A window of opportunity that raises hope for Arabica coffee farmers in the Elgon sub-region to earn incredibly fair prices has opened.
The new development, described as “specialty coffee class”, provides a direct platform between farmers and a group of
international coffee roasters that have expressed interest to be supplied with the coffee. The arrangement demands farmers to observe a specific crop husbandry regime, specific kind of value addition method notwithstanding.
Martin Nangoli, a farmer, processor and exporter of Arabica coffee (kikobero Arabica coffee) who is co-ordinating the project, says the project comes with a set of conditions. Among others, only farmers in this mountainous countryside with coffee plantation host on steep ridges that are not below 1,800 metres above sea level would merit.
“Prospective project members ought to be prepared to add value to their coffee using natural methods as opposed to the wet process. A screen infrastructure complete with racks would be a compulsory perquisite for anyone seeking to become a prospective project recipient,” Nangoli said.
Arabica coffee has two kinds of value addition methods, namely the natural process and wet process.
Under the natural process value addition method, a farmer picks ripe Arabica coffee cherries from the tree. Once the cherries have been obtained, a farmer is obliged to carefully sort them, picking out over-ripened cherries and those that are still green. Thereafter, the sorted cherries with their coat left intact are spread on racks inside a sceenhouse and left to dry.
A screenhouse is an arch-shaped structure covered by a translucent, roofing material, that allows in light in its interior
“It takes 27-32 days for the fresh Arabica coffee cherries to dry and be ready to be taken to a miller,” Nangoli explains.
It is a method of value addition that farmers in the Elgon region have used for years.
When a farmer picks fresh coffee cherries from the plantation, he/she puts them in a pulping machine that can be either manually-operated or is motorised.
In the pulping machine, the red outer coat is removed from the cherries, leaving the farmer with fresh coffee beans.
When the pulping is done, the coffee beans are washed in clean water before they are sun dried on a clean rack or tarpaulin (tundubaali) or slab.
However, a cross-section of international roasters that have expressed interest in the beverage from Elgon region, have faulted the wet process method of value addition.
They explain that fresh ripe Arabica coffee cherries contain a sticky sap, which largely accounts to the natural aroma (flavour) of coffee.
“When a farmer washes fresh coffee beans with water after the pulping exercise, it is counterproductive. It is in itself adulterating the flavour of the final product of coffee because in the course of washing the fresh coffee beans clean using water, the sap in the cherries is washed off the coffee beans, compromising the aroma of the final product,” Philips Edmont of Roast Works Black Down in the UK, explains.
Fergie Brown, a coffee roaster based in Ireland, describes wet process value addition method as “a wasteful chore”.
He says he has had the opportunity to separately roast batches of washed (wet process coffee) and (natural process) of Arabica coffee from the Elgon region but has found the beverage obtained out of natural process much distinct.
“It has an incomparable flavour that compels whoever has tasted it (coffee) to yearn for more,” Brown says.
Jamie Simpson of Sacred-Ground Coffee Roasters, Scotland, confesses that he has roasted a consignment of Arabica coffee from the Elgon region that was processed using the natural method.
“Stewed-apple, with a hint of cinnamon, clove, dandelion and burdock, very unique. I have never tried coffee like it,” he says.