Ugandan Relations at Volta

[flickr-photo:id=3648084428]Direct Development International's fundraising exhibition for rural Ugandan schools now graces the walls at Volta, and we couldn't be more pleased. Colorful oilcloths cover the walls and the espresso machine, water gourds hang above the chocolates, and the wonderfully witty drawings by the school children are framed by photos of daily life in the country side.

DDI's Kelly Heber (aka, one of our favorite baristas, ever) has spent the last few months in Uganda; the show is the result of her interaction with the group Uganda NOW. Kelly had asked the children in a Uganda NOW-sponsored school to draw whatever came to mind to represent Uganda-US relations. The results are surprising. There are drawings of American foods popular in Uganda paired with Ugandan foods popular in the US. Drawings of US-funded clinics in the countryside. There are soccer players and kids hanging out, wild animals, and party scenes.

We also have woven baskets, gourd shakers, and carved crocodiles (Kelly called them Florida gators, but I think they are crocs...). Everything in the exhibit is for sale, and all of the proceeds will go to Uganda NOW projects funding schools in rural Uganda. The children's prints sell for $20 each; the oil cloth sells for $25. The crafts and photographs range in price from $10 to $25. When Kelly was installing the exhibit, I asked her about the use of the cloth in Uganda:

Kelly (explaining the fabrics she's pinning to Volta's walls): So the oil cloth is used by the women in Uganda who dig sweet potatoes.
Me: What a coincidence! I dig sweet potatoes!

Our proof: Ricky and I are also working on a series of sweet potato-based desserts to be featured throughout the month, including bourbon-sweet potato pie and glazed sweet potato pecan cupcakes.


To highlight the work, Volta has brought in a selection of African coffees that are the result of direct trade projects across south-central Africa. First off, we purchased one of the last lots of the Rwanda Maraba Cup of Excellence espresso available from Intelligentsia. The Maraba was the 6th place finisher in last year's Rwanda CoE competition, and it is the coffee that Mike Phillips crafted into a dynamic espresso to take 3rd place in the World Barista Championship. The Maraba pulls an amazing shot of espresso, and we have quickly sold out of every lot that we've been able to bring in. At $50 a pound retail, the Maraba is by far the most expensive domestically-roasted espresso that Volta has featured-- but we believe that it is one of those paradigm-shifting experiences that is well worth the extra buck to experience.

For a brewed African coffee, we are pleased to be able to present Counter Culture Coffee's Bwayi Lot #8, from Burundi. CCC describes the coffee as a "remarkable coffee from the Bwayi community of Kayanza, Burundi, offering mouthwatering notes of sweet lemon, butterscotch, fig, and wine. One of the best expressions of Burundian coffee we have ever experienced, we hope this coffee marks the beginning of a fruitful relationship with this community of dedicated farmers." As CCC explains, it isn't easy getting coffees out of a land-locked country like Burundi, and the Lot #8 offers a promise of great things to come if the obstacles are overcome. We were able to find a setting for brewing the coffee on the Clover that brings out an amazing butterscotch-fig finish, especially as the coffee cools.

Finally, we spent considerable time searching for a Ugandan coffee to serve but couldn't find anything available from a commercial roaster. We turned to Sweet Maria's, an indispensable resource for coffee geek home roasters, to pick up a kilo of organic Bugisu coffee from the eastern edge of the country. Sweet Maria's sums up the problems with getting good coffee out of Uganda:

While Arabica was introduced at the beginning of the 1900's, Robusta coffee is indigenous to the country, and has been a part of Ugandan life for centuries. The variety of wild Robusta coffee still growing today in Uganda's rain forests are thought to be some of the rarest examples of naturally occurring coffee trees anywhere in the world. The coffee trees are intercropped with traditional food crops and grown in the shade of banana trees and other shade trees. In these self-sustaining conditions, coffee is left to grow naturally, flowering on average twice a year.

Uganda has the unfortunate circumstance of being landlocked, and needing good relations with its neighbors to move its coffee crop to a port city. Transportation bottlenecks can result in containers full of steaming coffee beans stuck on the back of a truck or a dock somewhere ...not good for quality! But in recent years the problems of unstable East African politics and weak infrastructure seem to be improving, judging from the excellent quality coffee coming from the Northern Bugisu region along the Kenya border. Good marks are the Mbale Bugisu Coffee Factory and the Budadiri Coffee Factory -names of the mills where the coffee are prepared. Good Ugandan coffees are both unique among East African coffees and of intense character.

The Bugisu is an, er, interesting coffee. It certainly lacks the refinement of our Kenya, Ethiopia, or Tanzania coffees; in a way, it is more like a Sumatra or a Yemen. Tom, at Sweet Maria's, notes "The dry fragrance in lighter roasts has a clean lemon cookie scent, softly fruited and nicely sweet. Darker roasts have a chocolate biscuit quality in the dry grounds and Italian plum-like dark fruit in the wet aroma." It also has a woodsy-rustic quality that overwhelms when brewed on the Chemex but mellows nicely on the Clover.

We roasted up a kilo of the Bugisu on our shop iRoast home roaster-- just enough for people to sample during the opening. We will be selling cups on the Clover for $3, with 100% of the proceeds going to the Uganda NOW schools project.