Mount Elgon is a massive peak split nearly in two by the border of Uganda and Kenya. The “mountain” itself, now an extinct shield volcano, 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 vast majority of coffee processed at Sipi Falls is fully washed but starting in 2016 the quality team at the mill started tinkering with honey and natural processed cherry. These coffees trickled out into the world at first with very little fanfare, in what could only be considered a side project for Sipi Falls; however, with a few years under their belt, there is now an annual portfolio of honey, natural, and custom washed coffees that masterfully showcase the full spectrum of Elgon’s high-elevation terroir. The naturals in particular can be some of the best in Africa, which, with Ethiopia nearby, is saying a lot.
Kaproron is one of the northernmost communities from which Sipi Falls collects. Cherries from Kaproron have been used in honey and natural processing since the beginning of the project, and in the natural process, are floated for density upon delivery and then sundried in a single layer in the flock of raised beds constructed on an unused patch of mill property, on a southwestern facing slope. Sipi has a dedicated staff tending to the naturals, including their quality manager, who cups and approves every lot at least once just after drying, and again months later to check that the conditioning is stable. These experimental lots are beloved at Sipi Falls, and (as with quality teams all over the world with a passion for the new and delicious) are by far the most deliberated. And thanks to the added uniqueness and cup quality, farmers selected for these microlot programs see the highest bonuses of anyone selling cherry to Sipi Falls.
Sipi Falls’ naturals are rich and concentrated, with sweetness profiles like strawberry syrup and balsamic vinegar. They tend to be intensely complex when fresh and increasingly more approachable as they rest. It is 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.