Nicknamed ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’ on account of the friendliness of its people, Malawi is a small land-locked nation bordered by Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia. Formed on the shores of the great Lake Malawi which stretches over a fifth of the country's total area, Malawi's place in the Great Rift Valley - the point of collision of two of the earth's tectonic plates - has created this unique landscape of deep valleys, towering peaks, plateaus and plains.
April's Bean of the Month comes from a sliver of land between the southern tip of the great lake and the border shared with Mozambique. Here, much of the land is given over to the Namizimu Forest Reserve national park and patches of indigenous forest extend into the Pamwamba estate's two properties where they sit nestled in the foothills of Mt Msondole, on rolling hillsides where three streams flow down from the peak.
Maintaining this biodiversity in their farms is part of the Pamwamba estate's coffee producing philosophy, which centres care for the land and the people who work it. Both estates are Rainforest Alliance certified, with circular agriculture programs in place to reduce stress on resources and improve the soil and environment where possible.
Catimor and SL28 coffee trees - chosen for their flavour and natural resistance to disease - are grown in the shade of Khyana Nyasica (African Red Mahogany) as part of the estate's native tree planting program. Khyana Nyasica, like all other mahogany, is very useful and valuable for building - heavy harvest without equivalent replanting has left this species vulnerable to extinction. This shade growing has an additional benefit of reducing water and pesticide use, through reducing evaporation and encouraging the presence of natural predators to control pests.
The coffee harvest is processed on site, which allows Pamwamba Estate to recycle and filter the water used in the pulping process before reintroducing it into the ecosystem. During pruning and maintenance of the coffee trees, leaf litter and green waste is composted along with the pulp and shallow buried in trenches between the rows of coffee trees. This composting method both improves the soil and reduces erosion.
A focus on environmental responsibility has a flow-on effect on coffee quality. By controlling the processing of their harvest, Pamwamba Estate is able to ensure the highest level of care is taken to create a clean, sweet coffee with minimal defects which are another source of coffee waste. The planting in of native trees amongst the coffee crop for shade makes machine harvesting impossible, and so the coffee cherries are picked by hand. Each tree is revisited between 10 and 14 times per season in order to pick each cherry at peak ripeness.
This labour intensive process is recognised by the estates, who look after their workers through the provision of solar powered accommodation, a primary school and a medical clinic - which also serves the wider community.
Malawi is relatively small in terms of African coffee producing nations – exporting 540 metric tonnes of beans, placed into perspective when compared to the 30 000 tonnes produced by its neighbour Tanzania. Coffee is still a small business here, where tea, tobacco and macadamia dominate trade. But in this stage of growth there is opportunity, and Pamwamba Estate is taking that chance to do things their way, sustainably and responsibly, so that the industry can grow into a generational business to serve the community and country for years to come.
This intersection of dedication to coffee excellence and environmental care has produced an exceptional coffee - with flavours of sweet peach and milk chocolate, tropical fruit aromatics and a honeydew finish. Brewed black the Pamwamba is delicately delicious and beautifully balanced, while in a white coffee milk chocolate comes to the fore, with the fruit flavours becoming a rich syrupy sweetness with plenty of body.
This April Bean of the Month is a strictly limited edition coffee from a small harvest, so we recommend getting in quick, because when it's gone, it's all gone!