Mount Elgon is a massive peak split nearly in two by the border of Uganda and Kenya. The “mountain” itself is more an enormous expanse of successive plateaus that float dramatically above the surrounding valley floor. It is also home to a dense patchwork of farming communities growing some of the best organic coffee in Africa.
Sipi Falls, named after the mountain’s most famous waterfall just down the road, is a centralized wet mill located in the Kapchorwa district that buys and processes cherry from 8,000 organic and diversified farms across the northern part of the mountain. The sheer volume of quality coffee produced by this single wet mill is a testament to the truly ideal conditions of elevation, biological wealth, and human experience that abound between the farmers and Sipi Falls’ management team. Not to mention the ingenious business model itself, which, more than 20 years after its founding, continues to be a leader in affordable, certified coffee of the highest quality on the continent. The wet mill was Africa’s first certified organic producer, in 2002.
Farmers across Mt. Elgon for years have been (and still are) accustomed to rudimentary home processing techniques. The vast majority of coffee coming off the mountain is pulped in tiny batches, often on borrowed equipment, and fermented in a bucket or a nylon bag prior to being tarp-dried on the ground, or at best on a mesh screen a few inches above the patio. The team at Kawacom, the export company that built the Sipi Falls mill, recognized greater potential in the landscape than previously seen, and set about to capture that potential at scale.
Sipi Falls facilitates retrieval of cherry, mechanical de-mucilaging, fermentation, washing, patio pre-drying, mechanical drying and conditioning at their mill property at 1800m elevation. In the on-site cupping lab they taste every finished batch immediately after drying completes, and then again multiple weeks later to verify the final rested quality for export. The result is not only a clean, exemplary expression of the gorgeous Elgon terroir, but a shelf-stable green coffee whose delicate attributes resist degradation. And profitability follows: the qualities produced by scaling and centralizing processing mean a significantly higher cherry price to farmers; not to mention relieving them of the extended labor, risk, and expense of processing and storing coffee at the household level. The wet mill also recycles its wastewater through a series of filtered lagoons and maintains a large organic nursery for the benefit of participating farmers.
Sipi Falls’ coffees are rich and delicious but also capable of surprising florality and mandarin-like sweetness. It's an incredible experience to see such a prime terroir be unlocked through quality processing, where just a matter of years ago it was often lost in transit. Sipi Falls doesn’t stop there, however. The handful of experimental-process microlots they produce each year from their best farmers are something different entirely, and stand easily in comparison with the most gorgeous coffees anywhere in the world.