Farmers, Taste Your Coffee!

Originally Posted by our partner association, Joint Marketing Initiative.

It started in February 2013 at the AFCA Conference in Kampala, Uganda and it isn’t over yet.

Planning: Five JMI Member Cooperatives met with Atlas Coffee Importers and Twin staff to discuss the benefits of learning how to cup the coffee they produce.


“I know coffee from the moment the seed is planted in the ground to the moment that it ships. Now, I want to know what happens after my coffee ships. I want to know how my coffee tastes!” said representative Stanley Maniragaba from ACPCU.

The JMI producers are eager to learn what buyers want and they are eager to know their product from seed to cup. As it turns out, buyers are also eager for producers to know their product in terms of cup quality. Craig Holt, owner of Atlas Coffee Importers and chairperson of the CQI board of trustees, agreed to volunteer his expertise, time and travel to lead a coffee tasting seminar on how production methods impact cup quality.

After the February brainstorming session, Twin staff secured funding from WEFT and began arranging logistics. The date was set and preparations began. The cooperatives selected participants who would carry the information they learned throughout their respective organizations to be sure the training would continue even after the three-day seminar was over.

Craig put together a curriculum relating coffee processing methods to cup quality. The idea was to create a complete picture of the value chain so producers could internalize how the success of each cup depends on every step from the very beginning of coffee processing. The anticipated outcome is for producers to use their knowledge of quality to build a competitive advantage for Uganda Specialty Coffee in the market.

Know How to Pick ‘Em: We asked Bukonzo Joint Cooperative to manipulate their processing methods during their fly crop so we could taste examples of coffee that was picked incorrectly against coffees picked correctly. Examples included: 1) cherry that was still green (picked to early) 2) cherry that was picked when it was perfectly ripe 3) cherry that was picked overripe 4) cherry left to dry on the tree 5) moldy cherry 6) cherry that was insect bitten and 7) cherries that float in water (floaters). We had the farmers cup these coffees side-by-side to taste the differences in what they were picking and selecting.

Mold is Nothing to Sneeze At! There was also a session on how important it is to process the cherry immediately, before it molds and to keep pulped coffee from molding during fermentation and drying. We wanted to give the producers a first-hand sense of how apparent mold flavors are when cupping coffee. This included an exercise wherein participants had to cup the mold defects blindly and put the coffees back in order of least moldy to most intense mold flavors. This exercise was relatively easy, even for novice cuppers. I would bet the house that these producers won’t be letting mold accumulate on coffee after that delightful tasting experience.


The Importance of Accurate Samples: Another cupping table was dedicated to a lesson in sampling and what buyers expect. Coffee buyers typically receive a “type” or “offer” sample that should accurately represent the quality of the coffee the supplier is proposing. Just before the coffee ships, the buyer will approve or reject an additional PreShipment Sample before allowing the coffee to be shipped. We cupped an actual offer sample that was purchased next to its corresponding PreShipment Sample that was rejected by a buyer. This was to teach the importance of accurate sampling, as well as to shed some light on reasons why buyers reject shipments.

Quality Control Is In Your Hands: The seminar also contained an element of mentorship. Lydia Nabulumbi is an experienced, well-trained, successful quality control manager at Gumutindo Coffee Cooperative in Eastern Uganda. She was the assistant trainer during the seminar and roasted the many coffee samples. Lydia’s success as a female Ugandan quality manager was exemplary to the aspiring participants. Lydia also led a session on sample roasting for the cooperatives who are installing cupping labs.

Training of Trainers: The three-day seminar helped 24 participants access information from the perspective of a coffee buyer, but its success lies in how the cooperatives will use and share the information with the rest of their farmer-members.

Semliki Coffee Cooperative is currently installing a cupping lab at their headquarters. Training participant, Joweria Nyandere, is their up-and-coming quality control manager. Board member, Alice Kunihira, also participated in the tasting seminar. Semliki is dispatching Alice to accompany the Fairtrade certification trainers in order to talk to farmers about what she learned at the tasting seminar. Semliki is promoting the importance of quality along with certifications for Semliki’s success.


Bukonzo Organic Cooperative Union (BOCU) plans to incorporate what they learned into their AGM. Seminar participants Makofu John, Kikusa Joshua, Kabugho Jeremina, and Mbambu Felezia will be presenting the information to the board and farmer members. Joshua and Felezia are also washing station managers and benefited greatly from the training sessions on defects and hand-sorting.

Ankole Coffee Producers Cooperatie Union Ltd (ACPCU) is a very successful producer of Fairtrade and Organic Robusta coffee. They are installing a cupping lab and have employed Pison Kukundakwe as their quality officer and cupping lab manager. Felix Karimwenda also attended the training. Felix is ACPCU’s certification and projects officer. He is heading up ACPCU’s expansion into high-quality arabica production. Felix will use the information he learned at the training to educate farmers about arabica quality alongside Pison as they roll out their program. Pison put some of the valuable seminar information to use just days after the training, setting up their cupping facilities and roasting up samples of arabica.

CT_LydiaBukonzo Joint Cooperative (BJC) produced the coffee used in the training. BJC had their participants demonstrate what they learned to the cooperative leaders. The coooperative recommended that the participants give the training to BJC’s washing station managers in order to spread the information about coffee cupping and coffee quality. BJC kept samples of each cherry type and will be using them to repeat the training for all of their washing station managers. BJC has prioritized finding resources to build a cupping lab, but, they aren’t letting the lack of a lab stop them from tasting the coffee. They will be pan roasting the samples and grinding them “traditionally”. Seminar Participants, Mbusa Maxen and Kabugho Mirieri are leading the quality cupping initiative at BJC.

As a coffee professional, this seminar was interesting. As coffee farmers, access to this quality of information was eye-opening, fascinating, and nothing short of incredible. After the seminar, back at Bukonzo Joint, Mirieri and Maxen explained to the board what they learned. I watched as Paineto inhaled the fragrance of an intensely fruity Ethiopian natural next to a slightly musty Ugandan washed; his eyes opened as wide as saucers, he turned to me with his jaw to the floor and breathlessly said, “There really is a difference.”

Farmers, keep tasting your coffee because it isn’t over yet!




Acknowledgements: This training was organized by Twin with generous funding from WEFT and made possible by volunteer coffee expert, Craig Holt of Atlas Coffee Importers. This training was also made possible by Willington Wamayeye and Gumutindo Cooperative, by ACPCU, and by BJC. A special thanks to all involved in the organizing, facilitating and participating in this event. Andy Carlton, a big thank you for your work!