Farm: Itaka Quality Coffee Group
Varietal: Kent, Bourbon & other local varieties
Processing: Fully washed & sun dried on African beds
Altitude: 1,620 + metres above sea level
Owner: Various smallholder farmers
Town / City: Mbozi, Songwe
Itaka AB - Tanzania
When the tiny Itaka Quality Coffee group first formed in 2006, it only had 14 small holder farmer members. While this number has grown to 24 individuals in the current day, it is still a very small group with minimal production. For the most part, farmers have inherited their coffee plots and plants from their parents and processing methods remain rustic. Nonetheless, this group is working together to improve the quality of their coffee so that they have more control over the price that they command on international markets. The long-term goal is livelihood improvement across the board.
All of the farmers belonging to the group are very small scale and grow coffee on average on .2 hectares or, in some cases, even less – a very small amount of land even by Tanzanian standards, where landholdings tend towards the small. In addition to coffee, many grow maize, peanuts and beans. The majority of farmers often keep one or two cows and some poultry, as well.
In their quest for better quality, the Itaka Quality Coffee Group faces significant challenges. The first is minimal access to technical knowledge regarding coffee cultivation. They are working their very hardest to overcome this by reaching out to programs that provide training, but the battle is uphill. The availability of agro-inputs (fertilisers in particular) is also minimal. This renders producers particularly vulnerable when faced with the challenges of weather fluctuation (in particular drought, which weakens trees and makes them susceptible to long-term disease if not countered) and fusarium wilt (which is common in the area).
Harvesting and Processing:
This lot is composed of 100% ‘home processed’ coffee. On average, farmers produce around 3,000kgs of parchment coffee per ½ hectare. Coffee is very much a family business, with parents passing knowledge on to their children – along with the plants themselves. Home processing means that the coffee is pulped at each individual’s home and dried on a variety of drying infrastructure. Home processing, such as this, can be tricky if aiming for a quality product. However, the Itaka group is making great efforts to ensure that every step – from harvest through to drying – is carefully executed so as to ensure quality.
All coffee is selectively hand harvested and is then again sorted on a clean canvas or a concrete floor to remove any underripe or damaged beans. These visibly perfect, ripe cherries are then floated in clean water to remove any ‘floaters’ that might have been missed when hand sorting. After this they are passed through a small hand pulping machine before being delivered to a clean fermentation tank with water for 1-2 days until the mucilage is fully fermented off. When the perfect state of fermentation is achieved, the coffee is well-washed to remove all traces of mucilage before being delivered to a wire mesh table for drying. The coffee will be regularly turned on these tables from 3 to 7 times a day so that it dries thoroughly and evenly on all sides. Reaching the optimal humidity of 11-12% usually takes 8-12 days.
After reaching the optimal humidity, the coffee is rested. All the coffee is usually milled in Mbozi and is sent to the Tanzania Coffee Board auction in Moshi, where it is then cupped, graded and sold at auction to the highest bidder.
This coffee has been graded ‘AB’, a mix of the largest (A) and second largest (B) bean sizes. Grading by size occurs at the dry mill.