DR Congo Virunga
$17.00 – $88.00
This coffee was a bit of a surprise to me. Over the last few years I’ve spoken to various importers about coffee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and they all seem to have similar stories: really good, high scoring pre-ship samples, and arrivals that show up–usually late–four or five or seven points lower than the coffee that they contracted for. It’s completely understandable, given the extremely low wages of the producers, and the gauntlet of corruption and poor infrastructure any coffee must run to get to port and beyond.
Note: Remember reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness? That was set in the Congo Free State, which was King Leopold 2 of Belgium’s personal corporate state, founded in 1885 to extract as much ivory and rubber as was humanly and inhumanely possible, for his own enrichment. Literally millions of Congolese were killed in the process. Congo has been independent from Belgium for only 55 years or so, and democracy and economic opportunity doesn’t simply spring like a beautiful flower from such exploited and poisoned soil. Lots of individuals and other corporate entities are happy to take advantage of such circumstances for themselves, and in Congo, they have.
Anyhow, when I cupped this relatively inexpensive bulk lot arrival, I was a little amazed. It had the acidity and grapefruit pith-like notes that you find in some really interesting Kenyas, along with a deeper, darkly sweet, cola and raisin character that I’ve come to associate with solid coffees from other east African origins. It reminds me a lot of the holidays: chocolate coins and sugar cookies, the Swedish cardamom bread my mom loved to bake, mulling spices and the clove-spiked oranges that she’d sometimes put in an enamel pot on the woodstove at Christmas. It’s not a weird cup loaded with spices and citrus rind. Rather, it’s unique and nuanced and balanced.
It feels a little odd to call it a coffee for holiday celebration, given the screwed up conditions from which it comes. But then, a lot of the stuff we celebrate with–the lights, the toys, the ham–has provenance that would have difficulty holding up to true ethical scrutiny. I’m not trying to be a holiday bummer. It’s just the reality of the world in which we live. It’s a complicated place. But not that complicated.
We are pricing this coffee at a retail level that reflects its quality, rather than the price we paid for it. In return, we will set aside four dollars from every 12 ounce bag, and three dollars from every pound, and donate it to the Congolese Community of Maine, in support of their language access work. Please note: this is not charity. The coffee is really good. It’s simply a very small attempt to bring a bit of justice to the segment of the coffee chain in which we have direct input. You might think of your purchase as being dual pronged, or full circle: supporting small producers back in DR Congo who are struggling to create sustainable lives for themselves, simply by purchasing and enjoying their unique, high quality product, while at the same time assisting refugees who have made the difficult decision to flee from an unstable and dangerous homeland.
Enjoy the coffee, and enjoy your holidays!
Producer: various smallholders
Location: Kirumba, North Kivu
Elevation: 1800 MASL
Process: washed and sun dried