Lunji Estate was founded during Tanzania’s colonial era, in 1893, and its coffee history has seen it pass through several owners and managers over time. Being directly at the foot of the Mbeya mountain range, the farm boasts a breathtaking ambience defined by its spectacular view and climate.
In 1898 the first coffee trees were planted on the farm, and the block of land was simply called ‘Mbeya block’ by its first owner, a German settler. The settler returned to Europe at the end of the WWI, leaving the management of the farm to the German Colonial Administrator, who ran the farm through to the end of 1971. The farm then passed into the hands of an Indian family until 1994. At some point during these years, the farm was given the name ‘Lunji,’ which the current owners believe arises from “Ilunji” an ancient name in Safwa (the local tribal language) for a tree that is common in the region. While the word is not used anymore, older people still remember the word as the name of the tree.
In 1994 Clemens Moier and Thomas Plattner purchased the farm from the previous owner, who had abandoned the farm for many years due to illness. The farm was in a terrible state, since no management had taken place for several years. Work on the farm had stalled, buildings had crumbled down. Clemens and his wife, Stella, agreed to manage the farm and bring it back to life, but they had their work cut out for them. In 1994, the garden was a thick bush, with the grass standing 1 meter high. The family still tells stories of 3 meter long cobras in the shed and puff-adders sunbathing on the windows of the farmhouse. They had to rebuild almost from scratch. Some coffee plots were entirely replanted, some needed the gaps to be filled, and everything needed a decent pruning.
Stella, being a Tanzanian and speaking over 5 tribal languages, was able to develop a very close relationship with the local community, which proved to be crucial for the wellbeing of the farm in numerous situations. Clemens originates from a farming community in Bavaria, Germany and was previously working for the German Aid Development program. His decision not to return to his family’s dairy farm but rather to apply his technical skills to Lunji has kept the machines running every day. Together they have brought the farm back to life. The first year saw them yielding only 7 tonnes of green coffee. This went up to an average 80 tonnes by 2002 and a bumper crop of 250 tonnes in 2004.
The farm is currently focusing on quality, as Stella and Clemens know that specialty coffee production is on the rise in Europe. Currently around 60% of the farm’s total production is sold as specialty, but their dream is to increase this even further.
In addition to coffee, Lunji Estate also grows avocados and rears poultry. Both products are sold at the local market. Between these activities and coffee cultivation, the farm provides employment for 27 people year-round. The farm offers additional employment to the surrounding community every season, both to work in the farm and also the Central Processing Unit (or CPU as wet mills are called in Tanzania). The CPU alone takes on around 200 men and women during the peak of the season.
The coffee varieties grown at Lunji are mostly the traditional ones that had been planted in the 60’s. Bourbon selections such as the SL28, some Kent and some Blue Mountain Bourbons are the most common. In recent years Moier has introduced some more exotic varieties, such as Pacamara (0.7 hectares), Yellow and Red Catuaí (1.3 hectares) and Catimor Hybrids like Ruiru11 and Compact (7 hectares), released by the Coffee Research Institutes of Tanzania and Kenya.
Currently, all coffee on the farm is processed using the fully washed method. In former times, when there was no demand for naturals (and water was abundant), this was simply the most efficient way to process. This being said, Stella and Clemens son, Paul, who will take over Quality Control on the farm when he finishes his studies in Agricultural Sciences in Berlin, has recently experimented with Naturals and Honeys. Initial results were good, though Paul admits that some tweaking is needed here and there in order to scale the project. The aim is to be able to produce high quality Natural and Honey lots by 2020, by which time he hopes that the Tanzanian Coffee Board will open up more towards such ventures. Paul and his young wife, who will also accompany him home, hope to help his parents transform the farm even further, to start new projects on the ground, such as controlled fermentation, and others that are not directly related to coffee. Paul says, “At Lunji we see that we need to re-think our system, improve our coffee, maybe even reduce our coffee production area, and substitute with other things that may be beneficial for the coffee and the farm in general.”
After being selectively hand-picked, coffee is sorted to remove all debris and damaged cherries before being pulped on the same day using the farm’s 4 disc Mckinnon Pulper, which is electrically powered. In case of a power shut-down during the pulping hours, a 60 year old Lister engine powers the same pulper in order that the coffee is pulped immediately after picking.
The coffee is then conveyed to the fermentation tanks using fresh water, where it ferments for around 24 hours. The parchment is then fully washed before being washed again through the grading channel. The grading channel has several wooden stoppers at different heights. In this way the coffee is again sorted, whereby the floaters and possible debris will pass over the high-set stoppers while the heavier beans will remain at the top of the channel, held in place. This separation ensures a further quality control.
After fermentation and washing, the coffee is dried on raised beds for between 9 to 13 days, depending on the weather. During this time, the coffee is regularly turned and sorted to remove any damaged beans and debris.
The coffee is eventually rested at a dry mill some 25km away from the farm. Upon milling, it is sorted according to screen size and density. Grading is as PB, AA, A, B, C, E, F, AF, TT, UG. In 2017/18 52% of the farm’s crop was defined as AA, which is a very good percentage and speaks to the cultivation methods. This particular microlot we purchased is an AA.
Environmental stewardship is important for the Moier family. Already, around 35% of the farm is under conservation. Hoping to improve the situation for flora and fauna, they have also undergone a project to reforest sections of the Mbeya Range Forest Reserve, which partially borders the farm and which is also the water catchment area for the whole community.
Equally, Lunji sees itself very much part of the wider community. Most of the farm’s workers have worked on the farm for more than two decades, and a number of them are descendants of people who had worked on the farm in former years. Lunji pays wages according to the skills and position of the employee, which is above the legal minimum wage in all cases. The fact that the workers stick with the farm through thick and thin (as been many times in the past) is evidence of a healthy relationship.
Paul is a big believer in innovation and education with regards to coffee. He wants to begin coffee quality classes both for workers on the farm and for farmers from the area. The Mwankumbi Group is a project he co-founded with neighboring farmers in 2017. The project started when a buyer from Germany visited Lunji, at which point Paul invited smallholder farmers from the region to bring some of their own coffee for a cupping. While cupping and talking about coffee, the farmers expressed their desire to form a group that could collectively market and sell their coffee. The main goal was to gain better prices for the coffee, since the quality is already very good. Many meetings followed, and Paul was elected as the chairman by the members to lead the group and give it a face on the international market. After registering the group and setting up the structure for doing so, the group collected 13 tonnes of parchment in 2017/18 and brought it to the mill and auction. Lunji Estate supported the group by providing the office for the meetings, the vehicle for registration procedures and offering the warehouse for coffee collection. They hope to continue support for future harvest seasons.