coffee through the link below:
Thanksgiving Coffee Not Just A Cup, But A Just Cup
2017 Roaster of the Year
My name is John Elijah, and I am excited to introduce myself and my project to the Thanksgiving Coffee community. I have dreamt of creating a video production company here in Uganda for the past several years, and Paul Katzeff is helping me bring that dream to life. I have known Paul for over three years now, and with his blessing, I would like to introduce my story to you.
Over the past several weeks, I have held three different video shoots, and have put in over a hundred hours worth of editing. I believe that my country has something truly spectacular to offer to the world, but I need your help in making this a reality.
This coming Tuesday, look for an email and video with the details of my campaign, and how you can help build a thriving industry in Uganda!
When you receive this email in your inbox, I ask that you share it with your family and friends. Forward it onto your relatives, share the campaign on your social media pages, and help us create something remarkable.
Every month, our Roastmaster Jacob Long chooses a coffee in our warehouse to spotlight for the month. Our Latest Arrival is the coffee that has been delivered most recently to the Thanksgiving Coffee Roastery, and you’ll find that these coffees astound every time.
The latest arrival for August is our Kenya Nyeri Peaberry, and tasting this coffee at its freshest is not something to be missed. This light roast from Africa has a unique mouthfeel with hints of milk chocolate, ripe peach, and caramel. We’re especially fond of this single origin, because it helped solidify our title as 2017 Roaster of the Year, from Roast Magazine. Along with our Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and Paul’s Blend, the Kenya Nyeri Peaberry was judged during a blind tasting alongside a variety of other entrants – and came out on top.
This year’s crop continues to perform well, and now that we’ve established this relationship with the Othaya group, we hope to see many more years of great tasting Kenyan Coffee. We had the opportunity to meet with Jim and Phyllis, representing the Othaya Cooperative, at the Global Coffee Expo back in April, and snagged this photo of them with our Roastmaster, Jacob Long.
A week later, we received this note:
It was so nice to meet you at SCA and learn that the coffee we produce helped you win Roaster of the Year. I am so glad our Othaya Peaberry performed so well. That is really a tribute to your ability to find the sweet spot of that coffee.
I hope you are just as happy with the coffees that come this year. As I mentioned Royal did a special project with us this year with red ripe cherries. If I recall correctly I gave you a few samples to cup. It will be good to hear what you think of them.
What made this project unique is that Othaya selected their best farmers to participate in the project and they agreed to wait from 10 to 14 days to pick only their best ripe cherries on the same day so they could be processed as a separate outturn (lot). Once the parchment completed the drying process it was immediately placed in grainpro and delivered to their dry mill. After dry milling it was immediately put back into grainpro and delivered to our warehouse and queued for hand picking improvement. The coffee will be hand picked in the next two weeks and shipped. You can expect this coffee to arrive around the end of July.
We’re looking forward to many more years of providing you with some of Africa’s best coffee. Order our Kenya Nyeri Peaberry Light Roast today, and try some of this truly fantastic, award-winning Kenyan Coffee now.
In 1998, I was in Nepal. I was there because USAID offered me a free trip, provided I completed their mission.
The mission: to assess the coffee world in Nepal, from the farm to the cup. Nepal had some history in coffee production but it was in the distant past. Not much was known about Nepal’s coffee experience in 1998 – so they sent me to find out.
I was set down in a small city called Tenzen. I was housed in a small hotel in the foothills at about 5,000 feet above sea level. From my window I could see five 20,000 foot mountain peaks all lined up, covered in snow, and glowing golden in the late afternoon sun.
Nepalese Coffee Roasters
I soon found out how this trip came about; A local Nepalese coffee store owner who roasted his own coffee (selling to tourists and mountain climbers) had requested coffee information from the U.S. Government.
