The Pearl of Africa
Is it possible to overstate the importance of the East Africa Rift System to coffee-lovers? On that distant ridge of tropical peaks and highlands, zig-zagging from Sinai to Zimbabwe, the coffee plant made its botanical debut. There, at the edge of the continent, the best of it still thrives.
East of Lake Victoria and Mount Elgon (4,321 m), where the Equator meets the Rift, lie the celebrated Kenya coffee lands. To the West of Elgon lies the lesser-known Bugisu (Boo-gih-shoo), Uganda’s premier growing region.
The Uganda plateau rests like a crown on the western edge of the Rift; averaging 3,300’ above sea level. Game preserves, National parks, and lakes cover one fifth of its area. The source of the Nile pours north from this earthly paradise. For its lofty place and unmatched natural beauty Winston Churchill dubbed Uganda the “Pearl of Africa.”
Decades before gaining independence in 1962, Uganda’s “Native Administration” had begun to develop its coffee export infrastructure; which, according to William Ukers in 1935, envisioned a pulping station and central factory in “Bugishu”, leading to the formation of “a cooperative selling society”. Tragically for the hard-working coffee farming villagers of the region, such well-laid plans fell victim to mistakes and political disasters following independence.
The worst of which, the infamous “Years of Destruction” during the reign of Idi Amin Dada (1971-79), culminated in the massacre of hundreds of thousands and the near total collapse of the nations infrastructure. In recovery, Unganda has privatized the national Coffee Board. The source of our COM, Kyagalanyi, is Uganda’s largest coffee exporting company.
As traveled by our broker, Bugisu is a 5 hour drive down a single lane road from Kampala. A converted railroad station in the coffee town of Mbale serves as the collection warehouse for Bugisu arabicas; those which aren’t smuggled (“sail the lake”) into Kenya for higher prices. They are taken to a mill in Kampala where they are sold “ex-Kampala”, meaning the buyer must get it to the boat in Mombasa or Dar es Salaam, at his risk, which is described as “considerable”. Hijackings. Breakdowns. All a cost of doing business in the (wild, wild) East of Africa.
The prize is a washed coffee unlike any you will find from the Americas. The native climate and altitude afford patience for the earthy, complex, wine-like character of East Africa Milds to develop, though there is little “mild” about Bugisu. Like its Kenyan cousins, it proclaims its origins in the first distinctively pungent sip. For this offering we are taking Bugisu dark, as in french roast, to transitively toast its primal roar in the nostolgic coolness of November.