Amkeni 2016 #2: Dry-Milling and the TCB

amkeni TCCC

Welcome back to my little report about Matthias‘ Amkeni-visit 2016. I went to Tanzania to meet and work with the farmers at Amkeni an also to understand how coffee production is organised in Tanzania. This post is about my second day which was taking me to Moshi were a lot of coffee institutions are situated. Our stations today were several dry-milling factories and the Tanzania Coffee Board (TCB). Godwin and me were accompanied by Mr Kimaro, the treasurer of Amkeni.

The Dry Milling Process

Dry-milling, who? Dry-milling is the step after the wet-milling and drying. For those that don’t know about these steps: when you pick the cherry you have to remove the pulp first and afterwards remove the mucilage, a slimey layer around the coffee bean including the parchment hull. You do this by soaking it in water for a couple of hours, a process which is called fermentation and then rinse it off. Afterwards you put the „parchment“, that’s how the bean with the parchment hull around is called, on beds and dry it until it reaches a moisture content of around 9-12% where 11.5% is more or less ideal if you can say that. 9-12% however is the window at which dry mills will process your coffee.

So what is done during the dry milling: the parchment hull is removed, which is also called „hulling“. Easy enough, isn’t it’? Afterwards it is sorted/graded according to size. The relevant sizes/grades in Tanzania are AA, AB and PB. Others are TT, F oder others. But those are for domestic use or instant coffee. These processes are done by machines. After the machine process, you can decide to let it handsort and remove defects that haven’t been taken out by the machine process and on the drying beds on the wet mill. That will certainly cost extra but to unlock/preserve all flavours it’s worth it.

First stop: The (old) TCCC

Our first stop was the Tanzanian Coffee During Company Ltd (TCCC), which is the dry mill which is owned by the Kilimanjaro Native Cooperative Union (KNCU). It also is the mill of choice of Amkeni. We didn’t have an appointment but we were given access to the mill and a young man named Peter was our guide. The TCCC had been established in  the 1930s and all Tanzanian coffee was dry milled here until a couple of years before. When we first arrived at the TCCC it was like a time travel. Originally the factory had been installed by a German and when the British took over and the machines had to be replaced, they chose the English manufacturer John Gordon. They have 4 Machines which all seem to be of the same kind which each can process 1 ton/h. Also they just installed a machine which can process 4 tons/h so they doubled their capacity and which will start operating this season.

A Dinosaur slowly fading away?

One thing came to our minds: They’ve got the capacity to process – and store – the coffee from the whole country!! The crop hasn’t started yet so it’s no surprise their place looks deserted but when you do the math you’ll recognise that with their excess capacities that might not change. They seem to suffer from fierce competition. New dry mills have popped up and I of course wanted to see what they were doing.

The Competitor: Dormans

I have known Dormans, a Kenyan company, since I had visited Kenya in 2009. Also I have met some of their employees during international specialty coffee events. So I knew their name was closely associated with specialty coffee from Kenya. Most of the microlots that we receive almost anywhere in the world have gone through the hands of Dormans. It was new to me though that they are also operating in Tanzania. We didn’t have an appointment but we were invited to talk to a man named Masut in his office and later he also showed us their facilities. He stated that the main advantage of turning to Dormans was transparency. Customers could watch while their coffee was being processed.

Modern dry-milling with 3 (!) more sorting stages

Masut then showed us their machines. The place was much brighter than TCCC and the machines were very similar to those that wer in the process of being installed at TCCC but not ready to run yet. What struck me was that it had three stages more in order to sort things out:

  • one machine to sort out matter lighter than coffee
  • one to sort out matter heavier than coffee both of them were prior to hulling
  • one gravity-sorting machine which looked kind of fancy:

They had their manual sorting tables in a separate building and their tables had just been repainted and looked really fresh.

So it’s an easy choice, isn’t it?

What about costs? We just shortly talked about costs and found that although Dormans claimed more money for their (better?) services it was bearable. Apart from that a better quality would justify a higher price wouldn’t it?

But no, it’s not really an easy choice. I know from Mr Kimaro and Godwin that they are not so sure about whose dry-milling to use. Also they tend towards the TCCC and I got to know that Mr Kimaro and Masut already have known themselves. Something must have happened that had shattered the trust. Wouldn’t furthermore supporting local companies count as an argument, too? We’ll see how this will develop. Apart from this the TCCC have huge storing capacities where the coffee can sit until things are sorted with all the parties which sadly is an issue especially if we are to market 10 tons. 10.000kg of green coffee. We’ll have to sort a few things out in the next months.

The Tanzania Coffee Board (TCB)

This is a national institution which issues permits and licenses and is responsible for grading beans and running the Moshi Coffee Auction. We wanted to take a look at it but we didn’t have an appointment. It turned out this was very good because we met a smart guy named Karl who was working there but not in an ultimately leading position so I think we saw things and were able to ask questions to an extent that usually hadn’t been possible.

The Liquering Room of the TCB

That’s the place where all the coffees/lots of Tanzania- and I think if I didn’t get it wrong, really all of them – are sample roasted, cupped and graded. You pay for their services when you make a contract or bis successfully during an auction. We asked Karl if we could drop some samples some day and have them graded as well – although they were not from the harvest that would start the week after our visit. He said we had to ask the general manager (which we later did via telephone – he said yes). This will be a very good opportunity to show Mr Kimaro and Mr Kimei the secretary of the group a) how cupping works and b) how their coffee tastes)

The TCB’s Auction Room

The auctioning is the second big task of the TCB. Auctions are every Thursday, (Public) cuppings are on Wednesday – see a pattern? There is a big screen with only numbers in front. Bidders/buyers get a catalog so that they know what they are bidding on. They can make a bid of 1$, 0,40$ and 0,20$ per 150kg – although Karl said they were mostly disabling the 0,40$ and 0,20$ buttons. The sellers can observe the process on the benches on the each side.

You do not have to buy your coffee in an auction but if you don’t the TCB will make sure you pay more than a usual auction price for the same grade of coffee would be. I don’t know about the drawbacks of the system but it surely is transparent and I felt comfortable with Karl and the fact that we, farmer and buyer, could just walk in.

Sum up of day two

We have seen a lot this day and we also were pointed in certain directions and got an idea how other specialty people operate. I think talking to the people and making propositions really helps and in this country – unlike others – it seems you can freely do anything you want except giving the farmers an unfair price which is prevented by the TCB. Any additional steps surely have to be paid by the buyer.

To be continued…

Here are a few impressions: