Not Your Average Cup of Joe: What I learned on a coffee plantation in TanzaniaShare
Nestled between the Nsere and Weruweru rivers and on the high mesas surrounding Mount Kilimanjaro lies Two Bridges Farm. Fields sprawl a vast 316 acres, with tall, proud coffee plants swaying in the breeze. As we walked into the main office, we were greeted by the sight of women in bright skirts carrying giant bags of coffee beans on their heads. I was immediately struck not only by the beauty of the landscape but the scope of the plantation. Two Bridges was the largest farm we had seen in Tanzania, and I had a feeling that there was much to learn from the people running it.
In the office, workers gave us a brief overview of the day-to-day at Two Bridges. I was surprised to learn how complex the process of growing coffee is. From the tiny seedlings in the nursery to the 7-foot-tall, fully grown trees, we observed the full life cycle of a coffee plant. From here, we saw the beginning of the supply chain as coffee was washed, dried and packaged. The staff at Twin Bridges expressed to us how committed they were to both protecting their natural resources and uplifting their community. They express this commitment to these causes by donating corn to 38 local schools and engaging in efforts with the Rainforest Alliance.
Not only did we get a glimpse at the operational side of Twin Bridges, but we were also blessed with the opportunity to learn something completely new to me: coffee cupping. As an avid coffee drinker who has frequented coffee shops from Seattle, Washington, to Vienna, Austria, I was taken aback. Something new to learn about coffee? How could I even call myself a budding coffee connoisseur without knowing anything about this? Alas, if there is one thing I gathered from my trip to Africa, it is that there is always more to learn and many people to learn from! Coffee cupping 101 was the beginning, and we Emerging Leaders were in the front row with our pens and notebooks at the ready.
We learned that coffee cupping is the process of tasting and observing the flavor profile of coffee, much like a sommelier does with wine. To begin the proper cupping procedure, one should roast and grind the beans to the same standard. You can choose to brew your coffee in any manner, but we were shown how to infuse our cups. Simply place your coffee grounds in a small bowl and pour nearly boiling water over them. Allow your grounds to infuse for a few minutes. After a tantalizing wait, give the grounds that form at the top (also known as the “crust”) a good sniff. This can give you insight on the flavors to come. Finally, grab a deep spoon for sampling and a spittoon for well, spitting. Here comes the best part of the process: the slurp. It is important to slurp the coffee into a vapor to stimulate your sense of smell. I think the sillier your slurping noise, the more professional you seem. You can taste many different things in a cup of coffee: acidity, flavor, body, finish and so on.
One thing is for sure – in the future, I’ll be thinking a lot harder about not only the flavor but where my lattes came from and the work that went into them, from the start of the supply chain.