A Cup of the Coffee Mountain
My early experiences of coffee had lurched from the derided instant types to syrup sweetened and chocolate topped. I never found much to worship. Those early cups were a disappointment and set me on my path of tea-dom without a second look. That changed rather unexpectedly when I reached the rust coloured dust roads of Northern Tanzania.
Hanging on the coattails of Mount Kilimanjaro, Moshi is the first step for the myriad mountaineers who fill up the taxis heading from the nearby airport. Their bright clothing and energy buzzed about the busy streets and sights of the peak flickering between the buildings only added to the excitement. The summit on a clear day is a magnificent landmark, and gives Moshi a uniqueness that most people would instantly warm to.
Drive a short distance towards the foothills and the roadside fields begin to fill with endless rows of squat coffee trees. Grown under the gaze of the glacier on Africa’s highest peak, Tanzania makes sure it squeezes in a fair amount of drama in to those Arabic beans. Whether it was the mouth gaping sight of the mountain or just the romance of exploration, I decided this was the place to give coffee another shot.
I asked the receptionist in the hotel for some guidance. ‘The best place in town? Union Café, they serve good pizza too’. That was me sold.
To give it it’s lengthy full name, the Kilimanjaro Native Co-operative Union Café is the consumer facing branch of Africa’s oldest cooperative. Known as the KNCU, they bring together over sixty thousand smallholder coffee growers who combine to become the world’s 19th largest producer overall.
Inside the cafe, the decor of pea green stone walls and walnut varnished benches was cool and refreshing after the hot and dusty walk from the hotel. The hiss of the chrome juggernaut that cranks out the popular espressos was non-stop. Above and around the counter, portraits of every single president of the KNCU welcomed each new visitor, hanging there with a no short amount of quirk. It was an insanely likeable café.
At the rear there was a steampunk style bean roaster which looked like it was pieced together by Doc Emmet Brown. Feeding this possible time machine with local beans was a stooped man with friendly eyes. He was old but agile, diving into the bucket and offering us a handful of warm bitter nuggets to crunch on.
To make sure I didn’t aim too low, we ordered an Americano with a double shot, no milk. I also grabbed a Coke, just in case my mouth slammed shut in defiance after my first sip. When both drinks arrived, the elegant glass Coke bottle looked like it had had been refilled a thousand times.
The scent of the coffee was childishly exhilarating. Rich, hot and bitter, it was all the things I was expecting. What I didn’t plan for was my inner Augustus Gloop to suddenly take control and keep me going back for more. I was enjoying coffee for the first time in my life.
Without the necessary qualifications or years of gulping behind me, the flavour shall remain superlative free. Perhaps my greedy clamour for more says plenty about the quality of the roast, bean, plant or whatever it is that makes it so beloved.
Union Café can confidently boast at least one new convert to the culture though, and I couldn’t have chosen more charming setting for it.