From Vumba with Love – Magic in a Cup


Shall we meet for coffee? Will it be a smooth mellow latte or a frothy cappuccino with chocolate powder topping? Maybe a velvety flat white or the good old American. Perhaps just a pure creamy espresso. A carrot cake on the side? A friend or two catching up. A date. A business meeting. Closing chapter of a book. No beverage has been at the centre of a wider range of human interaction, social or otherwise, than coffee. That black aromatic sweetly bitter magic in a cup.

Far away in the misty rolling Hwangura hills under the majestic Bvumba Mountain, 84 year old Freddie Chitsora wakes up early, walking stick in hand to wade through the lush green coffee trees heavy with beautiful burgundy purplish cherries ready to pick. It is harvest time. This is the product of humans living in harmony with nature. The Chitsoras keep some rabbits whose droppings mixed with organic compost material and cow dung fertilised the plants. Water solar pumped from a nearby reservoir irrigates the plants in-between rain seasons. The bees high in the trees along the coffee fields pollinate the flowers that produce the coffee cherries. Perennially running water from a spring in a hill behind the homestead is redirected towards the coffee washing station.

After Freddie’s final inspection, everyone in the homestead plus a few additional hands hired from surrounding communities have to get to work and go through 5,000 trees each carrying around 2,000 cherries. Over a period of two weeks a handful of workers labour through the field under the supervision of Freddie to handpick every ripe cherry. Back at the homestead, Gogo Chitsora – Freddie’s wife, is at the washing station to receive the cherries. Gogo Chitsora is responsible for quality control at this critical stage of coffee processing. She is the wet processing expert. The wet-process produces the cleaner, brighter and fruitier coffee and best suits the superior Zimbabwean SL28 and Catimor varietal coffee bean. Gogo Chitsora watches over the washing and de-pulping processes with meticulous scrutiny. De-pulping is the removal of the coffee bean from the cherry. Everything in that latte or cappuccino comes down to what happens here. 

The clear blue sky Mediterranean-like climate conditions of September in Zimbabwe are perfect for drying the pulped bean. Gogo Chitsora must again monitor this drying process to keep the moisture content of the coffee to around 12 percent before sending to the mill for final processing and grading. At the mill, the coffee is received by the resident Q-grader and Liquorer, Caiphas Mlambo. A man with a rare coffee palate. As is the case with all the years before, hooray, the Chitsoras get 80 percent of their coffee into the specialty AAA, AA and AB grades.

With Mlambo’s seal of approval, the green coffee is ready to travel across continents for the final 15-minute process under 200°C heat of the roaster’s furnace. Crack and pop, the aromatic sweet flavours of Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands are unleashed into the world of the discerning coffee lover from Milan to New York and from Melbourne to London. The magic of the black liquid in a cup. The next time you order yours, remember the magic begins long before that all familiar sound of pressured water pushing through the espresso machine to extract the black gold.