With a deep connection to the coffee lands of Africa, a new roasting company called Mbingo Mountain Coffee is helping coffee drinkers in central Maine to reach new heights of freshness and flavor.
The immigrant-owned startup launched this month with a focus on coffees grown by smallholder farmers in numerous African countries. The continent holds a special place in the heart of company founder and roaster Churchill Elangwe, who grew up in Limbe, Cameroon, on the coffee and cocoa farms owned by his parents.
Today, in an electric Coffee Crafters Artisan X-e fluid bed roaster installed in the garage of his home in Waterville, Elangwe roasts coffees grown in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Uganda that he sources primarily through importers Falcon Coffees and Genuine Origin.
“I initially wanted to start with Cameroon coffee, but couldn’t due to the civil war that’s been going on there for over six years,” Elangwe told Daily Coffee News. “I specifically chose [Falcon and Genuine Origin] after learning about their focus on sustainability and traceability, and the fact that they can access coffee from the various origins that I am interested in.”
An electrical engineer by trade, Elange’s career included a stint back in Cameroon, in the small mountainous town of Mbingo in the Northwest Region.
“I always told myself if I ever start a coffee company, I will name it Mbingo Mountain,” Elangwe, whose family still operates coffee farms in Cameroon, told DCN. “There is something special about [Mbingo]. When you find yourself there, it feels different. It feels like a whole different world on its own, and the coffee is incredibly good. That’s the kind of experience I want anyone who tastes my product for the first time to have.”
Now Mbingo Mountain’s coffees are making their way through Waterville, a city of about 15,000 people along the banks of the Kennebec River that’s home to both Colby College and Thomas College.
“Maine is a beautiful state. The people here in Maine remind me so much of the people in my local community in Cameroon,” said Elangwe. “When you first enter Maine from New Hampshire, the welcome sign says, ‘Welcome home.’ Who wouldn’t want to live in an environment like that?”
After 13 years as a coffee-loving electrician, Elangwe starting teaching himself how to roast, at first by experimenting with smaller equipment while visiting professional roasting facilities in the United States and abroad during his travels.
“Coffee is something I was always passionate about from a very young age, and I am the kind of guy that if I am really into something, I do what it takes to master it,” said Elangwe. “I keep researching to gain more knowledge. At least for now, my clients are happy and satisfied with the quality I am serving.”
As Elangwe grows Mbingo through direct-to-consumer as well as wholesale sales, he hopes it can better serve the needs of coffee farmers from which the company ultimately gets its beans.
“I have visited farmers and communities where our coffees come from. Even when I pay good prices, the volume many of the farmers harvest individually cannot generate enough income to provide well for their families,” said Elangwe. “I want to be designing projects that can support those communities in the long term.”
In the meantime, Mbingo Mountain drinkers can expect their options to grow.
“After many years of living in the U.S. and traveling around the world, I consider myself a global citizen, and cannot just focus on one region,” said Elangwe. “I started with African origins because these are the places that I was most familiar with. For as long as I can access good quality coffee, and ensure that it is fairly and ethically sourced, I am open and will definitely bring coffee from other origins over time.”
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Howard Bryman is the associate editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine. He is based in Portland, Oregon.