It’s 3:40 a.m., the dawn is gently approaching, and we’re landing in Entebbe, nestled in the central part of Uganda. Lake Victoria stretches out before us, welcoming us after our arrival. Ahead lies a journey of several hours by car, leading us to Mbale, home to The Coffee Gardens and our base camp for the upcoming week. This marks the beginning of our very first origin trip after six years of operating our roastery. What reality and experience awaits us in this country?
Origin trip – its advantages and disadvantages?
We had been contemplating reasons to travel to the origin for quite some time. After all, such trips are not only costly but also environmentally unsound, given their substantial carbon footprint. Instead, we chose to channel our resources into socially impactful projects.
There was also little reason to go since Bara from Falcon Coffee ensured green coffee imports right to the roastery in Ostrava. “The main advantage of buying beans through an importer is the elimination of risks they take on for you. Whether it’s risks associated with transportation or price,” explains Eros Ceresa also from Falcon Coffee. With no need to establish direct relationships with farmers, there’s also no necessity to travel to the countries of origin. However, upon finally embarking on this journey, we realized that by abstaining from such trips, we deny ourselves the opportunity to witness the unfiltered reality of the world that captivates us so much. Truth instead of flashy headlines.
The main reason we finally decided to travel abroad was our joint project with The Coffee Gardens: establishing a quality control laboratory this year. This lab will not only serve as a hub for quality assessment but also as an educational space. Eros shed light on the local perspective, saying: “Locals generally have significantly less interest in coffee than we do in the Western world. Coffee is a market crop, and that’s how they treat it. Beyond the commercial aspect, it’s not important to them”
So after years, we finally compiled as many reasons as possible and merged a business trip with an exploration of the vibrant colors of East Africa.
What is an origin trip?
An origin trip is a journey typically undertaken by roasteries or cafés to the country of origin of coffee. This trip often involves visits to local coffee farms and adjacent plantations. The agenda typically includes activities such as cupping sessions, discussions with farmers, and mutual education. During these trips, roasters share their experiences with farmers, and vice versa.
Bittersweet reality that makes you rebalance yourself. What is Africa really like.
Besides our agenda with the qc lab, we couldn’t pass up the chance to visit local coffee farms. Our days started early, hiking through the mountains to help pick coffee cherries under the hot sun, then trudging back along muddy paths to the processing stations, shadowing the steps of a runner who carried 50 kg of coffee cherries on his head. This is what one of our days looked like as we tried to understand and learn more about the positions of the various links in the whole chain.
“Uganda was full of joy and a strong community spirit,” remembers Markus from Vienna’s Gota Coffee. But alongside the beautiful scenery, there was the reality of endless waste literally everywhere. Due to money issues, people burn garbage right outside their homes, next to the butcher, leather sofas and animals looking for what’s left of grass on the streets. Poverty and luxury living side by side in Africa can sometimes be scary and overwhelming.
In Uganda, you’re mzungu, in Ethiopia ferenghi. Foreigner, white car, white face, money, curiosity, respect as well as absolute nonsense. Kids would grab your hand or ask for money. They are what strikes us the most. Child labor or starving children on the streets ain’t no mirage. It was a tough reality to face. One of our cars had a flat tire so we stopped. A boy came to my window and laid his hand on it. Then he pointed at his mouth. His neck. His belly. The driver locked the door. Despair followed by tears.
“Ethiopia was one big cultural shock. Everything works differently than here. From the food to the calendar year,” Markus says. He also highlights the interest shown by young people. “Farmers and farm owners happily involve them in the coffee business process. In some cases, job offers even come with daycare for their small children and bring financial independence to the whole family,” recalls the owner of the Vienna roastery. Coffee, therefore, has a significantly positive economic impact on the local community.
Africa leaves an indelible mark on you, whether you’re prepared for it or not. It’s a magical place, far far away from everything we know. Aside from gaining a more realistic understanding of the daily work of farmers, our origin trip also gifted us new friendships and an even deeper respect for the product we work with every day.