The question foremost on the mind of that local coffee roaster in Nepal was not how to build an industry that would benefit coffee farmers, but how to market his coffee to tourists. He was interested in helping himself, not growing the benefits of coffee for the many farmers who had coffee trees on their land. These farmers did not drink coffee, and had no ready market to sell into. I immediately re-organized my time and the people I needed to meet. I visited the farms and spoke with the coffee farmers. I soon discovered that my host, the Nepalese coffee roaster, was not liked by the farmers, because he paid very low prices for the coffee he purchased from them.
I got back to my USAID sponsors in the U.S. and told them they had been sold a bill of goods by a self-serving local businessman, and that I could not narrow my study to “How to develop a coffee roasting industry in Nepal” in good conscience. The potential was minimal, and very few would be helped with this mission. Those helped would be the educated middle class, not the poorer coffee farmers, who numbered in the thousands.
Word got back to my host and he was furious. This is not a good thing to happen to someone in a foreign country in the 90’s, where anyone could disappear in some back alley in Kathmandu, or under twenty feet of snow on some nearby mountainside. But I persevered. I decided (since I was already there) to teach the coffee farmers how to prepare coffee cherries for home roasting in a wok. I figured once they knew how to prepare coffee for consumption, they would have the basis for growing coffee for flavor. The idea was that knowledge would open up doors to export coffee, and bring in more money for their families in the future.
Nepalese Coffee Farmers
When I travel to a country to teach coffee to coffee farmers, I always bring green coffee samples from five or six countries to show farmers how the final product looks. It is important to know what green coffee looks like after the seeds are removed from the cherry, perfectly sorted, graded, and then processed for export. I want them to see what they are aiming toward. I also bring a small popcorn popper (110V) to roast the coffee samples if there is electricity available. In this mountain village there was none, so we rested a wok on three round stones over a bamboo wood fire.
This was a great teachable moment. In an open wok, you can see the changes as they come about. We sat around the fire, stirring the beans with a long stick. The heat from a bamboo fire is hot, very hot. As the coffee turned from tan to a dark oily black, I took small portions from the wok and allowed them to cool in a cool metal pie tin. After 15 minutes of wok-stirred coffee beans, we had all seen the changes and we had four separate samples to taste: Light Roast, Medium Roast, Dark and Very Dark (French Roast).
So we began by harvesting five pounds of their local coffee cherries. In the process of harvesting I taught the importance of “Red Ripe.” We de-pulped the cherries by hand (squeezing each cherry until the wet and slimy seeds popped out. Then we set the seeds out to dry on newspaper in the shade. It took five days to get the coffee beans to dry. They start out at about 50% moisture to about 25% moisture, and they need to be at around 11% to begin to roast. The weather was not cooperating, so I finished the drying in a wok over a low flame for a few hours. Then we let the seeds rest overnight.
Now we had Nepal samples and the roasted samples I brought from Mexico, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Comparison tasting is a good way for novices to get an idea of their own coffee as it might fare in the export market against the quality of other coffees. In addition, we had the four different roast colors which I wanted to use to show them how they could get different flavors from the same beans.
My next week was spent teaching the principles of coffee roasting and coffee tasting . “If you don’t know what you are aiming at, you can’t hit the target,” I told them. So we spent time tasting and identifying flavors.
It should be noted that the Nepalese are tea drinkers, and chai is their drink of choice. So when I was asked how coffee was prepared in other countries, I told them it was a medium for carrying flavors. In the U.S. we used primarily milk and sugar, but in other countries coffee drinkers added other spices. I encouraged them to prepare coffee however they would enjoy it, and that is what they did. Coffee/Chai formulas were the order of the day, for the next week. Every family made their own version of coffee, and they were all different and delightful. Nothing I have tasted since has come close.
I wrote my report for USAID and sent it in (this was the 90’s, pre-email) and left Nepal via Kathmandu to Bangkok, and then to San Francisco. I left behind 200 farmers who had gained knowledge in roasting and tasting, but had no infrastructure to organize anything. My mandate was to assess the situation and my report gave a clear assessment: build the coffee agriculture in Nepal, and let the roasting trade find its own way. Help the farmers was my message.
It has been two decades since my report was sent off to USAID. I believed I had failed to create what the farmers needed, but I was wrong!
Life goes on and you can’t discount the power of knowledge and education.
2017: Thanksgiving Coffee and Nepal
On Apr 5, 2017, almost twenty years later, I received this e mail from Mike at HimalayanArabica Nepal Coffee:
Hi Thanksgiving Coffee,
I found your company through Greenpages Org as we are also going through the application process and I wanted to take this opportunity to reach out to you to again.
HimalayanArabica believes in organic and ethical way of doing business and everyone along the supply chain from crop to cup can all benefit from doing business the right way.
Please give our coffee a try and you can get a free sample by simply emailing me your address and a phone number for the DHL packet.
I hope to hear from you soon and thank you for your time.
Below is a shot of our Roastmaster Jacob Long on the left, posting with the same sack of Nepal Coffee as Michael Bowen, from HimalayanArabica on the right.
I replied on Tue, Apr 11, 2017
This e mail was very nice to receive,
In 2001 I was sent to Nepal by USAID to evaluate the Nepalese Coffee situation.
I was part of a team of two. We were asked to come by a man who wanted to develop the tourist trade for roasted coffee in Nepal. My report stated my opposition to this plan as it would not have created a coffee industry , but only one or two farms to provide him with coffee to roast and to sell in Katmandu. I recommended the development of the cultivation of coffee so that many could benefit.
I am happy to see and know that my vision was clear and that in fact, aid and market forces (and Nepalese common sense) made the right situation happen and now 16 years later someone is offering me coffee from Nepal that I can roast and market.
For starters, who in the US is your importer that will handle the coffee ?
What is the availability and shipping date?
How many sacks are available?
What quality do you have ?
Has the coffee been cupped and scored by Q graders or would you venture a guess as to its quality?
Who is roasting coffee from Nepal now?
Send samples to Thanksgiving Coffee Company:
PO Box 1918
19100 South Harbor Drive
Ft. Bragg, CA 95437
Thank you for taking the time to contact me. I am very interested and that is an understatement.
Thank you so much for your reply, it was very educational and got to understand a little piece of history of coffee here in Nepal. My name is Michael Bowen and I am a Korean-American grew up in Wisconsin. I spent some time in Korea and realized I wanted to do something else and somehow, almost magically, I came to live and work in Nepal and was given this fantastic opportunity to work with a company that has the same vision as I do, which is organic, ethical, sustainable and quality.
Raj, the owner, has been working tirelessly for more than 10 years to develop the farms in order for them to move towards the specialty market. Nothing is all set nor perfect here, but we are moving in the right direction.
Even though I have only come into the scene for a little more than a year, I can see that there is a lot of potential here which you undoubtedly saw 16 years ago.
Regarding your questions:
We do not have a dedicated US importer, at the moment.
There is about 8 tons available for shipment as soon as money is received and another 8-16 tons can be made available of the same quality from a different region after some weeks after the order is made.
We only have AAA specialty quality available for export.
Raj is a Q-grader himself and tastes the every batch that comes in. The samples we are sending out now have been sent out to various other graders from US, Europe and Australia and have scored between 83-86. Raj has scored this lot 85.5 SCAA standard.
There are several ‘roasters’ here in Nepal, but we also do our own roasts. Raj was the first to bring in equipment from abroad, from pulping machines to a roaster from Italy, but now there are several places where roasting is done. Raj, I believe, has the most experience roasting and you can check out our website at the ‘home’ section for testimonials for more reviews of our coffee and you can check out some roasted beans we offer.
We will send out samples this week and I will notify you the tracking number.
That’s the story in a nutshell.
Time + Knowledge = Evolution.
We received the samples from Mike at HimalayanArabica, and I was surprised at the flavors and the cup quality. But I was more surprised at how good I felt about what I did twenty years ago in the hills of Nepal. I believed that I had failed to make change happen for those isolated coffee farmers, and that there was no hope for Nepalese Coffee.
I was trailing off to sleep, it was a cool summer night in Mendocino. Joan’s voice came into my consciousness and broke my reverie. She was not yet ready to say good night to the day.
“Paul, I was listening to NPR today and there was this story about the poverty and the general plight on the African Continent. I think we need to begin focusing on buying coffee and supporting cooperatives in Africa like we do in Central and South America.”
Of course I agreed, and dozed off to spend some unconscious time thinking about the idea and all the effort it would take to be as bold an activist in Africa as we were then (and now) in Central America. I hoped that when I awoke in the morning my mind would have used the eight or so hours sleeping to clarify. I had no intention of just jumping into more work.
What Joan was asking was not simple but as President of Thanksgiving Coffee she did have a big voice in things such as this. We would have to pick the countries we wanted to work in, we would need to take sixteen hour flights, we would have to find communities we could work with, we would need to buy coffee in container loads to be effective. A container load is 37,500 pounds. We would have to build a demand for these new coffees or we were going to have to buy less of other coffees, which hurts the farmers we are already working with.
That morning at work, an amazing thing happened.
I received a phone call from a professor at Michigan State University. She had recently received a USAID grant to help the Rwandan Coffee industry create a market plan for their reentry into the Specialty Coffee market, specifically aiming at the United States craft coffee trade. Yes, the entire country’s coffee industry!
How serendipitous is that? One moment we are lying in bed thinking, and the next day the answer and the challenge arrives on the phone.
They asked Thanksgiving Coffee to be part of a small group of coffee experts. We would fly to Rwanda in three weeks to help a country only ten years from its genocide in 1994. A genocide that saw 900,000 Rwandans murdered by their fellow countrymen, and their entire coffee infrastructure destroyed in the process. I wanted us to be there to help, but I said to Joan after the phone conversation: “Joan, you started this last night, and your answer and opportunity came this morning so I think it is YOU who will have to fly to Rwanda in three weeks.”
And that was the beginning of our now fourteen year odyssey with the Rwandan coffee farmers.
Trips to Rwanda
On that first trip to Rwanda, I remained in Mendocino. It was a first for us; me staying home and Joan going to do the exploring and experience the adventure.
On her first day in Rwanda, she met with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International Executive Director, who was interested in linking the Rwandan coffee industry with saving the last 400 Mountain Gorillas, something Dian Fossey was murdered for trying to do. Joan saw the opportunity, and said that Thanksgiving Coffee would create a marketing plan for linking Rwandan coffee to Mountain Gorillas. That is how – on DAY ONE of Joan’s first trip to Africa – Gorilla Fund Coffee was born.
When things are supposed to happen, they do.
But usually, not so fast.
Joan went to tour the gorilla habitat, trekking for hours into the Virunga National Forest and was gifted by coming upon a family of Mountain Gorillas, led by a 500 pound Silverback. In her words:
“The rain is soft, the trail slippery and muddy. We’re moving quickly, breathing hard in the thin high-altitude air. Intent young trackers radio one another, ‘We are close.’ Suddenly the Amahoro Gorilla family crosses our path. Wow! What a sight. Two young gorillas grasp the pant legs of a couple in our group before bounding off to join the adults – which included a 500 pound Silverback. I am transfixed and transformed in the presence of these gentle giants. I still can not believe I was there and it really happened.”
My own experience with the gorillas in Rwanda came a year later. I got a chance to hang out with a different family of gorillas. I sat cross-legged, facing the Silverback leader for 45 minutes exchanging grunts every so often but never allowing our eyes to meet. He had a very intriguing aroma about him. Musty, earthy, very Sumatra coffee-like. It was clean and powerful. I would recognize it anywhere. And yes, I did read the novel Ishmael about the Silverback Guru teaching a journalist about life’s questions. I sat with my Silverback thinking he might just know a lot more than me about the meaning of life. He had big Brown eyes.
I took his portrait picture and it adorned our Gorilla Fund Package until 2016 when it was removed in favor of a younger gorilla image.
