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.
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.
Not just a cup, but a just cup.
Back in 2000 when I became the 17th president of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, I was tasked to speak at the Annual Colombian Coffee Federations Conference being held in Colombia’s capital city: Bogata.
Not wanting a lot of fanfare when I arrived at the airport (the FARC rebels targeted Americans for kidnapping and ransom), I booked my arrival time to be midnight – when I would be certain there would be no one to meet me and welcome me to Colombia.
I picked up my luggage and proceeded to the taxi stand, walking through the marble-floored lobby. To my surprise, there stood a man with a handlebar mustache, a shoulder serape, a big smile and a donkey.
The donkey was not smiling. It was having trouble standing on slippery marble.
It was Juan Valdez, the famous Colombian coffee farmer, who had for decades been the spokesperson for The Richest Coffee in the World. He was there with the president of the Colombian Coffee Federation for a “photo op” with me.
So much for my quietly slipping into Colombia!
Thanksgiving Coffee sells two Colombian coffees here on our website:
A rich coffee with flavors of toasted nut and dark chocolate followed by a smooth lasting finish, making this a clear winner for dark roast coffee enthusiasts.
Sweet, smooth, and balanced. Mellow milk chocolate and honey notes with a lively, full body
These packages of Nicaraguan coffee seem simple to understand, but the reality is decades of work behind it all.
Carlos and his brother Fausto are both Members of the Solidaridad Cooperative in Aranjuez, Nicaragua. We have worked with them for over 20 years, and are proud to bring you their coffee in this special two-bag offering (only 100 available).
The Natural coffee Carlos has produced is richly fruity with an unforgettable finish. The washed process coffee Fausto has produced is delightful, with layers of honey and apricot that are followed by a soft, pleasant sparkle.
Enjoy these two coffees separately, but be sure to experiment with blends. We found that a ratio of 60% washed and 40% natural produced a cup that is somehow better then the sum of its already delicious parts.
Carlos Lanzas Gonzales
Carlos was born in Arenal, and his father built houses – he was a carpenter and wasn’t really involved in agriculture. “Like all children I played a lot, soccer, baseball. I studied up to 3rd grade then began to work. With my brothers we rented some land in Aranjuez and began to grow vegetables. Our main conditions were good soil, and accessibility to the city. We rented for a while then got land as a part of the agrarian reform- 120 manzanas (208 acres) between 12 of us, for about 10 manzanas (17.4 acres) per person. We formed a cooperative, at that time it was the only way to get loans or inputs.”
“I love to work in the countryside. I talk to the plants, ask them how they are. When the coffee trees have flowers they are happy, when the coffee is ripening they are gleeful, and when the coffee is ready to be harvested it’s in an even better mood.”
On changes in the community: “Now we have good roads, a school, a health post, electricity, we’ve been able to improve our homes, these changes are due to coffee. With vegetables you can’t get much income. Over 70 manzanas (121 acres) of land has been reforested, we’ve been conserving the soil. We’ve put trees on the land that is not planted in coffee, in order to protect the watershed. Most of the water that goes to the rest of Aranjues and to Matagalpa comes from our lands.”
“There’s always a risk that the seeds will be bad, the inputs too expensive, or that the sale price won’t cover the costs. We win and lose, it’s the rhythm of our lives. But we’ve been able to improve our lives with the buyer that we’ve found. The small producer usually doesn’t have access to the market- we’er always in the hands of the intermediaries and they get most of our earnings.”
On the meaning of well-being: “All the best things you desire. When the work we do is compensated, we can educate our children, have good food, live a just life. With a good price we have a better life, we have the right to that, don’t we? My favorite time of year is when I sell my coffee, in April or May.
