I am Julius Wetala, a coffee experience creator and specialised guide, based in Uganda’s southernmost town, Kisoro. I have lived with coffee for over 30 years, first as a boy working on a family coffee farm, and in recent years as an organic coffee project manager. (If you wish to read more about my background or learn the meaning of my name, there’s a blog about it.)
I moved to Kisoro for professional reasons and soon realised that this spectacular region was known only for gorillas and, maybe, mountain hiking. And yet we produce globally appreciated coffee, a popular drink that 98% of travelers take regularly! I decided to do something about it, and as we speak today coffee tours are among Kisoro’s very special attractions.
The aroma of fresh coffee is a powerful force. Looking at the old lady pounding beans with a wooden mortar reminds me of the old days before electric coffee machines, and the smell that comes with it makes me feel like I should stay at the farm forever. I wish to bring a bit of that warm feeling to the GHE Daily Dose, in a series of articles that will inform and inspire you every few months.
You probably know that coffee is a brewed drink prepared from roasted coffee beans. Experts would add that those are seeds of berries from certain coffea species. The earliest credible evidence of coffee drinking dates back to the late 15th century, to Ethiopia and Yemen. In Uganda, coffee farming was brought in by the British during colonial times; Arabica was ushered in for high altitude cultivation and Robusta for low-lying areas. But coffee had been native here from long before.
The colonisers decided that coffee was exclusively for export and didn’t have any interest in converting Ugandans into coffee drinkers; they gave them tea instead (and called it “African” tea). This is why only during the last decade or so, helped by strong social media influence, coffee is becoming something happily consumed locally as well.
But how many of those who sit at low tables in fancy cafes — in Ugandan, Rwandan and global urban areas — actually know how the savoury hot treat is made?
Coffee beans, mixed and dried with ash, are planted and hardened in nursey beds before they are transferred to farms. It takes up to 18 months before the first snow-white blossoms emerge. You should visit us around March and April to smile at this blossom; “amazing” is an understatement.
Blossoms transform, in about three weeks, to green beans, then into red cherries. Harvest starts in May and can take up to late July. If the cherries are not well handled during this period, or immature non-red berries are harvested, the taste of our cup will suffer.
We soak the coffee cherries in clean water before pulping them. A farmer can use a simple trick to ascertain which cherries are worth his time: those that float on the surface are always bad and affected by bugs. Only the best shall proceed to roasting and grinding…
But we are getting ahead of ourselves! I will serve you another cup of coffee expertise in April, in sync with the coffee’s cycle of growth.
photo by Marcus Westberg