On my second trip in 2005, I met with the Director of the USAID project and we mapped out a quality improvement plan to make Rwanda coffee the best it could be. We wrote a proposal which was funded the following year. It was a plan to put a tasting laboratory at every coffee cooperative so the farmers could separate their coffees and evaluate each lot individually.
This was a great advance at the time, and it put Rwanda in the running to be one of the most advanced coffee regions in all of Africa. This project gave me the opportunity to travel the countryside and visit many growing regions and finally find the Dukunde Kawa Coffee Cooperative in Mussasa. It is the coffee we have purchased for the past 12 years and has won the reputation of being the best of Rwandan coffee for the past five years in the Cup of Excellence competitions held yearly. We use that coffee to help save the gorillas.
Gorilla Fund Coffee has raised over $100,000 for DFGFI, since we began this program in 2005. Joan and I have attended many DFGFI celebrity fundraisers given in big city venues as honored guests for Thanksgiving Coffee’s work educating coffee lovers about the Mountain Gorillas. At one event I met and had a conversation with Gloria Steinem, at another I spoke with Sigourney Weaver who played Dian Fossey in the movie Gorillas in the Mist.
Now we are partnering with DFGFI to inform the American Coffee drinkers about the plight of the Grauer’s Gorilla who is Critically Endangered in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In my youth, this area was known as “deepest, darkest Africa.” Using the same idea, we went after finding a good coffee from the Congo to represent the Grauer Gorilla, that we would create a dark roast from.
Congo coffee is new to the pantheon of craft coffees. It is a country rife with political instability and crazed rebels who wreak havoc on villages. In 2013, I turned down an invitation to visit the Congo by my long time friend Richard Hyde of Cafe Direct who was working with a group of coffee cooperatives there. He knew I could be a buyer, but I had enough coffee and the Grauer’s Gorillas that make their home in the Congo had not yet come upon the DFGFI’s radar.
Three years later, the DFGFI began to work in the Congo, and I called my friend Richard to find out where I could get the coffee that comes from the mountains where the Grauer’s Gorillas reside.
In the beginning of this journey, we realized that it was the gorillas that could help the Rwandan people. Not many Americans will go out of their way to help the Rwandan people but all Americans want to support the Mountain Gorillas. So we focused on the gorillas to build the value and demand by consumers for this coffee.
We used the Fairtrade model and certification to give money back to the Dukunde Kawo Coffee Cooperative. We created a climate change mitigation program and financed shade tree planting. We even funded a milk cow project to supply each family with whole milk and cheese for family use and for added income. Every sale of the Gorilla Fund coffee benefited not only the gorillas, but also the members of this Rwandan Coffee Cooperative called “Dukunde Kawa”, which means “Great Coffee”. We intend to follow that same model to inform the public of the Endangered Grauer’s Gorilla, and support industry in the Congo.
It isn’t easy to do this kind of work in coffee. Lot’s of collaboration needs to be built into the process. There is always the risk that too much coffee will be purchased and sales will not match up. But we do this work for other reasons. Coffee is the medium, but it is not the message. This is how we work now with the American Birding Association, to save Migratory Song Birds, with Friends of the Earth to save Pollinators, with Defenders of wildlife to save our Wolves and soon, with more partners to save our wild animals.
So join us in our efforts and purchase these coffees and together we will make a difference.
The Incredible Story of a War-Torn Region Redeemed by the Coffee Bean
The Democratic Republic of Congo is in the heart of central Africa and considered to be the most bio-diverse country in the entire continent, which is quite a distinction. Iconic African wildlife such as jungle elephants and white rhino roam throughout the four national parks, and it is one of the few places on Earth that many great ape species, such as gorilla, chimpanzee and bonobo, call home. Its lush forests and equatorial climate means that the DRC is also an excellent region for growing some of the best sweet Bourbon varietals of coffee trees in the world.
But despite the country’s wealth of natural resources, decades of war, genocide, and political unrest has condemned many of the 68 million civilians to lives of poverty, disease and violence.
