Brian Beyke

Kickapoo Coffee - Muungano Congo - Craft Coffee - May 2014

Brian Beyke


This is my second offering from Wisconsin’s Kickapoo Coffee and coincidentally the second Congolese offering from them.  While I don’t know much about the roastery, I am glad they are taking the path to educate, directly or indirectly, us as coffee drinkers about the regions from which we drink from.  As I get new coffees in I like to both look into the region it is coming from and also the roaster it is coming from.  Reading more into the hardships in both growing and getting coffee sold in Congo is something I hope all coffee drinkers will take to heart, as I’m sure Congo isn’t the only region with a similar story.  So grab your cup, sit back, and let’s learn about Muungano Congo from Kickapoo coffee.

It’s been years since the Democratic Republic of Congo has been able to put forth quality Arabic coffee into the marketplace, but things are changing.  Decades ago, Lake Kivu was the hub of coffee production for Congo, but in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and DRC’s own civil war, the industry decayed.  Individual farmers continued producing, albeit with primitive equipment and with little access to international markets.  To sell their coffee, they would smuggle their crop across Lake Kivu into Rwanda, traveling at night in small boats and bartering their beans for food and other essentials. One thousand lives were lost each year from drowning, simply trying to make a living.

One Congo farmer recalls, “I had to bribe the police to be able to cross to Rwanda by boat.  I saw boats sink because the waves were huge.  Many people in my village died that way, leaving their children orphans and without any kind of assistance.”

Today we hear a different story, and it comes from the Muungano Coffee Co-Op in the Eastern part of the Congo. ‘Muungano’ means ‘togetherness’ in Swahili it’s a guiding principal for the farmers of Muungano Coffee Co-operative.  Muungano’s farmers have the perfect conditions to produce top grade specialty washed-Arabica coffee and they are wholly committed to fulfilling this potential.  They are investing in coffee nurseries and building community-level micro-washing stations; and renovating the land by planting new seedlings and harvesting the coffee scrupulously.  They have also taken great measures to preserve the land by tending the soil with homemade compost and mulch instead of chemicals. The Co-Op is also planting trees with deep roots to strengthen soil conditions eliminating landslides that have ravished the area in the past.

“Unity is strength, coffee is life”.


Roaster: Kickapoo Coffee

Producer: Muungano Cooperative

Origin: Kalihi, Southern Kivu, DR Congo

Varietal: Bourbon

Elevation: 1,500 - 2,000 mas

Process: Washed

Brew Method:

Aeropress (Inverted) | 16g © to 240g (w) | 2:00 then plunge by 2:30 total time | 200 degrees | 1.40 TDS | 22.25% Ext. (Immersion mode)

Incredibly inviting aromas to the cup.  Reminds me of being in a forest, but quite warm as well.  Really evocative. 
Diving into the cup, the flavors support the aroma - warm spices and comforting apple and plum notes (to a lesser degree cherry) with sweet lemon acidity and slight woodsy, chocolately notes in the lows.  It’s rather crisp, clean, and the low notes balanced, not feeling too heavy in the cup. 
There is grape-like clarity to the notes, with a soft and lingering sweet finish.  Flavors in the cup remind me of cow tails, caramel wrapped cream.  Cup really full of plum notes, really clear and enjoyable. 
More honeycomb cereal sweetness comes out as it cools, with cocoa powder finishing.  Hints of floral exist, but just in passing it seems. 
It’s so mesmerizing, honestly, and I can’t pinpoint why.  The acidity, while not quite sparkling, is pretty dazzling.  Creaminess grows the more the cup cools with now a slightly powdery finish. 
Honey, lime, peach, and plum come out more as it cools, with a slightly tart finishing that’s been growing through the cooling process but it is balanced by the sweet ending.

Brew Method:

Woodneck | 29g © to 458g (w) | 4:15 total time | 198 degrees | 1.52 TDS | 22.20% Ext.
Tried cutting back water to tighten ratio based on previous extractions.  Resulted in a stronger than preferred cup, but wasn’t bad. 
Very sweet cup.  Imagine a large caramel apple with about a 1/8” thick layer of caramel.  That’s this cup, but along with apple notes you find crisp cherry, raspberry, and cranberry too.  
You have a pretty rich cup, almost like a slightly concentrated cranberry juice with just a ting of sweet lemon at first, and a caramelly transition to a finish almost similar to sweet tarts, but it isn’t as tangy.  
The long finish carries notes of brown sugar and whiffs of wood, and spiced nuts.  It’s a pleasing aftertaste to find, as they only enhance the cup by showing up late to the party allowing them to be showcased in a seamless transition from the more sweet notes centered in the cup.  
Spiced plum begins to grow more plump in the cup, as if striving to be the only flavor detected, just basking in a caramel and buttery body.  I would have thought from the previous make that the acidity would grow a little more intense as the up cools but it actually stays pretty reserved in the cup.  It’s a comfortable sweet lemon note, adding a bit of zing to enhance the rest of the juicy and buttery cup.  In the coolest stages you find the lingering finish develop notes of grapefruit, blood orange, and cream that only aid in creating a refreshing ending to the cup.   
Plump plum, buttery body, lingering caramel sweetness. 
  (It almost reminds me of a more rustic yirgacheffe.)
While the Woodneck was the stronger cup, I think I got more fruity sweetness out of the Aeropress method.  Aside from that, I think the acidity was more impressive there too.  Either way, this was quite a flavorful cup.  Some of these lesser visited regions seem to surprise me, and not with the fact that good coffees are being produced, but that they offer such harmony between so many different flavors, sometimes significantly more than the more know regions.  Striking a perfect balance between savory and sweet, providing a more full-bodied experience yet still having fruited and even floral notes tease the palate, dancing with spice, wood, and nutty notes- these are coffees that have the possibility to be received by so many more drinkers than the specialty coffee connoisseur.  It will please immersion and drip makers alike, those who dabble with adding milk or not, it really is a stand out cup that may change how you view the word ‘approachable.’  There really isn’t enough I can say about this coffee… it was great.

Co-host of the I Brew My Own Coffee Podcast and always has all the chocolate. I also love to play board games. Yea, let's go do that right now.