As coffee professional visit to Zambia cannot be completed with getting in touch with what you love to do, and, of course, it is discovering new coffee farms, meeting new people behind the production side, and connecting with them and establishing close bond between farmer and barista.
This time coffee journey takes me to Munali Coffee Farm located 80 km south of Zambian capital, Lusaka. Getting taxi with $100 round trip plus waiting time I embarked into the journey of discovering the world of coffee. Driving through perfectly built road with no traffic overlooking the green lush of serene landscape of green hills en route to the Vitoria Falls, I finally made it to Munali Coffee Farm which is now produced on a family farm “Mubuyu”. The area is so fertile and land is so flat that makes coffee thrive on this part of Zambia with picking process as easy as it could get without going up and down the hill which complicates picking unless you are professional. The flat land and coffee trees lined up as soldiers of Royal Army Cadet to greet your Highness, makes me feel intrigue and curious what did this land store for me, as coffee professional.
The original owner of this farm was Willem Lublinkhof, who came to Zambia about 50 years ago with Dutch development service. He felt in love with Zambia, and eventually settled here for good and in 1971 started his farming with wheat and soya which still in production. Later in time, the Lublinkhof family decided to start coffee production. Besides those agricultural products, the estate has flour mill, irrigation damn, and provides housing for workers. As contribution to local community, Munali Coffee operates school and medical clinic in the area for farm workers and their families.
After meeting with Jasper, the son of Willem, who is running farm now, and having some discussion about specialty coffee chain across the globe, I was given the green light to tour the farm with manager of coffee production here, Mr. Monday Chillinga, who was employed here for the past 10 years. Jumping into his motor bike we went to cruise the estate. I had many question and I got all answers. Munali Coffee is placed on the elevation of 1130m above sea level and covers 65 hectares of land, about 3,812 feet above sea level based on my Altimeter readings. 60 hectares out of 65 are planted with SL28 varietal that was brought to Zambia from Kenya. The other 5 hectares are covered with F6, Catuai and Costa Rica varietals. All varietals are perfectly planted strictly by area not to be mixed with other varietals and makes it easy to pick without confusion. So, SL 28 is bourbon cultivar and it grows vigorously, produces a moderate yield, and is susceptible (not all the time) to all main diseases and pests. It requires a lot of care and attention. Catuai that grows here is developed in Brazil and is a hybrid between Mundo Novo and Yellow Caturra.
The F6 which was new to me, stems from the crossing of the Caturra variety and Timor Hybrid. F6 is grown as a semi-dwarf plant, making it easier to harvest. There are 2,083 trees per hectare planted at Munali Coffee Estate. As any coffee producing nations, Zambia also affected by leaf rust where farmers try to find the way to battle this disease in more sufficient way without having all area affected before its too late. Besides that the farm experiences Antestia bugs, which are major pest of Arabica coffee in East African countries. They hide in berry or flower clusters and eat cherries. The other enemy is wood-boring insect which is among the most destructive pests of ornamental trees and shrubs. They tunnel and feed under the bark in living wood, destroying all living tissues within the tree. This causes girdling, branch dieback, structural weakness, and decline and eventual death of susceptible plants. The next enemy here is a leaf miner an insect that lives in and eats the leaf tissue of plants. The farm takes all measures necessary to battle those insects to keep coffee trees healthy and productive. Only organic fertilizers are used to treat coffee shrubs. Three components of fertilizers used which is combination of nitrogen, phosphorus, and calcium. The time for fertilizers are from December to February. Harvest season starts in May and continues until July as their main peak season. The unusual fact here is flowering this year started much earlier then expected which means harvest season would soon be knocking on the door. The shifting of climate change makes things unpredictable in all part of the globe where coffee thrives and flourish, and Zambia did not escape the affect of global warming in coffee production neither.
Munali has shade grown coffee as well as coffee grown under the sun. SL28 as I was told produces about 15kg of coffee cherries per tree. while F6 takes about 5kg per tree. During the harvest there are about 200 pickers employed here. They harvest from morning to evening. Depends on the skills, the faster one could collect about 100kg per day. The paying procedure based on the weight that determines the amount picker would get paid but usually it is about $.50 per kg.
The farm has its own water reservoir where water pumps from the main damp and utilized during dry season for irrigation purposes. All coffee trees are under drip irrigation, which means about 1.6ltr of water per hour used. Drip irrigation allows the farmer to control the water supply that feeds the trees. Mubuyu farm compromises 17 million cubic meter dam with 14 dams linked together.
There are 3 different processing methods involved at the farm; washed process with 24 hours fermentation, pulp natural and natural. Drying beds where coffee beans laid to dry are carefully monitored with interval of 30 minutes rotation phase to ensure even drying. The fans that you see on the photos attached next to the drying beds are used to get the water out of the beans after they placed on bed. When major amount of water evaporated, coffee beans will undergo strictly sun drying process. Drying takes up to 14 days with moisture level of 12.5%. The coffee cherries are harvested by hand (selective picking) from April to September, Zambia’s dry season. After drying completed coffee beans are packed into grain pro bags with parchment and stored under humidity control area before milling, selling and exporting. Coffee beans undergo grading by size, density and color. After all steps completed meticulously, green beans will be available for roasting where potentials of flavor will be revealed with proper roasting to highlight the sense of the terroir of the origin for further quality control and consumer consumption.
Some of the international buyers who buy Munali Coffee are Intelligentsia from the USA as well as other well-known coffee roasters across the international boarders. Zambian coffee has its unique characteristics, delicate approach and understanding that expands further down to the the time coffee was first introduced to Zambia that eventually achieved its own international recognition around coffee supply chain. To truly understand and unveil the secret behind Zambian coffee one must travel across the globe to get to the origin.
While in Zambian capital, Lusaka I was craving to find some great specialty coffee shop that serves at least more decent cup of joe I could enjoy, something that would remind me specialty coffee shops across North America and Europe. With few emails communication with Munali Coffee farm, I was introduced to Peaberry Coffee Roasters owned by Teija Lublinkhof, WBC head judge, Q grader, and roaster originally from Finland and former wife to Jasper Lubliknkhof from Munali Coffee Estate. Teija is absolutely lovely person with great knowledge about coffee farming in Zambia and about coffee in general. As a head judge, she tastes coffee beverages on domestic and international platform prepared by baristas around the world who come together as unity to compete for the title of the best in specialty coffee world during WBC Championship. Teija covers regional barista championship across African continent as head judge as well. Peaberry coffee is one of the greatest location for coffee lover I was able to find in Lusaka. Nestled in the industrial area of Zambian capital, away from the bustling shopping malls, in the quite business oriented location, it provides great service and best coffee you can find in Lusaka. Coffee here comes from Munali Coffee Estate as well from other producing regions around the African continent and world in general. Baristas are well trained to deliver the best product possible to any customer who walks into the door of Peaberry Coffee Roasters. My choice that day was cappuccino prepared with blend of Munali and Ethiopan coffee. The silky texture, velvety mouthfeel and natural sweetness of coffee and milk combination pushed forward the taste of sweet caramel, marzipan, nougat and marshmallow up front. The sweetness was so profound making your “dolce vitta” style in Zambia fully complete. The minimalistic approach into design formation of Peaberry Coffee Roasters with slightly dim lights and comfortable couch with some tables around including wifi makes you feel cozy and welcoming, more like home feeling rather then busy industrial and noisy coffee shops you can find in most parts of the United States. This is true African style, Zambian hospitality with professionalism of person who serves specialty coffee industry for many years as judge and who devoted her 20 years into the life in Zambia.