Roaster’s tasting notes: This is why I love naturals. First off is the pineapple fragrance. The tropical fruit notes continue into the cup balanced by a roasted tomato sweetness. This is delivered by a heavy body and coating mouthfeel. This coffee is complex and distinctive.
This unusual natural lot hails from producers living near the town of Tarime, within Tanzania’s Mara Region – to the very North East of the country, nearly in Kenya. Tarime and its surrounds are not as well known as the famous coffee growing region around Kilimanjaro and Arusha, nor does it have the reputation of the South (Mbeya and Mbinga) for being a coffee region on the rise.
Furthermore, the region lies between the Maasai Mara National Reserve and Lake Victoria and has the disadvantage of being over 1,200 km from the coffee port of Dar Es Salaam. High transport costs and travel woes pose potential issues for lots such as this one. Thankfully this natural coffee made it through!
Wamacu is short for Wakulima wa Mara Cooperative Union (which is the full name), a merger of the names of the neighbouring districts of Wakulima and Mara. The Union is relatively new and was only formed in 2008 as a partnership between 9 different coffee cooperatives and 32 cotton cooperatives. Already, however, they have made a huge difference in the region to both coffee prices and producer support. While the area is widely known for its wildlife and as being home to the North Mara gold mine – one of the largest in Tanzania – it is still very underdeveloped and has some of the lowest literacy rates in the country. Previously, producers in the region have been forced to sell their coffee at sub-market rates, in part because of isolation and in part because of the previously fractionalised structure of the coffee sector. The small, individual cooperatives simply didn’t have enough bargaining power to obtain enough credit to pay farmers fairly and didn’t have access to market. Since Wamacu formed, the group has collectively been able to organise and fully pay back substantial loans to various credit agencies (enabling pre-harvest financing and other producer benefits), they have placed coffee on specialty markets for higher premiums, and they have subsequently ensured much higher prices for producers locally. The cooperative already has 830 members and is growing annually.
There is every indication that the group will continue to grow and experience successes. For instance the Muriba mill (one of the eight mills operated by the cooperative) went from having zero production in 2013 to processing nearly two million kilos of cherry in the 2015/16 season. Production at the other mills is also still increasing. Coffees from the region have won regional competitions, including the top three positions in the 2017 Taste of Harvest for Tanzania.
On average, Wamacu cooperative farm sizes range from 0.5 to 3 hectares. In addition to coffee, most farmers also grow cotton, tobacco, tea and maize. Agriculture is very much subsistence oriented, and coffee is usually interspersed with other food and fodder crops. Access to new varieties is still very difficult in the region; therefore, most farmers stillrely on the traditional coffee varieties. This benefits cup quality, but many farmers experienced reduced productivity due to the plants’ susceptibility to disease and plague.
When ripe, coffee is selectively handpicked by farmers and their families. These cherries are then delivered on the same day to the washing station, where they are inspected and sorted. If the quality is not good enough the coffee is sent back for re-sorting.
While Tanzania is not well known for natural coffees, this coffee is processed using the natural method because of regional tradition. There are some fully washed coffees coming out of the region, however most are processed naturally because of tradition and culture. In fact, Tarime is the only region in Tanzania where this is standard processing.
After being sorted, coffee is delivered to dry on raised beds. It is turned regularly and covered during the hottest part of the day so as to control fermentation and evaporation. These natural lots are the product of the cooperative’s 8 mills, which are then blended together during dry milling.