Tag Archives: coffee

Beany Has a Farm In Africa

Located just 40 minutes from Blantyre, there is a 200 hectare farm nestled in a patch of wilderness with views of Mulanje and Chiradzulu mountains and Zomba Plateau.  The tobacco farm, established in 1915, has 36 hectares are reserved for coffee.  Our friend, the farm’s Managing Director (appropriately named Beany), is an officially trained coffee taster and is trying to increase the farm’s coffee exports and develop the domestic market.  Desperate to visit and imagine myself as Karen Blixen on her coffee farm in Out of Africa (where is Robert Redford?), I was also interested to see how coffee gets from the plant to my mug.

Rows of Coffee Plants with Chiradzulu in the Background

Coffee Cherries

Beany showing the beans that come from the ripe cherries

We had a chance to visit the farm a few weeks ago.  It was a beautiful day, warm in the sun but with cool breezes, soft light, and big cream colored clouds.   Beany took us through the coffee fields, showing us the berries that are just beginning to turn bright cranberry red.  The berries are picked by hand and the reaping season will get into full swing in a few weeks.

The plants were three years old in the first field we visited and five years old in the second.  The plants are cut back but grow quickly.  The berries weigh down the branches and the weakest plants seem to topple over.  The spacing of the plants is very important – they must be far enough apart that the berries can get sunlight and then the rows should be far enough apart for a tractor to come through and spray.

Beany showed us the two white coffee beans inside the berry, covered in a thick coating.  The picked berries are taken to a de-skinner (my name for the machine – not sure of the official one) and the de-skinned beans tumble down into large concrete tanks where a naturally occurring bacteria eliminates the mucus coating.  From there, the beans are rinsed off and laid on burlap bags (or in concrete channels) to dry.  Left for about a week, the beans loose most of their moisture, becoming light and brittle, and turn from white to a richer parchment color.

Ripe red coffee cherries

The beans inside the ripe cherries

The de-skinning system.

Beans drying in the sun

The beans are then ready for sorting.  A coffee business oddity is that beans are sorted, graded and sold based on size.  Regardless of the flavor of the bean, the bigger the bean, the more expensive it is.  The beans are put into a large machine that has several layers of perforated metal; each layer has different sized holes, allowing the beans to fall into the different grades.  From there, people check each beans as they travel by on a conveyer belt.

Size and grading distribution machine

Most of the coffee is then bagged in 50 kg bags and exported to Europe or Japan.  Beany, however, reserves some for the local market and roasts and grinds his own.  Beany’s coffee, labeled Makoka Coffee, is widely sought after in Blantyre.  Taking advantage of the opportunity to stock up, we had made our coffee order before the tour and it was roasted while we were in the fields.

50 kg Bags

High-quality Makoka Coffee

The roasting machine was fascinating – the roaster is brought up to a high temperature, the beans are dropped in and as the heat increases again, they pop, like popcorn.  They expand with the heat and the hope is to cool the beans down again before the second pop.  The beans go through a range of smells as they are roasted  and you can pick up on the notes of honey and hazelnut.  After about 8 minutes, the beans are cooled and ready for grinding.  The whole roasting process seems to be a highly technical art form in and of itself.

The Roaster

Freshly Roasted Beans

The finished product

We enjoyed  warm cups of coffee at Beany’s home, high up on a hill, while monkeys jumped around the parked cars.  Beany showed us the case of coffee smells – small bottles that encapsulate each of the identifiable tastes and smells in coffee, everything from the predictable hazelnut and honey, to lemon and orange, and even earth and rubber.

We drove back to Blantyre, enjoying the rich smell of freshly roasted coffee and the spectacular sunset.


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Cookies, coffee, and a wee bit of History…

Saturday morning we ran a few errands (including booking a night at Mvuu game lodge for when Meghan and Kate are here!) and decided to go to Mandala House for coffee.  Mandala House was built in 1882 and is the oldest European building in Malawi.  It was built for John and Frederick Moir, Scottish brothers who had been involved in Livingstone’s missionary trip in 1875.  The brothers founded the Livingstonia Central African Mission Company that later became the African Lakes Corporation.  This building, the headquarters for the company, became known as Mandala, after John Moir’s local name.  Mandala loosely means “pools of water”, a reference to Moir’s spectacles.

Mandala House

The building is classically British colonial and looks like it could have been built in the West Indies, East Indies, or outside of Charleston, South Carolina.  It has broad verandas, wide planked hardwood floors, and large airy windows.

Side of Mandala House

The top floor hosts the Society of Malawi archives, a conference room and a small library.  Downstairs is home to a gallery displaying carvings, paintings, and other works of art by some of Malawi’s leading artists.

And then there is La Caverna, the Italian-run cafe.  Here, you can sit on the brick patio, under the trees (or under the porch if it’s raining) and sip your French press coffee, latte, or cappuccino. 

French Press

You could also have lunch and enjoy one of the daily specials, like mushroom risotto.  And if you really want to spoil yourself you could order from the daily selection of cookies, cake, or gelato.

Daily Specials

 Personally, I can recommend the peanut butter and the chocolate chunk cookies. 

Freshly Baked Cookies

The staff here is warm and welcoming and doesn’t seem to mind that we camped out for multiple cups of coffee and multiple orders of cookies.

Really happy about the cookies


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