After four days’ animal watching in the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the next stop on our journey eastwards was the area surrounding Mount Kilimanjaro (see the picture above, taken from one of the campgrounds).
As you might expect given our love of coffee, one of the things we enjoyed the most was the morning tour we did on the slopes of Kilimanjaro with a village elder/coffee farmer/member of the local small growers collective as our guide. The tour took us all the way through the coffee cycle, from the seedling right through to the cup. We thought some of you might enjoy a look into the process as well, much of which was new to us, so allow us to walk you through what we saw.
Our apologies for any errors or omissions in the explanations, as we’re writing this almost a month after the tour itself! Also note that some of the steps are normally performed in a larger factory, after the beans from many of the small growers have been grouped together by one of the collectives, or even further down the supply chain.
The first step in producing coffee is obviously the plant itself, like this seedling that is around four months’ old, if we recall correctly. Coffee will only grow at certain altitudes, temperatures, and rainfall levels, and it is often planted alongside banana/plantain trees which provide some shade.
Around 18 months after the seed is planted, the first berries will be ready for harvest. Since we were there at the wrong time of year for harvesting, most of the plants were fairly bare, but here you can see one ripe coffee berry (the bright red one) alongside a few overripe ones. (You may recall a picture showing a large number of green berries in one of our previous posts.)
After harvesting the berries, at least in the case of the arabica (rather than robusta) strain, the first step is to extract the inner bean from the outer pulp (which is quite sweet). This is done using the machine shown, although apparently it doesn’t work as well if the berries are over ripe.
This is what the beans look like straight after separation.
Once separated, the beans are left to dry in the sun for a few weeks until they reach the correct moisture content.
When the beans have reached the correct moisture content, they are then further separated (in this case using a giant mortar and pestle) to remove the outer husk from the bean.
Here one of the farmers’ children (not related to our guide) is showing us how to blow away the husks while keeping the beans. You can kind of see some of the mature coffee plants in the background, behind the hedge, with the banana trees above.
These are the green beans that are starting to look more like coffee as we know it. It’s difficult to see, but in Matt’s hand the guide showed us some of the different grades that the beans are sorted into. The lowest grade are the so-called elephant beans (back left), which are broken or misshapen and tend to burn in places when roasting, and the highest are the peaberry or PB grade (front), which are berries containing only one bean rather than the usual two. As a result they are rounder (shaped almost like a rugby ball) and roast very evenly.
Here Matt is roasting the beans, supervised by the guide.
The roasted beans, looking quite dark! You may be able to see that some beans are less dark, which indicates that they are probably a different grade to the others.
Next stop is the mortar and pestle again, to grind the roasted beans.
These next steps are fairly self-explanatory!
Here’s a summary view of some of the stages of the coffee production process, from right (the young plant) to left (the finished cup of coffee).
Here are a few bonus pictures from the surrounding area.
Sunrise over Lake Manyara.
A picture of the place we stayed at in the Usambara Mountains, with the local football/soccer stadium in the foreground. The area for campers is on the other side of the hill.