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Mwika North AMCOS

Kilimanjaro, Northern Tanzania, Tanzania
Partner since: 2015 Traceable to: 180 Members Altitude: 1675 MASL Varietals: Bourbon, Jackson Bourbon

Cherries are sorted, pulped, washed, wet fermented for 48 hours, washed again and soaked for 18 hours before dried on raised beds

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Referred to by locals as one of the ‘gateways’ to Kilimanjaro, the town of Mwika has a centuries-long history of coffee. First brought to Tanzania by Germans to a place called Kaleme Church in 1835, a man named Zebadoya who was rewarded for his service to the Church with a charter to plant coffee—which he brought back home to Mwika. Though he was technically the only person the Church authorized to plant coffee in that area, coffee started sprouting in the gardens of Zebadoya’s friends, family and neighbors. As the population grew in the 1900s, so too did help for increasingly bigger harvests. Workers brought cherry back to their homes and planted it, too, spreading the coffee further to Kilimanjaro.

As the Kilimanjaro Native Cooperative Union (KNCU) began to founder, Mwika was the first Agricultural Marketing Co-operative Societies (AMCOS) to split. Through KNCU, payments were slow, transparency was lacking and farmers were angry: in 2012 those from Mwika petitioned the government to intervene, and were allowed to form their own group. They formed three groups, in fact; Mwika North, the highest altitude of the three, consider themselves the original.

In their first year, Mwika North received training from the Technoserve-backed Kilicafe project, collected 40 tonnes of parchment, and built their own washing station (referred to in Tanzania as a “Central Processing Unit” or CPU). But over the past decade, support from Kilicafe ended and with it ended sales to specialty customers like Starbucks. Their CPU only operated one harvest—the cost of gas so high up the mountain was simply too expensive.

So despite all of their capacity and potential, Mwika North sat untouched like a diamond in the rough.

We’re excited to have built a relationship with this group—precisely because of that capacity, potential and determination. And in January 2020, Mwika once again processed cherry through its CPU—which reopened against all odds due to strong leadership and partnerships throughout the value-chain. The result was a sweeter, juicier cup with more controlled drying, and a whole new standard on what good can taste like in Tanzania.=

Oral tradition dates the origins of Tanzanian coffee to the 16th century, when the Haya people brought coffee—almost certainly robusta—from Ethiopia into the country. German colonial rule of the country led to its establishment and expansion of coffee cultivation as a commercial industry, with the government in 1911 mandating the planting of Arabica in the northern region of Bukoba, around Lake Victoria. By then, Arabica coffee had grown around Kilimanjaro since 1835 when German colonizers brought coffee to Kaleme Church.

In 2018, the Tanzanian government changed the country’s export regulations, moving the formerly centralized coffee auction system to a decentralized, regional model and making it so that private buyers and exporters could no longer purchase cherry or parchment coffee from individual farmers. This left estates and Agricultural Marketing Co-operative Societies—or AMCOS—as the sole channel for purchasing cherry or parchment from growers and processing it for export through regional auctions.

As smallholders—who produce 90+% of Tanzania’s coffee—organized into AMCOS, it created pathways for coffee growers to revitalize their farms and the country’s coffee exports. AMCOS are structured to be lean to allow any pricing premiums to pass to members directly rather than to administrators or other cost centers common to cooperatives in other countries.

Wet mills are expensive and cooperatives compete based on their efficiency–so without incentive to process centrally, most groups deal exclusively in parchment which has been washed and dried at a farmers’ home; aka Home Processed (HP). Almost all smallholder coffee grown on Kilimanjaro is collected as HP parchment, in contrast to groups in the South who have a longer tradition of working in cherry, which allows for centralized processing, and all of the control that this brings to fermentation, drying and storage.

Smallholder coffee from Kilimanjaro, specifically, used to account for over half of Tanzania’s Arabica; by 2020 it was less than one-fifth. Old trees, aging farmers, and low premiums contributed to this decline—as did regulations supporting the growth of estates. In response, the European Union funded, with the support of the local coffee community, a revitalization effort—the Kilimanjaro Smallholder Revival Project—aimed at engaging the next generation of smallholders on Kilimanjaro, and in doing so, preserving the practices, cultivars and profiles that first made Tanzanian coffee renowned.

In the South, we work primarily in Mbeya and Mbinga, both within two days’ drive from the capital and port city of Dar es Salaam. In the early 2000’s, began noticing the variety of flavors coming out of the South. Compared to the North, where volumes were, before the emergence of new AMCOS and the KSPR, dominated by large estates, the South is home to diverse terroirs and profiles. Over the next two decades this interest encouraged the growth of AMCOSs and exporter activity, increasing both quality and production.