My Round: The roast of Africa

Rwanda's Maraba Bourbon coffee smells good and tastes great. Oh, and putting it in your cup will change the world
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Indy Lifestyle Online

If you don't think you can make a difference in the world, you should have been at the House of Commons a few weeks ago for a presentation hosted by Union Coffee Roasters about its Fairtrade Rwanda Maraba Bourbon coffee (a relatively rare variety which has dense, complex, fruity flavours).

If you don't think you can make a difference in the world, you should have been at the House of Commons a few weeks ago for a presentation hosted by Union Coffee Roasters about its Fairtrade Rwanda Maraba Bourbon coffee (a relatively rare variety which has dense, complex, fruity flavours).

The coffee, which I first wrote about last year, is the result of a project with a long and involved history (read about it in detail at www.careforcoffee.co.uk). In brief: it centres on the Abahuzamugambi Bakawa co-operative in Rwanda's Maraba district, a veritable paradise for the Bourbon-coffee tree, and it set about raising the co-operative's standards of production to produce a top-end coffee with Fairtrade certification.

Union's efforts, in cooperation with various aid agencies, involved investment, agricultural consulting and training. A loan was obtained to build and equip a coffee-washing station. The farmers, mostly women and all smallholders, were shown how to improve their farming techniques. Workers at the washing station were taught to use the equipment to sort beans for quality, and to pick through the drying beans so that the valuable grade-A ones could be separated out. Union buys only these beans, and at premium prices.

The project has been a rip-roaring success, with all of the 2002 crop sold through Sainsbury's. That crop was nine tonnes. The 2003 crop was 18 tonnes. Steven Macatonia, Union's roast-master, expects the 2004 crop to double again. The income from the first crop was more than two-and-half times what the growers would have got selling their coffee at commodity prices of around 50 cents a pound.

Figures like that are fine things. But they're nothing compared to what the audience at the House was privileged to hear, from a Maraba smallholder named Gemima Mukashyaka, about the difference those revenues made to the lives of the producers. Many of their children are now going to school. They can afford healthcare. Mukashyaka can pay someone to bring water to her house from the river, so she can spend those hours looking after her coffee trees and her children. Jeremy Torz, co-owner of Union, pointed out that "around 9,000 people belonging to 1,500 families - around 15 per cent of the district population - have received three times the previous usual earnings per kilo for their coffee".

Imagine that your income suddenly tripled; imagine the difference it would make to your life. Now imagine that all you need to do to help continue the project that's making such a difference to the lives of people in one of the poorest countries on Earth is enjoy a great cup of coffee. The 2003 is now at Sainsbury's (£3.15 for 227g), and is also sold by Union (www.union roasters.com) either ground or as beans.

As well as rich, complex flavours in your cup, you get the knowledge that you are doing good. Macatonia says, "Once you get a taste for changing people's lives, it almost becomes addictive. You see people who had so little suddenly having so much more, and you ask yourself: 'What else can I do?'" Word of the Maraba venture is being spread to other districts of Rwanda. The NGOs they worked with are active in Central America as well as Africa, and similar projects may develop there. Macatonia is eager to be involved, if the quality comes right.

A final note. When I last wrote about Union, I mentioned that it was looking for a junior roaster to join its London team. Well, it's still looking. Requirements: an interest in coffee, a taste for hard work and a strong back. Interested? Give them a call on 020 7474 8990. You may get a career out of it.

Top Corks: Full Marks Ozzies

Banwell Farm Semillon 2002 £5.59 from £6.99, Marks & Spencer Full and creamy, generously oaked but with lively acidity to balance. Discount, as in all these wines, until 12 April.

Lenbridge Forge Pinot Noir 2002 £7.19 from £8.99, M&S Classic Pinot qualities of smoke and cherries, preserved in a tastefully oaked, medium-weight smoothie from the cool-climate Yarra Valley.

Twin Wells Shiraz 2001 £7.99 from £9.99, M&S Big fat Shiraz from McLaren Vale. If you love that style, this oak-sweet, fruit-dense package makes an offer you can't refuse.

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