Visit to Tanzania for the EAFCA Conference - Part 1

After a recent trip to Africa Molly Laverty, our Producer Relations Manager, blogged “Tanzania is really far from Portland”. Having just returned from the latest EAFCA (Eastern African Fine Coffees Association) annual meeting held in Arusha, Tanzania, I can similarly attest to the remoteness of Tanzania and the difficulty in getting there and coming back!

I was invited by EAFCA to attend this year’s conference and give two presentations – the first in a plenary presentation discussing Direct Trade and its implications in the specialty coffee business, the second in a break-out roundtable session entitled ‘Good Things (and Bad Things) That Happen When the Coffee Market is High’. I attended EAFCA under the sponsorship of Coffee Corps®, an extremely worthy operation run by CQI (Coffee Quality Institute) in Long Beach, California. I have volunteered in the past for Coffee Corps projects in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Colombia, but this was my first visit to Tanzania. Hopefully, it won’t be my last!

I could have foreseen from my arrival at Kilimanjaro that my time in Tanzania was going to be a challenge. I had spent 25 hours in transit from take-off to touch-down, flying first from Portland to Seattle, then on to Amsterdam, and finally to Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Airplane seats and I were not designed for each other, with the results being that I have a very difficult time sitting for ten hour stretches on inter-continental flights (or in this case, two sequential ten hour stretches), let alone being able to relax enough to sleep. So when we finally landed in Arusha in a downpour – apparently the first major rain event of the rainy season – I was completely exhausted. The Kilimanjaro airport isn’t very large or sophisticated, so we climbed down stairs from the plane and crossed the tarmac in an absolute downpour, getting soaked to the skin in the process. So now I’m both exhausted and soaking wet. Good thing my friend Pete Owiti was waiting for me with a car and driver, as I was exhausted and just wanted to dry off and get to bed. The rains were heavy, and our driver cautious, so it took us over almost two hours to get to our accommodations in Moshi. Once there, we discovered that the power was out – a regular occurrence in most of Tanzania, as I would subsequently discover – so there went my hopes for getting a bite to eat before getting some sleep. Good thing I travel often enough at origin to have learned to always carry extra food with me that I can rely on if I need to, plus I have a flashlight and some small LED emergency lights that I tuck away into pockets in my backpack and suitcase. I may be too much of a boy scout sometimes, but I’m glad that I travel prepared!

I spent several days prior to the actual conference with current WBC and USBC 1st place champion Michael Phillips from Intelligentsia Coffee, Chicago conducting barista trainings in Moshi and Arusha for African baristas. Mike was ably assisted by Devin Pedde from Intelligentsia Coffee, Los Angeles – the 3rd place USBC champion for 2010, South African barista champ Ishan Natalie, and Kenya barista champion Peter Owiti. With such a talented crew and much support from Dorman’s Coffee in Kenya, including the use of a couple of La Marzocco Linea two-group machines, the trainings went fantastic. So well, in fact, that I was seldom called upon for help – which in itself was very refreshing, and speaks volumes to the professionalism and passion of Mike, Devin, Ishan, and Pete as they worked to elevate the skills of the baristas that were fortunate enough to attend their sessions.

I broke away from the barista team after a couple of days to visit with Alex Rechsteiner and Edwin Agasso from Burka Coffee Estate Ltd. outside of Arusha. Alex is the managing director, whilst Edwin is the coffee agronomist with Burka Estate. As I quickly discovered, Edwin knows a truly amazing amount of information about growing fine coffee, learned during his education and training in Kenya. I spent an informative and enjoyable afternoon with Edwin touring the several properties that make up Burka Estate, and did a cupping of many different grades and types of their coffees. Edwin is dedicated to coffee quality, and I learned much about the coffees of Tanzania while talking and cupping with him.

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