In East Africa, heading south to Madagascar through Ethiopia, Kenya (Nairobi), and Tanzania (Kilimanjaro, Dar Es Salaam, Zanzibar) before heading north to Morocco for a 13 city tour.
I’m on a quest for the elusive unroasted coffee bean from small production farms with a limited annual production of 500 to 1000 pounds max. I’m hunting for a particular scarce bean that, when roasted to the first crack, yields an aroma of dark chocolate with a hint of peanut butter. It’s color, once ground, is said to resemble the color of the sands of the Sahara Desert at sunset, visually resembling a nutty caramel color with a hint of orange. My goal? To return with the most tasty coffee beans I can find.
The barista mentions a small private tour of a local plantation, known for fine coffee and rare spices. The next thing I know, I’m heading north in a silver van in rout to said spice plantation at the cost of around $30. USD, transportation and guided tour included. People are fast and friendly here if you know what you want.
The guided tour? More like one guide and five young African farm laborers who gather and present you with samples of their products. The kiwi was sweet, the mango tangy and the coffee green on the vine. I’m looking for the money man, so I ask, “how much?” as I point to the green beens ripening on the vine. “You want?” one guy asks, “how much?” I replied. “OK, come come” he says as he gestures with the slow movement of his hand. I broke from the spice tour with plans to meet up with them for lunch around noon.
Departing the cool shade of the canopy we crossed a field and navigated over few irrigation trenches and arrived at what appeared to be a shanty bean drying facility and operations warehouse with burlap sacks, 50 kilos each. I am presented with two types of raw coffee beans to choose from. Option A was the pure green bean, nothing but the bean. Option B was a mix of raw bean mixed with unsorted rough. I chose option A to be safe.
Then the money man asks, “how many kilos?” To which I respond, “Ah…..one!” That’s 2.2 pounds of raw beans and I plan on scoring 10 to 11 times as I move south before heading up to Morocco in the north.
Suddenly it occurs to me that I need to quickly assess my strategy, because my plan is to get a sample from 10 or 11 plantations to roast when I return. So much for strategy…I returned with 10 kilos of beans from the African continent. More than enough to master the art of roasting and still have enough to host cuppings (tastings) for a year or more.
Money man starts the price at 1,654. Shillings per kilo, about $16. USD. Two or three times the going price by weight. After more barter we settle on a price and I walk with my score in hand, only nine or ten more deals to go.
In the end, I returned from Africa with coffee from eleven different harvests spanning eight countries. Some roasted, some raw green, weighing in at ten kilos. The roasted varieties are producing aromas of chocolate, nut, peanut butter, orange, mint, various fruits and more. After roasting the raw beans, I have a total of 14 different flavors to sample and share with friends. I take the beans to the sweet, sugar brewing phase of the roast and stop at the first crack, producing a more flavorful, authentic coffee flavor, much lighter in taste than any black french roast will ever produce.