Day one of Matthias‘ Amkeni-visit 2016

Amkeni 2016

Hi and welcome to my little report about day one of Matthias‘ Amkeni-visit 2016. This is to document his origin trip to the Amkeni Coffee Group in Tanzania from September 1st to 9th 2016. Amkeni is our first direct trade project in a larger scale and we have been buying their coffees for 2 consecutive harvests now. Read about it here and here. It is definitely time to start working with the farmers, match our goals and get to know each other.

A jouney into the unknown

Sounds dramatic? Good! 😉

I arrived late at the Kilimanjaro Airport. 1:55. I was tired but I happy to see my contact Godwin Msechu at the Airport immediately. Unbelievable he would take the effort to pick me up at such a time. We drove to his home which was one and a half hours away and we got to bed quickly to be ready the next day at 8:30. We had a quick breakfast and I made us some coffee – Amkeni of course – which I did with my grinder and scales and his Melitta-pour-over-device. I took the stuff with me in order to show the farmers what we made out of their coffee and for evaluation purposes. I originally intended to stay away from coffee – paradoxical it seems – during my visit. How could I change my mind so quickly? (Funny: when we went there I didn’t take brewing gear with me but we chewed the beans and we ate them like crisps. Everyone was addicted!)

Amkeni-Visit One harvest later

Before we arrived at Amkeni I was a little nervous because I had never seen or talked to Mr Kimaro or anyone else from the group in person. It changed as soon as we rolled on the court: smiles. We introduced each other and Mr Kimaro stated that he was very happy to see me in person. I know it’s a total shame we haven’t sorted that out before. I originally wanted to go to Amkeni way earlier but things got stuck a little and as soon as everything is sorted out things seem unimportant until they need urgent interaction. If you cannot buy a coffee from a list – as you could do when you buy from importers – that’s definitely not the way to go. So after the second transaction the pressure was there to move over and get to talk – the new harvest starts next week and boy do we have a lot to do and a lot of ideas!

Getting straight to the point

None of use really had a schedule or a protocol after which one could have held the meeting. Instead we first chatted a bit and Mr Kimaro who is chairman of the Amkeni Coffee Group pointed out the importance for us and how happy they were that we bought their coffee until he said that we didn’t have interest in one type of sorting they were producing… the PB.

AA, AB but no PB?

Ouch. FYI: there are three sortings of Amkeni’s coffee that are coming out of the milling process. In Tanzania those are sorted according to bean size. There is AA for the bigger ones and AB for smaller ones. Also there is PB for „Peaberries“. Peaberries are a sort of defects which isn’t one. This sounds somehow stupid but it’s true. Originally there are two (2) coffee beans in one (1) coffee cherry. That’s why they usually are round on one side and flat on the other. Ever noticed? Peaberries (PB) however are alone in their cherry. Why? The other somehow didn’t grow or is very tiny and rinsed away during the processing. A peaberry therefore is pretty round on both sides. If you sort them out separately you should not have a problem or even have a very uniform coffee – in theory.

But: from the current crop we only bought AA and AB because the PB the year before hadn’t been what we are looking for. PBs are always a gamble and this time it didn’t work out for whatever reason. And since the amounts Amkeni was producing last year was almost dublin (from 39 to 71 bags) we said we wanted them to rather send it through the auctions.

Back to the point

Awkward silence after that announcement. We don’t buy the PB. I had to take the word and explained what we were doing introduced them to our work and views and explained what we felt about it and I think PBs are not an issue but they were just causing that moment. Also I talked about how we were seeking potential buyers and trust in the market for coffee imports. Utimately I said that our approach was quality driven and that we could only increase the amounts once more if the quality was right and even getting better and that we wanted to address that and work on it.

Specialty vs doubling production?

Amkeni want to produce at least 10 tons of green coffee during the next harvesting season which is more than double the amount of the current one. If we managed to achieve AND a better quality at the same time we would have to be really good at selling Amkeni. We will have to come up with a solution to this and a first attempt to finding one is by writing about it here and being transparent, isn’t it?

A brief overview of the production process at Amkeni

The group around Mr Kimaro and his vice Mr Limu were talking us through the production process.

  • Harvesting season: is from mid September until the end of the year.
  • Growing: the variety is solely Bourbon, the growing altitude is around 1800.
  • Fertilisers and pesticides: we talked to one of the farmers (later more on him) and he claimed to only use natural fertilisers from cows and no chemical pesticides which in essence would make this coffee somehow bio.
  • Picking: the coffees are delivered by the members of the group but the group is open to others. Each of them is employing pickers during the harvesting season. After the coffee is being picked they are delivered to Amkeni. Only results that meet their standards are bought and processed.
  • Processing: The coffees run through the depulping machine. I have never seen one this small with only one disk rather than three or four as in ethiopia. During the depulping the coffee is separated into floaters (bad) and sinkers (good). The sinkers proceed to the water tanks and are fermented in these for 12 hours.
  • Drying: After that they are predried in the shade and then moved onto the bigger beds. There only 9 of those which is significantly less than even the smallest washing stations in Ethiopia. But they claim to manage the amounts they want to produce and they even let the coffee dry for 14 days which is much longer than I would usually expect. During that drying period they are constantly turned, covered at noon and defects sorted out.
  • Storing of the dried parchment: Amkeni store their parchment away from the ground and in bags. Rather than as a big pile on the ground.
  • Dry Milling: Dry milling takes place at the TCCCO. Read about it in the next entry to this diary.

Sum up

For the moment I am really pleased with our day. I have gotten an overview of their activities, lots of ideas, I think we agreed on some issues but disagreed on others and we’ll see what we can develop during my stay. In my mind there are buzz words like lot diversification, more even drying, better picking, better sorting during the drying process, better sorting after the milling process, quicker processing etc.

Read tomorrow about:

  • two different dry mills
  • the Tanzania Coffee Board (TCB)

Any questions? I’d be really happy to answer them.