New Reserve: Tanzania Iyenga Peaberry
Country – Tanzania
District – Mbozi
Region – Songwe
Producer Group – Iyenga FCS – 193 members
Altitude – 1675-1900m
Process – Washed - Fermented in water for 10-12 hours, washed, then moved to drying beds for 7-10 days
Varieties – Bourbon, Jackson Bourbon
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Tanzania is a country rich in history, culture, and resources. In East Africa, only Kenya has more wealth. These numbers hide the astonishing disparity between rich and poor, north, and south, estate farmers and smallholder farmer. Only 7% of Tanzania’s coffee harvest makes to the US – compared to 37% which go to Japan. Most of what arrives in the US is in the form of block lot ‘Tanzania AA’ or ‘PB’.
Block lots are bought from auction and blended to customer specification; 75% of Tanzania’s coffee is sold through auction in this way. The alternative to the auction is the Direct Export Channel, which came under fire from recent (2018) governmental reforms.
The reforms were aimed at eliminating the grey area between three parties: farmers, mills, and exporters. The farmers of Iyenga organized into the Agricultural Marketing Co-Operative Societies (AMCOS) The exporters are confined to operate only within the historical and rather colonial auction systems. In practice this cut off investment, cut short agricultural extension programs, cut out the direct export channel - reducing options for farmers and buyers alike.
After nine months these reforms were reversed, and the direct export channel again opened, sending a new flurry of interest and investment rolling toward Tanzania.
This is just the most recent in a decade-long roller-coaster that’s hampered Tanzania’s ability to compete for larger parts of the US specialty coffee menu. Lower production, aging plants, lack of irrigation, dwindling markets all sparked the TechnoServe-backed KiliCafe organization; an association of northern smallholder groups founded in 2001. The KiliCafe effort is credited with turning around coffee in this area, and it has successfully reinvigorated quality.
Political forces, including corruption, caused this to collapse right around the time our importer partners, Crop to Cup, started sourcing in the area. This focused a lot of attention away from the farms in the north, which are near the border with Kenya and so have been seen as possessing more potential for quality. Attention is now beginning to focus more on the south - primarily at Mbeya and Mbinga. Both are two-day drives from the capital and port city of Dar es Salaam. Both are large, rugged areas dominated by smallholding coffee farmers.
In the early 2000’s cuppers started noticing the variety of flavors coming out of the South. Compared to the North, where volumes are dominated by large estates, the South is home to diverse terroirs and exciting new profiles. Over the past two decades this interest has encouraged AMCOSs and exporters alike to get more involved, increasing both quality and production.
Founded in the wake of the Tanzanian Cooperative Act of 2003, today the Iyenga AMCOS (Agricultural Marketing Cooperative Society) has 193 registered members and collects from just over 500 farmers. These are smallholders; most with one to two-hectare farms, and none with more than five. Most members are within a short walk of the washing station, the furthest farm being 10km away.
Still, during the harvest the group organizes trucks and motorbikes to pick up cherry and make sure that it is all pulped within 8 hours of harvest. If you visit during the harvest, you’ll find the pulper running from 4pm -8pm, right around sundown. The pulping machine (the machine that separates the skin of the coffee cherry from the underlying prize,) is a government-granted Penagos UCBE 500, an eco-efficient machine that conserves water – which is critical in this area. Access to water is one of Iyenga’s biggest challenges, especially during the dry season. Conversations during the annual meetings include ideas for damming a local river or creating a rain-water reservoir.
Iyenga’s elected board has a reputation for capable management, as evidenced by their collection services and pulping standards. They have proven their ability to work towards long-term goals and have taken on quality as their main objective. Because of this, Iyenga is starting to build a name for themselves based on quality. In 2019 they won the Taste of Harvest Competition with their AA and PB coffees. One of the ongoing projects our importer partners have with them is to expand drying bed capacity, a bottleneck in quality production, and necessary for our goal of increasing drying times.
We find this lot to be extraordinary and delightful. It is one of the best Tanzanian offerings we have tasted. The acidity, while dazzling and bright like pineapple juice, is tempered with a deep, rich caramel-like sweetness. Many African coffees have tea-like qualities to them, and this is certainly no exception. Robust flavors of black tea keep the brightness and sweetness in check, balancing the cup into a holistic and uplifting experience. Along with this, interesting flavors of toasted spices like cloves, cinnamon, and allspice weave into the mix, bring you back to the cup again and again. This is a Tanzania worthy of our prestigious Reserve Line status. We hope it becomes one of your fast favorites.