Over the past three years, Tanzania has become an increasingly important and well-represented country on our menu. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the catalyst for our first purchase was quite simple and unromantic: northern Tanzania’s harvest, shipping, and arrival timelines filled a gap in our menu while we awaited some flashier, higher-profile coffees from farther north. Our first relationship was with Mringa, a northern estate near Arusha National Park, and in subsequent years we have worked with Iyenga, a cooperative in the country’s more sparsely populated south. This year, while continuing to represent Iyenga, we are also bringing our attention back to the north, this time with a community-driven cooperative called Mwika.
Mwika Co-op is named for the town of Mwika, one of the “gateways to Kilimanjaro,” sitting just southeast of Mount Kilimanjaro National Park. Until 2012, Mwika was a part of the Kilimanjaro Native Cooperative Union, but as the KNCU repeatedly struggled to deliver organizational transparency or timely payments, Mwika was the first member cooperative to petition the Tanzanian government for intervention, eventually allowing them to form their own separate group. In the early days, this arrangement worked beautifully - Mwika received education and market access from the Association of Kilimanjaro Specialty Coffee Growers (“Kilicafe”), constructed their own washing station, and were able to produce enough coffee to sell to significant buyers, none better known than Starbucks. But in the years since Kilicafe's assistance ended, Mwika lost Starbucks’s business, and most years, expenses were simply too high to keep their washing station in operation.
In spite of all the chaos of 2020, Mwika finally regained enough support and momentum to process its own coffee again, reorienting its leadership structure and cementing key partnerships up and down the supply chain. Our importing partner, Crop to Cup, has been working with Mwika through various stages of its growth, and this type of sustained support is precisely what has allowed it to continue improving, despite all of the challenges. This year, the coffees came out beautifully, reminding us of jammy purple fruits, with a syrupy mouthfeel and distinctly herbal sweetness that we rarely taste with such elegance and poise. In the cup, we taste blackberry, molasses, and candied herbs.