The lack of businesses and income-generating activity pushed the DRC into deeper turmoil and left the once productive coffee sector neglected or abandoned. Most of the coffee farmers could no longer bring their harvest to market and fled the region, while others resorted to smuggling their beans into Rwanda in hopes to barter for food and supplies. So near, and yet so far: smuggling coffee is very dangerous and many people have lost their lives in the attempt.
Due to these circumstances, the small amount of coffee still produced in DRC was coming from small farms with old or rudimentary equipment and no access to international markets. All of that changed when Joachim Munganga founded the now-famous SOPACDI co-op.
Congo Coffee Farm
SOPACDI (Solidarité Paysanne pour la Promotion des Actions Café et Développement Intégral) was created by Joachim Munganga in 2002, as a means to bridge the ethnic strife of the region in order to tap into the international specialty coffee market. The co-op is located on the shores of Lake Kivu, which straddles the border between the DRC on the west bank and Rwanda to the east. Joachim started with his own farm and worked to rehabilitate an old, rundown estate with a central washing station for the co-op to process coffee. It wasn’t until 2008, when SOPACDI joined forces with the UK’s Twin Trading Company, that the doors to the international coffee market were opened wide. Together, they designed and obtained funding for a program to assist them with business skills and to begin rehabilitating the farms and improving the infrastructure, which included spearheading the construction of the first new central coffee washing station to be built in the country in over 40 years.
Since then, SOPACDI has grown to include over 5,200 farmers, 20% of whom are women. In a region infamous for rampant sexual violence, SOPACDI has been a leader in promoting gender equality and supporting the widows of those farmers who died trying to smuggle their beans into Rwanda. In addition to the revitalizing their lost coffee economy, SOPACDI has earned the distinction of being the first certified fair-trade co-op in the DRC and was also named 2014 Sustainability Award Recipient from the Specialty Coffee Association of America. They even hosted the DRC’s first internationally recognized coffee cupping competition, Saveur du Kivu, in 2015.
Economic stability saves lives, and not just human ones. Poor economic conditions result in the rise of eating and selling bushmeat, further endangering the sensitive wildlife of the DRC. As the animals are hunted, their numbers drop and they retreat deeper into the dense jungle. As logging companies and farmers clear away the forests at an alarming rate, they provide poachers an even greater access to hunt. That is, of course, unless the forest and the animals who live there can become a better economic resource to the people of DRC as a sustainable living ecosystem. Such is the hope of shade-grown coffee.
Coffee trees love the shade and they naturally thrive under a jungle canopy. Many coffee farmers additionally supplement their resources by growing shade-loving food crops, such as banana and avocado, along side their coffee trees, all within the natural infrastructure of the forest. By weaving the livelihood of the farmers into the success of a thriving jungle ecosystem, we are simultaneously supporting sustainable commercial goods and conservation.
Specialty Coffee Saves Gorillas
Grauer’s gorillas are the world’s largest ape and only found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Over the last two decades their population has plummeted by an estimated 80 percent, which is why the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International has set up a program to help save them based on their success working with mountain gorilla populations in Rwanda. These efforts include daily protection and monitoring, tracking the gorilla groups, scientific research, data collection, local education programs, and community engagement.
By employing the local Congolese people to protect the gorillas, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International is helping to foster a love for these creatures within the community while also creating an economic benefit. They now operate a permanent research and conservation field station in the core of Grauer’s gorilla range, working closely with traditional landowners and other local partners to help ensure the future of the species and countless others at risk in DRC.
Thanksgiving Coffee is proud to support the economic renewal of the DRC by partnering with SOPACDI to bring you Grauer’s Gorilla Congo Coffee. Not only does the purchase of this coffee promote the livelihoods of the SOPACDI farmers, but a percentage of all online sales benefit the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and their continuing efforts to conserve and study the great apes of the DRC.
Coffee changes the world, but it is quite possible that there is nowhere on Earth more profoundly impacted by the humble coffee bean than the Democratic Republic of Congo is right now. Together, we can all do our part to help stabilize this unique ecological treasure for future generations to enjoy by simply enjoying a good cup of coffee.