Taste of a different side of the Congo with Christina Hardy’s single origin coffee brand, which celebrates the beauty and diversity of the Kivu region

Coffee is something that connects us to each other - and to the larger world. Almost everyone, the caffienaters and the non-caffeinaters, can relate to coffee. But do you know anything about where the coffee you drink is from, or who harvested it? Kivu Coffee, a new limited edition coffee project founded by London-based creative producer Christina Hardy (who has worked Alexander McQueen, AnOther magazine and MAD London), celebrates Congolese culture alongside once-off roasts.

While discovering Congolese music and art, Hardy found herself starting to drink a lot of East African coffee and a little investigating led her to discover that the coffee industry in Rwanda had played a powerful and positive role, both economically and socially, in the country. In neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, the terrain was similar and the potential for coffee to affect change was equally realistic.

“As well as sharing the coffee, I want the project to inspire ways of connecting to the Congo that isn’t conflict or charity”

Hardy named her coffee after Lake Kivu, the great lake within the stunning Kivu Region of DR Congo where coffee grows. “The lake feels symbolic of the Congo itself,” explains Hardy. “It embodies the extremes of nature, and in human nature too.” It’s a volcanic lake, which sits on top of dangerous methane gas that could potentially explode and harm local communities. But the same gas, if tapped into, could be used to provide electricity to all of East Africa. The process of developing the coffee, she admits, has been slow. It involved finding a coffee cooperative to work with, tasting different Congolese roasts and visiting the Congo in 2016 to attend the new annual coffee cupping competition, Saveur du Kivu.

Hardy’s first batch of 500 bags of coffee was distributed only among her family and friends, and she started an Instagram account to build a community and share stories around the project. Her second batch – also a single origin roast, slightly darker than the first – is now being sold through her website and is named after the co-op she works with, Muungano (which means 'togetherness' in Swahili). It supports around 4,300 farmers, 1,700 of which are women, and runs a programme called GALS through which it promotes gender equality.

The other main aim of Kivu is to show a positive side of the Congo. Typical reporting from the area features only negative news: the rape crisis or violence around the mines. “As well as sharing the coffee, I want the project to inspire new ways of connecting to the Congo that isn’t conflict or charity-related. I want to contribute to creating a more simple relationship to a very complicated and incredibly diverse place. My hope is that Kivu can support local communities from a new angle."

Hardy plans to do this by working with local and international artists to share more sensory experiences of Congolese life that are beautiful, creative and real. Her first collaborator is renowned photographer Viviane Sassen. Born in Kenya, her work is influenced by her early memories of bright African sunlight and it’s contrast to the shadows where people escaped the heat. For her series, Sassen travelled around the entire perimeter of Lake Kivu with her family for two weeks, capturing the people and landscapes that she witnessed.

Kivu Coffee is also now launching Kivu Radio. Its first show is a pure celebration of Congolese music, to compliment her new single origin roast, hosted by Secousse Radio’s DJ Etienne Tron. Also coming soon is a series of portraits of Horcelie Sinda Wa Mbongo, a 22-year-old model who won Miss Congo UK 2017 and is HIV positive, shot by photographer Ronan McKenzie wearing a headpiece made of roasted coffee beans created by stylist Bevan Agyemang (previewed above). A crowning glory indeed.

Words Katie de Klee

Visit Kivu

Published on 28/10/2017