About the Coffee
SOPACDI (Solidarité Paysanne pour la Promotion des Actions Café et Development Intégral) is an organization comprising more than 5,600 farmers, roughly 20 percent of whom are women, located near Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Each farmer has a very small area of farmland for coffee (fewer than 2 hectares on average), and tender cherries to SOPACDI through the organization's 10 collection subgroups.
Pygmies' Coffee Project & Women Producer Program at SOPACDI:
This specific offering comes from a group of 105 Pygmy people (including 51 women) who live and farm in the villages of Mishebere and Ruhunde in the Kahele territory. Historically, Pygmy people have faced terrible discrimination and disenfranchisement, including being forced into slavery and/or low-paying work. SOPACDI has started this project to source and keep separate coffee from this group of growers in order to provide them a better income from specialty coffee as well as more financial independence and autonomy. The producers each own an average of 0.5 hectares and deliver coffee in cherry form to the washing station.
Democratic Republic of the Congo (also known as DRC, but not to be confused with the neighboring Republic of the Congo) is an interesting origin, just barely on the radar of specialty coffee. A long and established Robusta economy has been more prevalent in the coffee sector, and an emphasis on high-quality Arabica coffee is only just gaining a foothold among producers. The country itself is the fourth most heavily populated on the continent and is the second-largest nation in Africa as well. Despite the population, however, resources such as roads, potable water, and electricity are scarce, and development within agribusiness has been slow.
Coffee was introduced by European colonists, who owned and operated large plantations using local labor to tend to the fields—a history not unlike that of Kenya, Tanzania, and other colonized African nations. When the DRC achieved independence from Belgium in 1960, the land was broken up in redistribution schemes, with each new farmer getting a very small plot of land.
Until 1976, the national regulatory authority, Office National du Café (ONC) held a monopoly on the coffee-export market; liberalization and the elimination of price controls in the early 1980s created both opportunity and some chaos as the market equalized to determine pricing levels and structure. Similarly, the transition from a primarily plantation-based coffee-farming industry to one comprising thousands of smallholder farms was a somewhat difficult time for producers, as they struggled to gain a foothold in the market and to manage their own land and operations in a country that is still very much dominated by rural agriculture. Access to the market is exceptionally difficult, and political and economic unrest over the past few decades has made specialty-coffee growing and sourcing a challenge, but projects, organizations, and cooperatives such as SOPACDI are actively working to improve networks and infrastructure to bring top-quality lots to the international market.
Coffee is grown in most of the country, spread throughout its seven provinces, and is a significant cash crop, though most of what is grown and exported are either full Robusta or not specialty-quality. Investment projects and direct-sourcing projects are contributing to a general increase in profile and availability of better coffees, however, and the next few years look very hopeful for Congolese coffees.
DR Congo Sourcing
We love coffees from the growing regions around Lake Kivu - Burundi, Rwanda, and Democratic Republic of Congo. Despite the relatively close geographical area, the lake and its surrounding landscape has an incredible diversity of microclimate and profile. As a result, Congolese coffees are distinct, and among our favorites, from this area of the world.
A Quick Note about 'Potato Defect', which can occur in coffees from Rwanda, Burundi, DR Congo, and Uganda
Potato Defect, or 'Potato Taste Defect' (PTD) is caused by a chemical called 2-Isopropyl 3-methoxy pyrazine (IPMP). In its strongest instances, this potato smell can be apparent in the air at the farm, in the green coffee including the cherry and parchment, as well as the roasted and brewed product. While there are ongoing, intensive efforts at the farm level to reduce the number of PTD incidences, there is currently no way to sort out the defect in the green or roasted coffee in a scalable manner.
For the specialty coffee industry in the regions affected by PTD, this defect has caused seemingly insurmountable issues at the farm level with direct consequences on the amount roasters purchase from affected regions as well as the selling power of area producers. Agronomists and biologists have proposed many theories and conducted numerous studies about the possible causes of Potato Taste Defect beginning as early as the 1950s, but currently there are no proven solutions to significantly eradicate the rate of defect.
Identifying Potato Taste Defect
There are very low, if any, visual identifiers that correlate to PTD defective seeds (or coffee beans). In fact, most defective seeds look perfectly normal to the human eye and show no visible insect damage or UV fluorescence. Therefore, unlike other defects, there is no “preventative maintenance” in processing or sorting methodologies that the producer can do to ensure a highly reduced rate of PTD.
PTD seems to be a defect solely detectable via gustation and olfaction. We have done research to better understand the defect occurrence rate in the coffees we buy, and are sharing our recommended protocols to avoid tasting the defect when brewing.
How Prevalent Is Potato Taste Defect?
In our research tracking PTD, the average occurrence rate of this defect is 1 in approximately 1550 grams in the coffees we buy. This means in every 3.3 pounds or so, the likelihood of hitting one PTD coffee bean is fairly high. It also means that the chances of experiencing potato defect in a 12 oz bag are low. Of course, there is a large element of randomness involved in this—that is just the nature of the beast.
In whole-bean coffee, there is no issue with transference. For example, if you open a bag and it smells of potato, the whole bag is not tainted. It is more than likely one defective coffee bean that simply smells very strong.
There is no known toxicity in the defect itself, and it is safe to consume, should you encounter it once brewed. However, since one defective bean can affect the taste of the resulting brew, we are sharing our recommended steps to take to avoid tasting potato.
Suggested Protocol To Avoid Tasting Potato
- When preparing to brew coffees from these regions, be sure to diligently smell the ground coffee before brewing.
- Grind your coffee in small amounts instead of grinding the whole bag at once. For home brewing, we recommend grinding <30 grams at a time. For batch brewing, we recommend grinding 100 grams at a time.
- If you only smell delicious coffee, continue brewing and enjoying these incredible coffees!
- If you are not sure, and you think you might be smelling potato, well, it is probably because you learned about PTD so your brain is telling you it is there. It might not be!
What To Do If You Smell Potato
If you smell raw potato (you’ll know!) in the grounds before brewing:
- Compost the grounds
- Purge the grinder of any remaining chaff/fines
- If possible, grind through approximately 30g of coffee that is guaranteed to not have PTD (such as a coffee from Guatemala, Colombia, etc.) as to prevent transference to the next batch of coffee
Country: DR Congo
Region: South Kivu
Farm: SPACDI, Gera Micro-Station
Elevation: 1600-1800 MASL
Variety: Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai
Tasting notes: Sugary sweet with intense, tart acidity; flavors of molasses, cola, grapefruit, & cherry.