riding where the border is
Rwanda, the land known for a thousand hills has as many and more stories. As new stories develop, those that are telling them ride on the border of history and the present, the physical and cultural borders known to its sister nations like The Democratic Republic of Congo. Often called in short, The DRC, or The Congo, it is a Central African country whose tale has two sides from the great lake that borders Rwanda and The Congo, Lake Kivu.
The first tale its rich natural resources including coffee which make its land a beauty for coffee cherry. On the other hand, it’s littered with a history of corruption – sexual violence included. Eight years ago, a counter agent, by the means of Twin Trading – a trading organization dealing in coffee and the export of it, to the benefit of everyone, farmer included – began bringing coffee from The Congo to the world. Because of their efforts and a woman inspired by the artistic concepts that coffee lovingly instigates, the duality of The Congo is being retold with coffee as an impetus for a coffee culture revolution.
The first time I meet Christina, it’s on a cold, cloudy day after copious amounts of showers have given the pavement of New York. a well watered aesthetic. We meet in a coffee shop, that can be considered iconic for New York coffee culture, a café that doubles as a bookstore – the Housing Works Bookstore Café. We both order a well-known comfort drink – a cappuccino – and we begin a conversation exploring coffee, culture and the concepts that it inspires. .
Over a month later, we speak again. This time it’s because of the actual impending launch of Kivu Coffee, a curated coffee concept inspired from the Democratic Republic of Congo. This makes us have a passion in common: whereas her impetus for creation stems from a specific coffee place – The Congo – through visual arts, my creation stems from the cultural places of the world through the specific lens of coffee. As women, with like- minded passions for seeing from the outside in, coffee could only be a beginning, a starting point for something bigger, much bigger.
C.: I’m jumping right in. Tell me, why The Democratic Republic of Congo?
Christina Hardy: You just get drawn to certain things in life. You ask, ‘why is it this place, why am I doing this? I was working with a Congolese artist and other African artists. And, I was getting inspired by all these different places and the things that people were doing. On the other side, I was drinking a lot of Rwanda coffee, East African coffee. And I was like, I got to look into The Congo. There wasn’t much there but the agriculture and the potential was there.
c.: Drawn in by the place and with an eye on art, how did coffee become a viewfinder for you?
c.h.: Post genocide, coffee communities really helped restore a lot of the economy.
Coffee in a war torn country was helping men and women work together. I thought it would be so beautiful and important for The Congo to look into what was happening with gender and social through coffee farming. I found Twin Trading, they did a beautiful coffee with Sainsbury, a big chain. I couldn’t find that project but I just started buying everything I could find from Congo, it wasn’t all amazing, but some was.
c.: Take me from the point of beginning to find some amazing coffee to furthering the conversation from The Congo?
c.h.: I read an article, about how in The Congo since they have so many extra hurdles -civil wars, instability and exporting issues, a lot of male farmers would take small boats at night through Kivu and trading on the black market. Thousands of farmers would lose their lives on this journey every year. These are people farming with reduced crops, leaving children behind and they themselves have limited rights.
c.: There are a lot of intimate difficulties with The Congo and I am intrigued with your exploration of it through coffee.
c.h.: This area has a lot of challenges. As I got into it, I thought I’d love to do a project that brings my background into that industry, visual photography, storytelling and branding. I could do something really small there that talks about the people the culture and explores all the beautiful and less conflicted war things and focuses on the strengths and beauty there.
c.: I love that focus; its endearing.
c.h.: Eastern Congo Initative (ECI) and Twin Trading are helping build the industry’s foundation. It’s at a tipping point where the quality can be great. This is going to be a hugely traded coffee country [in the future.]
c. How is coffee from The Congo getting from Lake Kivu to the consumer?
The coffee, sourced third party will evolve into direct trade. I don’t want to get boxed into Fair Trade. We pay farmers higher than Fair Trade. Twin Trading has base in Latin America, an interest in women’s rights and sustainability – they are introducing me to the farmers. With them, they hit on very important angles for me.
c.: That’s a beautiful future to keep an eye on. In this years’ barista coffee competitions, there was a coffee, that came from near Lake Kivu. Have you visited?
It feels so strange. I feel kind of like a kid on Christmas, like to be able to go. Christina will go for Saveur Du Kivu. For the project I want to commission artists to come to The Congo and create work inspired it. If you’re a photographer you can contribute organically, shoot what you want to shoot. If you’re a musician you can curate music based upon what you’re inspired by. The concept is about what inspires an artist from the Congo. I’m doing it from outside of the coffee industry.
c.: Can you share more about this ‘outside take?’
c.h.. I think it’s a huge differentiation, it’s using coffee to tell stories to connect, to almost simplify the connection. I’m not getting too geeky about it, but I’m going to go into the importance of quality, culture. Where coffee grows happens to be some of the richest cultures in the world. There are so many things that people want to learn, so I’m focused on that. I love the idea that it’s a nomadic project, its always going to be going back to The Congo.
Kivu Coffee is coffee as a boutique product, a concept curated to promote local farmers, local beauty and local arts. Specialty coffee is indebted to Muungano Cooperative, and its up to 4,000 members for this coffee from the great Lake of Kivu, as part of Lake Kivu’s reemergence.
All images appear courtesy of Kivu. coffee’s curated Instagram feed.