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Pondering my coffee cup, my thoughts inevitably turn to the land where the coffee was grown. And when that land is locked in a civil struggle I’m frequently curious and wary… Who grew this coffee? Which side are they on? Which side is right? (That’s rarely an easy answer.) And most importantly, are my coffee dollars part of the problem, or a potential solution?
Uganda — five years since last mentioned here — is still a nation struggling for rule of law, for the safety of its children, for its identity and place on the world stage. Landlocked, Uganda is besieged by threats from without and within, and has been largely abandoned by most all of the world powers and much of Africa, too. There is no oil in Uganda (or there hasn’t been… it seems there’s some reserves only just discovered.) And so unlike the Middle East, instead of being on the brink of war Uganda is for two decades now on the brink of a peace that is always just out of reach.
The coffee-growing lands of Uganda — butted up against Mount Elgon in the east — have been spared much of the struggle that’s come to define the nation’s north. In fact, it seems the only struggle of late that matters to the folks of MBale centers around competing soccer clubs. That’s a healthy sign. So too is the continued success of the Uganda Coffee Development Authority. In Uganda, success remains a relative term… but it appears that coffee farmers and processors are, in fact, the beneficiaries of coffee dollars.
My last taste of Ugandan coffee came from the Bugisu cooperative. It was a striking cup — heavy bodied and, well… inspiring:
In the cup this is a deep, dark mysterious liquor. It’s muscular, musky and oozes languidly on the tongue. Its deeper tones are bitter chocolate, its high notes ripe fruit — very ripe. It’s slightly wild, rich, fat and funky. Not the fuzzy stuff of a monsooned Malabar — it’s far too smooth for that — but still it’s earthy and intense. The Bugisu has got the body of a Java, and while its finish is long and syrupy, it is decidedly not sweet.
Today’s Bugisu is now organic. Whether or not that comes into play in its flavors, it is less funky, somewhat more refined, but still a heady, rich and rustic cup. This lot offers a bit more fruit — a musky, tropical melon note. It’s still gentle on the acidity, and very, very round in the cup, and its finish has characteristics of a refined black tea. And still, it’s so very unlike its Kenyan neighbor it’s hard to imagine it’s grown just the other side of the mountain… and still a world away.
Available (green) at Sweet Maria’s.