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Spotlight on...Organic Congo Lake Kivu

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Spotlight on...Organic Congo Lake Kivu

Carrie Masek

This week, we're shining the spotlight on our newest coffee from Africa, Organic Congo Lake Kivu.

Lake Kivu is a fascinating place. One of Africa's Great Lakes, it fills a jagged rift valley that was formed by volcanic activity. The lake itself is huge, approximately 56 miles long and 31 miles wide at the widest point. It sits on the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. The lake has a surface altitude of approximately 4800 ft above sea level, and the volcanic highlands surrounding the lake rise even higher.

Lake Kivu is prone to “limnic eruptions,” a rare but deadly form of natural disaster. In a limnic eruption, volcanic activity beneath the surface of the lake releases a surge of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane gas. The invisible and scentless gasses rise out of the water and flow downward like a deadly fog, killing animals and people along the way. If the eruption lasts too long, plants will also start to die. Luckily, these underwater eruptions don't happen very often, about once every 1000 years, according to geologists who study the region.

That's often enough, though, for Swahili to have a term for this type of disaster, mazuku, or “killing wind.”

Poisonous winds aside, the high altitude and volcanic soil around Lake Kivu make it a great place to grow coffee. We've carried coffee from the Rwandan side of Lake Kivu before. In fact, one of our all-time favorite coffees was a Rwanda Lake Kivu microlot. That was years ago, but we've kept looking for another outstanding coffee from that area. This year, we found one from the Democratic Republic of Congo on the opposite side of Lake Kivu.

Organic Congo Lake Kivu comes from a co-op called SOPACDI (Solidarité Paysanne pour la Promotion des Actions Café et Development Intégral). The organization is made up of more than 5,600 farmers. Each farmer has a very small area of farmland for coffee (less than 5 acres in most cases), and sends the coffee cherries to SOPACDI through the organization's 10 collection subgroups to be processed and sold.

Joachim Munganga, who was a farmer himself, founded SOPACDI in 2003 by restoring a washing station in the area. This provided the farmers in these extremely remote highlands with access to the international market. Before 2003, farmers had no way to get their coffee to the markets, and were forced to simply barter their coffee locally for food, clothing, and necessities.

Another very cool aspect of the co-op is that its members represent several different ethnic groups, speaking Kirundi, Kinyarwanda, and Kihavu. About 20% of the farmers are women, many of them widowed.

As interesting as we find Lake Kivu and the coffee co-op on its western shore, we still had to make sure the coffee was high enough quality and tasty enough to justify the relatively high price. Since the coffee is so high grown, with farms ranging 4800-6500 ft above sea level, we brought in a sample big enough to cup at two different roast levels, City and Northern Italian.

It's a good thing we did. At a City roast level, Organic Congo Lake Kivu is a light-bodied, rich and very lively coffee with juicy peach topnotes balanced by lingering cocoa richness. The coffee gets smoother and richer as it cools.

Like many African coffees, Organic Congo Lake Kivu's flavor was darker and bolder at a Northern Italian than most coffee's would be. Still, it was lovely. The coffee became even smoother, with a medium body and more cocoa richness. All those lively topnotes turned sweet. Some of us tasted caramel, while the sweet notes reminded others of roasted sugar cane.

We had a really hard time coming up with a Roaster's Choice roast level for this coffee. Some of us wanted to go light because we really enjoyed the balance between the coffee's intense brightness and cocoa richness. Others preferred the sweet notes, and voted for a dark roast level for our Roaster's Choice.

We ended up in the middle and chose Vienna roast for Organic Congo Lake Kivu's Roaster's Choice roast level. At a Vienna roast, we got the best of both light and dark, a lively spritz of peach melting into sweet caramel and cane sugar sweetness with lingering cocoa richness. Yum!

Have you ever had coffee from D.R. Congo or Rwanda? Or have you ever visited the shores of Lake Kivu? If so, we'd love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts on the Facebook thread or in a comment on this blog. Or, if you'd like to share your opinion with the wider world, leave us a coffee review on Google or on your favorite review site. Not only do we value your opinions, but reviews help more people find us. Help us connect coffee lovers to fresh, quality coffee!


~ Carrie, Paul and all of us at Coffee by the Roast

for more information about Lake Kivu, click here.