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Tanzania Blackburn Estate, Pick of the Harvest

Tanzania Coffee Farm

 

Michael Gehrken is an unlikely coffee farmer. Born in Germany, he originally wanted to be an artist, trained as an economist (at his father’s insistence), and worked as an art dealer. He fell in love with East Africa when he first visited in 1971, aged 19, and in 1983 moved to Tanzania for good to turn around his father’s neglected estate. Back then Blackburn’s coffee trees were entirely overgrown and a troop of baboons had moved into the main house! He had no farming experience, no Swahili and shakey English: “I didn’t know the difference between wheat and barley, or coffee and tea.”

However, at Blackburn, Michael has made both a science and an art of coffee farming. His attention to detail is remarkable – he has painstaking records of every piece of data you could wish for; he uses cutting edge GPS technology to map each lot; he zealously micromanages every stage of production; he has an economist’s understanding of market forces. And at the same time, he has created and nurtured an incredibly beautiful, pesticide-free environment where nature happily exists alongside agriculture – what Michael calls a “green corridor” between the exposed brown earth of neighbouring farms. Michael Gehrken

Blackburn is now one of the local area’s main employers, with around 80 permanent workers - swelling to up to 150 at peak harvest time - and four highly trained local foremen. Along with other partners, Blackburn has funded health and education projects in the local village of Mangola Juu. Rather than paying its pickers per the bucket, Blackburn offers a decent fixed daily salary, and limits its pickers to three 20L buckets a day. This ensures that the harvest is meticulous – only red cherries are selected – and pickers are not over-worked.

Blackburn is insecticide free – in other words, very close to producing fully organic coffee – and 80% of its land is reserved for nature. The estate lies along the southern border of the Ngorongoro Crater, a haven for wildlife and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Animals are entirely free to wander beyond the unfenced park boundaries – lion, buffalo, elephant, leopard and many other species roam through the coffee and forest areas of the farm at night. There are also two large troops of baboons numbering more than 100 individuals that occasionally roost overnight in the large mature trees at the north-west boundary of the coffee area, though efforts are always made to discourage these animals as they eat the coffee!

This is Blackburn Estate's highest quality lot produced this year, hence the tag "Pick of the Harvest". Blackburn Estate has always been one of my most favorite coffees, and this year's crop is the best I've had in a long while. The acidity has a green apple tartness with hints of grape. The wet aroma of the grounds holds scents of molasses, grape, and raisin. The cup has a slightly spicy edge that reminds me of cinnamon with very nice chocolate and caramel and molasses notes. Sometimes, depending on how the coffee is brewed, it has an almost caramel apple-like finish. Takes cream nicely.

 


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