When green coffee arrives in burlap bags each day for roasting at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Seattle, they have already traveled thousands of miles over land and sea. Each journey is unique, but perhaps none quite as extraordinary as Starbucks’ latest small-lot coffee from the eastern region of Democratic Republic of Congo.
DRC has some of the most fertile land in the world and was once a prolific coffee producer. But market access disappeared through decades of war and turmoil, halting a thriving coffee industry and leaving farmers with no infrastructure to produce and sell coffee. After a peace deal with rebel groups was signed in 2013, stability is growing in the once fragile area and determined smallholder farmers have banded into co-ops to build the trade. Lake Kivu, a massive freshwater lake along the Rwandan border, provides a natural ecosystem well-suited to the cultivation of heirloom Bourbon coffee trees.
Konrad Brits, CEO of Falcon Coffees, has partnered with Starbucks for nearly 15 years to help cultivate relationships in coffee growing regions around the world, including the remote DRC region.
“I know of no tougher environments in the coffee world to work in,” Brits says. “But these Reserve coffees demonstrate the potential of this region to produce truly specialty grade coffees. They show the coffee world that these coffees are worth investing in.”
Beginning July 31, Starbucks Reserve Eastern D.R. Congo Lake Kivu coffee will serve as the foundation for the Roastery’s latest specialty beverage, Pepper Nitro with a Jerky Twist, available for a limited time only at the Seattle Reserve Roastery.
Raegan Powell from Starbucks R&D team helped to create the new beverage.
“Our inspiration was centered around the characteristics of the Congo coffee. The sweet and herbal spice notes naturally paired well with savory ingredients,” Powell says.
Pepper Nitro with a Jerky Twist takes freshly ground Congo coffee, slow-steeped as cold brew and served on draft through a nitro tap, then infused with a sweet and savory malted fennel black pepper syrup. The beverage is topped with a layer of honey cold foam and finished with a sprinkling of cracked pink peppercorn and a bamboo skewer of natural beef jerky made with grass-fed beef.
“With the first sip, you get a hint of the honey cold foam and the aroma of the pink ground peppercorn. The real surprise is the salty savoriness of the jerky garnish, an exciting complement to the smooth and sweet finish of the nitro cold brew experience,” she says.
The Starbucks Reserve Roastery has been a source of innovation and inspiration since it opened in 2014, from Affogato to Whiskey Barrel-Aged Cold Brew.
“We want to celebrate our passion for coffee, but also create the unexpected with flavors that we know Roastery customers love,” she says.
Starbucks—working with the Eastern Congo Initiative to rebuild the country’s coffee industry—purchased its first crop from Congo in late 2014 and has since continued to buy coffee beans from the region. Starbucks has since showcased the region’s coffee with special limited-time offerings including Starbucks Reserve Gravitas and Starbucks Reserve Eastern D.R. Congo Lake Kivu, which was introduced in 2016 and back for a limited time at the Roastery. This summer Starbucks is also offering its fourth Congo coffee, Starbucks Reserve D.R. Congo Kawa Kabuya, available online and at 1,700 Starbucks stores in the U.S. and Canada, while supplies last.