Expedition to Kenya
 

Early this year, I visited my family’s coffee farm in Nairobi, and it was a journey with many surprises. From the moment I first reached Kenya, I was surprised by the very red soil, since I hadn’t seen anything like it before. As a settled in, I found the the people were friendly and welcoming, including the Masai tribe who embraced me with their culture. Most importantly, the Kenyan coffee was outstanding! 

I enjoyed the opportunity to meet with the Masai tribe.

I enjoyed the opportunity to meet with the Masai tribe.

There are many coffee farmers in Kenya who own farms that have been passed through the generations, dating back to the British Empire, and I looked forward to exploring the farmlands. My friend Simon had arranged for me to visit a farmer in Kiambu, a short trip from Nairobi. 

The 45-minute drive through the countryside was absolutely beautiful, and I saw many varieties of corn, wheat, and, of course, coffee. But I had never seen that many types of coffee! The elevation raised quickly, and I could feel my lungs struggling for oxygen. As I got closer to Kiambu and the elevation topped off, I eventually adapted to the change in air pressure. Kiambu’s highest elevation is 5,643 ft (1720 m), or roughly one mile up in the air. I can’t imagine how farmers do such hard work in those conditions, and I admire and respect them for it.

Women are the backbone of Kenya’s coffee production.

Women are the backbone of Kenya’s coffee production.

Declan’s brother admires some of their freshly packed beans.

Declan’s brother admires some of their freshly packed beans.

After arriving in Kiambu, the aroma of coffee led me to a house, owned by the farmer who was expecting me. He introduced himself as Declan and we spoke about the history of his farm. He told me his father was a headmaster at a Catholic school and said, “Starting in 1959, each month, my father would receive a salary, and each month he would purchase a plot of land. My father hired workers to cut down the trees and replace them with coffee trees.” Declan has been helping his father since he was 8 years old, and now he’s 50. 

He told me that despite the urbanization of Kiambu and Nairobi, he will never sell his farm, saying, “without coffee, there is no happiness.”

I couldn’t agree with Declan more. 

 
Declan was a kind and welcoming host.

Declan was a kind and welcoming host.

This trip had another surprise for me. I found out the Kenyan coffee business can sometimes be a dangerous one, as criminals tend to hide in the countryside, where crops like coffee are produced. During my visit, on 15 January, there was a terrorist attack at the DusitD2 Hotel complex in Nairobi, and I found out that the attacker’s safe house was in Kiambu, right near Declan’s farm where I was visiting. 

There can clearly be challenges in bringing certain coffees to our customers, but I feel strongly about supporting farmers like Declan, who care about the land and their coffee. I’m willing to take risks like the one that led me to meet Declan and his family, all so I can provide a cup of happiness to as many people as possible.

- Manveer Singh

 
Amanda Seymour
Expedition to Brazil
 

Manveer Singh traveled to several coffee-producing areas of the world to research and learn more about the production process. He reflects on his trip to Brazil in 2016 and how it affected his outlook on the direction of Maharajah Coffee. 

The coffee farm was beautiful and lush.

The coffee farm was beautiful and lush.

My travels took me to the region of Espirito Santo in Brazil, and I was amazed by the coffee and farmers there. When I first arrived at the coffee farm, I thought I had made a mistake and that it was a winery because of the way it looked, but the aroma was much too strong to be a winery–it was indeed the smell of coffee, and I was in the right place. 

I saw farmers carrying 100-pound bags on their backs in the hot, dry weather. This was clearly harvest season. The farmers saw me, knowing I was a tourist with my bag covered in different countries’ flags and my camera. One farmer shouted, “Oi!” to acknowledge me and welcome me to the farm. The farmer then came over to speak with me; he was tall with an Indiana Jones hat and introduced himself as Ernesto. 

Ernesto showed me all around the farm and introduced me to their processes: sun drying the coffee, washing the beans, then drying them again. I saw how they grow the coffee trees, then eventually cut them down and grow new trees. This was a fascinating process, but very hard work, and I have a lot of respect for the farmers. I had even more respect for them after learning that not only was their work back-breaking, it was also difficult to earn a decent living. 

Beans drying in the sun

Beans drying in the sun

A farmer friend of Ernesto told me about the unfair coffee brokerage practices he has experienced, which keeps him from receiving fair pay for the coffee his farm produces. He was visibly saddened to tell me that sometimes he doesn’t have enough to pay his employees, and Ernesto mentioned he encounters the same problem. Ernesto’s workers sometimes have to wait until the following month for him to be able to pay their wages. 

On this trip, I firmly decided that Maharajah Coffee would work directly with farmers instead of having a third party, or broker.  I saw it as an equal opportunity for both myself and the farmers: if they succeed, so do I, and when I turn around and give back to the farmers, the pattern continues and everyone benefits. When the farmers don’t have to worry about how they will make a living, they can grow their coffee with love. When coffee is produced with love, you can taste it in every sip. I hope that you will be able to taste the love in Maharajah Coffee.

- Manveer Singh

 
 
Amanda Seymour