For those of you who still remember me, hello! For those who don't, or who had tried to erase me from their minds, an even louder hello!
My post-G!ro time saw me travel to Sierra Leone to lead a group of British and Sierra Leonian volunteers as part of the ICS programme. Working in Freetown's slums with at-risk youth, sex workers and the unemployed, the work was challenging but rewarding, and in many areas did indeed lead to positive, sustainable changes.
Which is all well and good, but what does this have to do with coffee, I hear you ask. Sierra Leone has long grown and exported coffee, never in any great volume, or to much acclaim. Post civil-war, there have been great efforts to make the production ethical and beneficial, with examples such as this clearly pointing to a positive future for those in the eastern, coffee production areas, which were most devastated by the war. However, this has not lead to a domestic market for the stuff, with coffee in Sierra Leone, if you can find it at all, guaranteed to be a weak cup of Nescafe, lots of sugar, and powdered milk. Despite the large Lebanese community (and NGO workers), tea, or the plentiful cheap beer are far more popular.
Due to the ebola epidemic, I was recently transferred to Senegal, and coupled with an improvement in the food (sorry Sierra Leone), less power cuts, more heat and flies, there was coffee!
Senegal offers a slight difference from the usual colonial model of African countries producing raw products, and the rest of the world refining and then enjoying them. Not only does Senegal produce its own unique form of coffee, but it actually drinks the stuff as well. Cafe Touba, named after the 2nd largest city here (site of the biggest mosque in West Africa and a very important centre for Sufi Islam) and site of its creation, sees the coffee beans roasted with pepper corns, which gives the eventual drink a spicy and warming kick. Plenty of sugar is added of course, it wouldn't be Senegal without dentist pleasing amounts of sugar in almost everything, and there you have it. A coffee that has been grown, roasted and consumed domestically.