On the meaning of coffee: “It’s our source of life. The most marvelous thing about her is that she gives progress to our family. She helped us to get what we have. Agriculture in general is not very profitable. 12 years ago we got help from Norway through UNAG, they helped us to get started in coffee. It was a good program because it helped us a lot, gave us the techniques. We didn’t know anything about coffee at the time. When the prices went up to $1.70 because of the frosts in Brazil, we thought of nothing but coffee. I have 25 manzanas (43.5 acres) of land in another place for growing beans and corn, and 2 manzanas (3.5 acres) in transition to organic. I have Caturra and Catimor that I’m planning to change for maracaturra.”
On the meaning of the cooperative: “The only way to have strength is through being united. The co-op gives us lots of advantages, helps us get credit, if we did;t have its it would be difficult to sell our coffee. Our successes have been building the cupping laboratory, getting credit, selling our coffee for a good price.”
Carlos’ hope for the future: “Maintain a good relationship with Paul, sell more coffee, give more work to nearby families. Have a coffee take us as far as it can. Continue to protect the environment around us. Unite and ask for more help, for housing, schools, a better life for poor people.”
“We put a lot of effort into sending the best coffee that we produce so that we can get a fair price. The harvest takes a lot of sacrifices and effort. Maybe someday the drinkers of our coffee will come and meet us to learn where coffee comes from.”
— — — — — —
Fausto Lanzas Gonzales
Family: 5 children; Karla Patricia 24 (teacher at El Quetzal, a hacienda down the road), Frank 23 (producer and member of the cooperative), Fabio 22 (producer, not a member of the cooperative), Wilmer 20 (7th grade), Sadia 17 (11th grade).
Fausto was born in Matagalpa and raised in El Arenal. 30 years ago he came to Aranjuez because the area was known for having good soil and they had to move because of all the agricultural burning where they used to live. There were very few small farmers here at the time. In 1990 he started to grow coffee.
“When I got here, there were no schools, people were poorer, life was more difficult. Now my five children have studied, they are professionals. Before, people grew vegetables on naked land, now with the coffee we have reforested and there are lots of birds. We don’t slash and burn and chemicals are used much less intensively. Agricultural chemicals used to be very risky and dangerous. The whole region has improved; the culture, the education.”
On the meaning of coffee: “It’s what I live in, the way I survive, my work. We were growing vegetables, they weren’t worth anything for a while. When the project from Norway came and gave us credit for coffee, we were looking for a different product. I like harvest time, knowing that I’m working for the good of the whole family, so we can get ahead…”
Fausto’s “I have 10.5 manzanas (18.2 acres) of land in total, 5 manzanas (8.7 acres) are planted in coffee, 2.5 (4.3 acres) of them are organic, and 4 manzanas (7 acres) are natural forest. The coffee varieties I have are Caturra, Maracaturra, and a little bit of Catimor.”
Meaning of quality: “If I have quality, I’ll get a good price and I will not have trouble selling my coffee.”
“Thinking that you have to live here and do this, that it’s an obligation. Thinking that if you don’t do it you won’t have any way to make a living. Also, the possibility of losing a harvest because of a natural disaster; the “El Nino” phenomenon, drought, or hurricane, A couple years ago I lost 30% of my coffee in a drought and I lost my wet mill during hurricane Mitch.”
On the meaning of the cooperative: “It’s very important, one of the necessities here in the in the countryside. We help each other, when we have problems we work it out between all of us. It helps us get credit, sales, we’ve learned a lot through the co-op. We’ve had good sales, made good friends, and received financing.”
On the future of the community: “The cooperative needs to support the community leaders to get the basic necessities here. We should petition the government. The cooperative should help with the school and health post when we have the resources, but we’re still small and just starting out.”
Fausto’s hopes for the future: “I want to improve my life and that of my children, help my kids build homes. By caring for the land, she will give us more.”
Fausto’s message to coffee buyers: “We try to produce the best quality for you, we’d like to be recognized for this work. We struggle a lot to achieve this quality and we’d like to be paid for it.”
In a world getting short on water, coffee lovers should begin to get their palates ready to recognize “Dry Processed” or “Naturals” when they buy coffee.
