Since the 1940s, Congolese farmers have nurtured heirloom Arabica coffee trees on tiny farms that dot the southern slopes along Lake Kivu in Africa’s Great Rift Valley. But decades of instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo have claimed the lives of millions of people and decimated the country’s coffee industry.
Starbucks – working with Eastern Congo Initiative to rebuild the country’s coffee industry – purchased its first crop in late 2014 and has since continued to buy coffee beans from the region. Starting March 22, Starbucks is bringing Starbucks Reserve® Eastern D.R.Congo Lake Kivu to more than 1,500 Starbucks® stores in the United States and Canada and on Starbucks.com. The Reserve coffee will be available while supplies last, for a limited time.
Dario Merlo, Country Director for Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), said Starbucks purchase of coffee from the Congo has helped transform lives for more than 4,500 small-holder farmers and their families along Lake Kivu. From this relatively modest investment, farmers’ incomes have more than tripled, and families have been able to send their children to school and access health care.
Dave Olsen, who joined Starbucks in the 1980s and created Starbucks Espresso Roast, became an ECI board member after he retired from Starbucks in 2013. In Olsen’s travels to the region, he has seen first-hand how the work of ECI has addressed quality at every step, from helping farmers produce the best possible coffee cherries, to getting that harvest through the wet and dry milling and into bags ready for export.
“Life has been incredibly difficult for the people of Eastern Congo, but even in the hardest circumstances, you see their grit and determination,” he said. “We’re applying that energy to creating coffee.”
Leslie Wolford, a coffee specialist at Starbucks, was on the team that brought this coffee to life with Starbucks Reserve® Eastern D.R.Congo Lake Kivu.
“We procured coffee from Congo last year for the Roastery and we noticed that this year the flavors were even more elegant, had more finesse to them,” said Wolford. “It’s light and lively with a nice orange citrus acidity that comes in with a cocoa nuance in the mouthfeel and a little bit of a spice note. It’s a beautiful coffee, and we’re really proud and delighted to have it.”
Looking ahead, Eastern Congo Initiative is expanding its reach to more than 10,000 coffee farmers and their communities in the coming few years. And Starbucks plans to continue purchasing Congolese coffee.
“Starbucks has a long-term approach to what they are doing,” said Merlo from ECI. “With every single coffee bean there is a shared passion and love that you can see from the farmers, the roaster, and hopefully the customers as well.”
Starbucks is working with Eastern Congo Initiative and its Congolese partners to make Eastern Congo a reliable source of high quality Arabica coffee, and to link Congolese farmers to the international marketplace. The Starbucks Foundation has also partnered with ECI to support college scholarships for young women studying agriculture and has invested in local Congolese organizations creating jobs for disadvantaged young adults and former child soldiers in coffee-growing communities.