I was invited to Burundi to represent Zoka as a potential buyer and observe first hand the ongoing development of the specialty coffee pilot program in country. The coffee pilot program will represent the global coffee industry's first serious look into Burundi’s potential for producing high quality specialty coffee. Burundi has 800,000 coffee growers-small farmers in the true sense of the word for most of whom the coffee tree provides the only cash income. The farmers tend between 100 and 300 coffee bushes on average per farm. Burundi represents the southernmost source of the Nile River and overlooks Lake Tanganyika which is 1400 meters deep. There are 140 coffee pulping and washing stations throughout the country and I was able to visit Bwayi, Teka and Ngogoma stations that represent the greatest promise as identified by the pilot program. It is my belief that Burundi has the potential to produce some spectacular coffee and I am very excited to be able to cup new crop samples this year. The samples will represent the best that Burundi has to offer. After Burundi I attended the 5th Annual East Africa Fine Coffee Association Conference in Kampala, Uganda to participate in the African Taste of Harvest Auction. The auction was cancelled due to lack of a significant amount of bidding participants which was a real disappointment in that there were a few beautiful coffees on the table. I stood by and observed the Ugandan barista competition, watched the arrival of the President of Uganda and then departed on an 8 hour journey by car to Butare, Rwanda. While in Rwanda I was able to visit Ngoma, Karaba and Kinnunu washing stations and visit with the honorable Tim Schilling and all the folks associated with the SPREAD project. I also cupped coffees from all regions of Rwanda and identified farms and coops of interest. This will result in being able to offer Zoka customers the best that Rwanda has to offer for the upcoming season. The quality looks very good. The floral characteristics of the cups from Kivu are strengthening as the crop progresses. The washing stations are becoming more experienced as well and brighter coffee will result from more consistent processing. After saying my goodbyes to my new found coffee friends I departed for Seattle via Nairobi and Amsterdam remembering the warm smiles from the children of East Africa.
-Thomas Hodges Zoka Roastmaster