Naturals are processed from cherry to green bean without the customary water de-pulping and subsequent water bath. In the dry process, coffee cherries are dried with their skins and pulp intact.
The cherries are placed in the sun on concrete patios or raised drying beds. The skins tighten as they dry and the pulp juices move inward into the two seed in the cherry’s interior. When the mass is totally dry and crisp, and hard as a rock, they are milled like rice, cleaned and sorted and sacked.
This process produces quite a different flavor profile from wet processed “washed coffee.” The coffees take on the hints of the fruit and at their best, notes of blueberry and strawberry prevail. There is a jammy sensitivity to the brew, lots of body and fruit aromas.
Of course, these great flavors disappear in the darker roasts. We roast naturals, both light and medium, depending on the initial intensity of the fruit flavors.
This month we are featuring two “naturals.” One is from Ethiopia and received a 91 rating from Coffee Review. The other is from one of our favorite coffee farmers in Nicaragua, Byron Corrales, and received a 94 rating.
Byron began experimenting with naturals about 6 years ago. He was the first to master the art in Nicaragua and his naturals are a tad more balanced and a bit less fruity than the Ethiopians, but the jam is there as are the sweet berry flavors.
One of my favorite blending concepts is to blend naturals with washed coffees. In fact, Paul’s Blend is just that.
– Paul Katzeff
Announcing the Expansion of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International Partnership.
Lone silverback Mizero
Thanksgiving Coffee Company has just renewed our commitment to help protect the last remaining 880 mountain gorillas, support the people of Rwanda, as well as offer a great coffee.
For more than 10 years Thanksgiving Coffee Co. has supported the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund by raising over $58,000 for their gorilla conservation work, and now, we have just pledged to continue this support with a new contract dedicated to this inspiring partnership.
In 2004, Thanksgiving Coffee began to work with the Dukunde Kawa Coffee Cooperative in Rwanda, and the Fossey Fund, as a way to help strengthen community development in a post genocide country.
Together with the Fossey Fund, we offered support to the Rwandan farmers as they developed sustainable alternatives to logging and poaching, which are two of the largest threats facing mountain gorillas today.
The Fossey Fund has almost 50 years of gorilla protection and conservation history in Rwanda. They are committed to promoting continued research on the gorillas and their threatened ecosystems and to providing education about their relevance to the world. We are honored to work with them and greatly look forward to this continued work. Learn more
“The Fossey Fund believes in protecting gorillas and their habitat by creating better choices for people and supporting the development of a sustainable economy in Rwanda.” Tara Stoinski, Ph.D.-Fossey Fund President/CEO and Chief Scientific Officer
A sustainable economy is essential to the success of this program. We want the next generation to thrive. It has only been 21 years since the fabric of the Rwandan society was torn apart by civil war. The destruction of infrastructure and the severe depopulation of the country crippled the economy. One way that we have been able to offer help to the people of Rwanda is with our ongoing support of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative.
This Cooperative was formed in 2003 with help from the Rwandan government and the USAID-funded PEARL Project (Partnership to Enhance Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages). Since then, Thanksgiving Coffee has worked with Dukunde Kawa on a variety of social, economic, and environmental projects aimed at improving the quality of the farmers’ coffee and strengthening the Cooperative, and the benefits it offers to its members. Thanksgiving gives a $.20 per pound Fair Trade premium directly to the Coop for development of community benefit projects, with no strings attached. Read more here
The Dukunde Kawa Cooperative is where the Gorilla Fund Coffee comes from, and they produce one of the most elegant coffees in the world. The cooperatives coffee has won the Rwanda Cup of Excellence 6 years running.) This community of farmers, collectively known as Musasa, has an average of 1 acre each. Their average yield per farm is 500 pounds of coffee, and the average family size per farm is 9 people. Each one of these two thousand small farms produces coffee, and that coffee is the economic lifeblood for their community.
