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Speckled Ax


Congo Muungano Natural


This is a special lot from the Muungano cooperative in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  In the coffee world, Congo has long had a reputation for both potential and disappointment. I have had numerous conversations with importers about pre-shipment coffee lot samples of bourbon–introduced by missionaries in the 19th century–that scored in the high 80s, but upon arrival in the US–having run the gauntlet of crude processing and drying facilities, deeply rutted roads, regional bribery and other stuff–barely registered as specialty grade, if that. This is tragic and ironic, though not surprising, given the complete devastation that King Leopold brought upon the country, and colonialism’s exploitative hold on the area right on through the 20th century. Hell, Bill Russell had already won multiple championships by the time Belgium granted it its independence.

Muungano has been able to beat long odds every year. It hasn’t been any sort of special trick or sacrifice on our part to purchase their coffee. It’s been easy. Cherry picking, as they say. For the last four years, their coffee has been stellar. How do they do it? Many of their members put their coffee cherry in boats, bypassing the horrible roads altogether and floating it on Lake Kivu to one of their washing stations. They have members guard their coffee from the wet mill to the dry mill. They have members guard their coffee at the dry mill, making sure not only that it is processed well, but that it isn’t stolen, or swapped out with inferior stuff. The cooperative’s office team is comprised of logistics wizards–they get their coffee in containers and on ships in a timely fashion. And so when it arrives, it’s awesome.

This year, their shipments included 20 bags of a new natural process. When we heard about it, we pre-booked just about all of it, because we knew it would be great. And it is. It’s so good, Kyle Knight–one of our baristas, director of retail coffee, and a guy who generally loathes naturals–competed with it and crushed in the regionals and then finals of the US Brewers Cup, held this year in Orange County, CA, before all this COVID-19 stuff started going down.

The coffee itself is sweet, layered, bright, heavy, chocolatey, a little baking-spicy, and fruity. The fruit is red, but it tends toward stewed cranberries and prunes, rather than the generic strawberry stuff you sometimes find in naturals from outside of Ethiopia. We are currently using it as our house espresso at our retail shop, and it’s killer. The whole shop is filled with its intense aromatics. If you are a natural fan, it’s a coffee that you will be psyched to have in your kitchen from the moment it hits the burrs in your grinder. You will be looking forward to your first cup in the morning when you put your head on your pillow the night before. Yup, it’s good. Certified organic.

One more thing: muungano means “togetherness” in Swahili. Keep that in mind.





Location: Keniezire, South Kivu
Elevation: 1500-2000 MASL
Varietal: red bourbon
Process: natural, dried on raised beds

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