(Update: As of 2013, the family that owned Terranova made the difficult economic decision to cease farming coffee. More here.)
I have commented on two previous Starbucks Black Apron selections (Sulawesi Kopi Kampung and Ethiopia Gemadro Estate), so I may as well keep going. The latest Black Apron coffee is Terranova Estate from Zambia.
Recall that the Black Apron Exclusives are limited offerings that are described by Starbucks as being rare, exotic, distinctive, or unique in some way. Farmers receive a cash award of $15,000 for community projects.
As far as I can recall, this is the only coffee I’ve seen from Zambia. This country lags behind the big players on the African coffee scene, such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Tanzania. Zambia is a land-locked country, and at times its coffee has suffered from transportation problems getting to and sitting at port. Coffee is not a traditional crop in Zambia, which first began exporting only about 15 years ago in an effort to diversify the economy. The majority (greater than 95%) of Zambian coffee comes from the 30 to 50 large commercial coffee farms. About 40% of Zambian coffee is grown in the northeastern part of the country, the southern Mazabuka region accounts for about just under 50%.
So, what about the Terranova Estate? Terranova is one of the large estates, at 1000 hectares, of which about 20% is in coffee. It supports a small village of 300 people year-round, and employs 2,500 people during peak harvest time. Terranova is located in the upper Kaleya Valley near the town of Mazabuka. The altitude is around 1000-1200 meters, at the low end of the arabica growing range.
During the European colonial era, when Zambia was known as Northern Rhodesia, large farms run by whites produced food for local consumption. Many European plantation owners left the country when it gained independence in 1964. The Street family had been farming in the area for decades when they acquired Terranova in the mid-1980s. In addition to other crops, including cut flowers for export, they began farming coffee with the help of financing from a number of sources, including the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, and the EU’s Export Development Programme.
The eco-friendliness of the estate is a bit hard to assess. Because coffee farming is relatively “new” in Zambia, the more modern techniques of pulp composting, water conservation, and natural pest control are often practiced. Southern Zambia has a very prolonged dry season, so coffee requires irrigation. In the case of Terranova, water is provided by at least one dam on the Kaleya River that was built by the Street family, as well as other advanced irrigation systems. However, there was nothing on the Terranova web site regarding their farming practices or sustainability measures. The site does say that the “Estate contributes heavily to the wildlife management of the Lower Zambezi National Park.”
The export revenue as well as seasonal jobs provided by coffee is important to Zambia. Zambia is one of the poorest nations in the entire world. Although I’m uncertain about biodiversity preservation measures at Terranova, there is a connection between poverty and environmental exploitation — and fighting poverty can preserve ecosystems. Terranova provides many jobs, and has constructed a school on the estate that has over 200 students. It may very well be that this enterprise is a worthy cause to support.
As far as the coffee itself, Coffee Review pretty much flunked coffee from Terranova in 1999, calling it flat and woody. But according to Sweet Maria’s, 1999 was not a good year for Zambian coffee. Things have apparently improved. Although not a fan of dark roasts, the Star[bucks]ling said that the Starbucks Terranova was incredibly complex, and fruity flavors emerging in stages as it cooled: blueberry, orange, apricot, and plum, with blueberry dominating. He said it was “very African, like a fine, rich, wine,” and quite impressive.