With the purchase of this coffee from The Coop, Thanksgiving is able to help the farmers feed their families, offer shelter from harsh elements, and give them a livelihood that grows year after year. With every package of Gorilla Fund Coffee that is purchased online, Thanksgiving Coffee donates to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International to help their vital work. If you would like to help the mountain gorillas, help the people of Rwanda, and drink delicious coffee, you can, right here.
“When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate on the preservation of the future.”
– The last entry in Dian Fossey’s journal
Sweet, with notes of dark chocolate, juicy hints of orange and plum.
MEDIUM ROAST • Fair Trade
Buy 100% Rwanda coffee
Draped like a patchwork quilt over a steep winding ridge, the two thousand farms of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative stretch over 10 kilometers of meandering hilltops and slopes. Each small farm is home to a family, and on their small plots, often an acre or less in size, the family produces beans, potatoes, plantains, and the economic lifeblood of their community, coffee. This community of farmers—collectively known as Musasa after the area’s main town—produces one of the most elegant coffees in the world.
We have worked closely with Dukunde Kawa since 2004 on a variety of social, economic, and environmental projects aimed at improving the quality of the farmers’ coffee and strengthening the cooperative and the benefits it offers to its members.
In 2015, we submitted this fine coffee to the team at CoffeeReview.com
. They gave our 100% Rwanda single origin coffee a respectable score of 92 points:
“Immaculately sweet; lyrical. Peach, honey, lavender and honeysuckle, fresh-cut cedar in aroma and cup. Sweet, high-toned acidity; lightly syrupy mouthfeel. Peach, honey and flowers carry into a crisply sweet finish.” – rating by CoffeeReview.com
Sweet, with notes of dark chocolate, juicy hints of orange and plum.
MEDIUM ROAST • Fair Trade
Buy 100% Rwanda coffee
In memoriam: Fernando Arguello Amador (1945 — 2015)
Fernando was a campesino (farmer) who became a friend over the many years we worked together. He was ever present in supporting his cooperative and community. He maintained an extremely high quality standard for his coffee.
Most of all, we will remember him as a strong diplomatic leader who stood up for the interests of the farmers he represented. Fernando had a huge heart, penetrating smile, and soft voice. He was incredibly respectful while driving a hard bargain. When he stopped being president he continued to support and use his experience to help the cooperative. He will be sadly missed on our trips up into the Aranjuez mountains, but his memory will always be with us.
– Nicholas Hoskyns
Thanksgiving Coffee Board Member & ETICO Managing Director
We’ve set aside a small amount of Fernando’s last coffee crop (2015) for a limited release. Our roastmaster, Jacob Long has created a special roast of this coffee, and we’re offering 100 bags. We’ll donate $1.00 per package sold to the Amador family in memory of Fernando.
LIMITED RELEASE: Fernando Amador
Silky-smooth, notes of milk chocolate, with a lingering navel orange sweetness.
About Fernando Amador:
Fernando Arguello Amador was born in La Libertad, Nicaragua in the region of Chontales in 1945. His father was a silicon miner, and became ill with Tuberculosis. His family learned of a TB hospital in Aranjuez, so the family moved there for his treatment. When his father died 2 years later, Fernando, being the oldest child, stayed in Aranjuez to help his mother.
Fernando – “I sold bread and food door to door. I spent 5 years working in the hospital, first cleaning, then I learned carpentry to repair shoes. Later a woman offered me credit to buy 10 manzanas of land (17.4 acres). Little by little we started with coffee, then with the help of God we got a cow.”
Fernando had a rough start to farming, losing much of his first farm because he couldn’t make the payments.
But he persisted, and eventually secured a loan to plant coffee trees on more land. In 1992, Fernando and other farmers formed a cooperative, SOLIDARIDAD, which eventually became Fair Trade Certified, guaranteeing higher prices per pound of coffee grown by its members. It was around this time when Paul Katzeff, Thanksgiving Coffee’s co-founder, met Fernando and began buying his coffee.
“Coffee means everything. “[It] is what gives us security. It pays for all of our big expenses- the house, any sicknesses, clothing. I’ve raised my kids with it, given them education, constructed this house. With the help of the Thanksgiving Coffee Company, I bought the truck and that changed our lives,” said Fernando.
