It’s been over a month since I’ve had time to sit down and finish chronicling my Ugandan adventures, but I’m back! In the meanwhile, I earned three more letters behind my name… MSc. Woo!
After my amazing time in Jinja, it was time to finish up work at the lab, do a couple safaris, and begin saying goodbyes. My last week was filled with:
And a coffee safari!
One of the favourite expat hangouts, 1000 Cups, put on a one-day coffee safari, where we were able to learn all about the processing of coffee (so, converting the fruit of the tree into coffee) as opposed to the preparation of the coffee (which involves grinding and different types of brewing). I guess you can say I’m only half of a coffee snob. All the information below is from the Coffee Safari tour I went on, so it is subject to verification of facts on the interwebs. Also, the process is ridiculously long and tedious, so I’m summarizing.
Uganda produces 3 million bags of coffee a year and is, apparently, the third largest producer of coffee in the Africa, after Ethiopia and Ivory Coast. The coffee consumption in Uganda is not as high as you would expect it to be, though because, by law, indigenous people weren’t allowed to consume coffee until the 1960s so it was all exported. By that time, the tea market had grown significantly thanks to British colonialism and, to this day, people drink tea like the British (ie, all the time).
There are two main types of coffee: arabica and robusta. Generally, Coffea arabica trees are grown in high altitudes lands and makes up about 80% of the world’s coffee production. Robusta coffee comes from the C. canephora trees, and tend to be more drug and pest-resistant, have a higher caffeine content (twice the amount of arabicas!) and be found in lower altitudes. Robusta beans make a strong, full-bodied coffee with earthy flavours, but are usually more bitter than arabicas. Arabica beans tend to be very acidic. Coffee, just like wine, is a personal preference.
The fruits of the trees (called coffee cherries) turn red and are ready to be individually hand-picked:
A middle man buys the beans from a farmer before taking them to a factory. Sadly, all of this is negotiable and farmers are not protected (unlike fair trade).
The beans are processed in one of two ways:
1) Washed coffee
First, the coffee cherries are immersed in water, where they are sorted. Unripe cherries will float and the good ones will sink. The cherries are soaked in water for 24 hours, after which one layer is removed. The cherries are soaked for 48 hours to remove some more layers (including the parchment, I think. Or maybe the parchment stays on and the cherries have to be washed again? I’m not sure). A quick look at the structure of the coffee bean on Wiki reveals a lot of layers. See? Ridiculous process to bring the goodness of coffee to your tastebuds. The beans are then dried in the sun.
Washing the beans enhances the acidity in coffee, thus making it more expensive.
2) Unwashed (or natural) coffee
Same as above without the washing. The cherries are sorted in the water, then dried in the sun. Natural coffee contains little acidic flavours.
At this step, both of the beans are “hulled” to reveal the inner bean. In the washing method, only one or two layers are sloughed off, while in the unwashed method, the entire outer shell and a number of inner layers are removed.
Sorting and cleaning
Beans are now sorted by size and density with machines that shake the beans through sieves (to sort by size) and ones that shake with a tilted table (to sort by density). Premium coffees are sold by varying grades – where and what altitude they were grown in, the size, density and colour of the bean, etc. Larger beans are more expensive while smaller beans tend to produce bolder coffee (because cells are more compact in smaller beans). We visited a factory where the beans are pre-cleaned, de-stoned, graded and sorted by colour:
We then visited a “Star Cafe” where coffee was roasted at very high temperatures (around 390F). The sucrose in the beans are responsible for the colours of the roasting: caramelization occurs as starches break down, transforming them to simple sugars which turn the bean brown. The longer the bean is roasted (and the darker the colour), the less sucrose remains, the bolder the coffee.
The beans are packaged and sent to the Ugandan Coffee Development Authority, where they are quality tested before being exported. We had a chance to try to “cup” the coffee (the art of coffee tasting). A cupper is actually supposed to slurp the coffee in order to determine the sweetness, acidity, body, flavour, and aftertaste of the beans. It’s a hardcore event.
Interestingly, coffee from Uganda is exported regionally; you will not know which farm your beans came from.
As part of the coffee safari, we also had a chance to visit a coffee research farm, where various “experiments” with trees are occurring. Currently, some low altitude arabicas are being grown in order to see what the bean will taste like. Pest-resistant trees are being genetically modified and desirable trees are being cloned. It was… interesting to see what sorts of “achievements” are being sought after.
The coffee safari ended with a local dinner, where we had a chance to see how locals roast coffee beans (over the fire). We even had the opportunity to grind it, and then drink it. Best.tasting.coffee.EVER.
After filling ourselves with delicious local food (as per usual – posho, g-nut sauce, pumpkin, picked tomatoes, fish, beef, etc.), we were able to plant our own coffee trees! Every person that goes on a coffee tour gets to plant a coffee tree (LOVE!). I wasn’t able to snap a picture of my little treeling because we were nearly caught in a downpour!
All in all, very worthwhile trip. Now I just need to do a safari where I learn to prepare the coffee and THEN I can call myself a coffee snob!