The better price has helped each member of every producing family. It allows us to help out in the community, with the school, and the church,” said Fernando.
In his years of experience as a cooperative member, Fernando gained wisdom about working in the cooperative model.
“It’s a good way for a group of friends to get together to help the community. But for it to function well, you have to put aside your ego.
Don’t mix the personal with the professional, so that it is a cooperative in the true sense of the word. Virtue means that position and power don’t change you,” he said.
Over the years, Fernando saw his community, and the environment change drastically.
With development, come more challenges. There are more people than ever living in Aranjuez, which mean more roads, more traffic, and large-scale agriculture by foreign companies and investors.
“The down side is that a lot of the environment has been destroyed. There has been tremendous deforestation here. On the other hand, the small-scale producers have planted some 100,000 trees. We all have desire for the area to stay as beautiful as it is.”
Fernando and his wife, Amparo, raised five children together. He liked to say, proudly, that all of his children have graduated high school, and are pursuing their passions.
“Leonelia (33) is a nurse, Alan (30) is a photographer, Iris (30) is a member of a women’s collective, Fernando (26) is a coffee producer (26) and Ontoniel (22) is studying engineering at the university in Leon, Nicaragua,” said Fernando.
Thanksgiving Coffee has partnered with Fernando and Cooperativa Solidaridad for over 20 years, and built a strong, collaborative relationship.
Over the years we’ve worked together to increase the quality of the coffee by investing in washing stations, building cupping labs, and providing feedback to the farmers on their crops each year. It’s a relationship we’re proud of.
“The best coffee, it takes a lot of work, carefulness, and dedication. The coffee has to be picked at the right moment, de-pulped the same day with clean machinery, perfectly fermented, and rinsed with clean water.”
– Fernando Arguello Amador (1945 – 2015)
For Fernando, coffee meant everything.
Deep and immaculately sweet, with notes of ripe cherry and golden raisin.
Ethiopia is known as the birthplace of Arabica coffee. Centuries of production and perfecting methods of preparation have produced brilliant results. This fine Ethiopia Yirgacheffe coffee is sourced from family-owned farms organized around the Worka Cooperative located in the southern district of Gedeb, Ethiopia. The Worka zone encompasses the highest altitude coffee cultivation area in the entire country of Ethiopia, resulting in a stunningly unique flavor profile.
The Worka Cooperative was established in 2005 and currently has approximately 300 members. In 2005, the cooperative joined the Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (YCFCU) to support a sustainable coffee supply from cooperatives in the Gedeo ethnic region of Ethiopia.
Shop Ethiopia Yirgacheffe
This coffee was recently reviewed by Ken Davids and the team at CoffeeReview.com!
“92 points – Delicately bright, exhilarating. Candied lemon, vanilla, pear, baker’s chocolate in aroma and cup. Gentle, lively acidity; light, satiny mouthfeel. Lemon and crisp chocolate carry into a sweet, lightly flavor-saturated finish.”
Read the review
Byron Corrales is a visionary farmer, campesino leader, and pioneer in the application of biodynamic farming practices to coffee production. Twice he’s won top honors for this magical coffee: Maracaturra, a special variety found only on his small family farm in Nicaragua.
Last year, Byron began processing a small amount of this special coffee using the natural process: sun-drying the coffee cherries to develop a rich, fruity flavor notes. This coffee received a rating of 94 points from CoffeeReview.com!
The coffee is a unique hybrid of the heirloom varietals Maragoype and Caturra (Bourbon). It was developed and is grown exclusively by Byron Corrales for Thanksgiving Coffee Company. It is a truly exceptional coffee that’s more akin to its cousins in the highlands of East Africa than its neighbors in Central America.
Byron’s Maracaturra Natural
Lush, mellow and jammy,
with a suggestion of blueberry.
Shop Byron’s Maracaturra Natural