Roasters turn to war-torn regions such as South Sudan for unique flavours and stories When Jennifer Poni Joel Donga introduced the stories of fellow coffee farmers in South Sudan to an audience in Paris last year, she was glowing with pride. In the French capital for the sales launch of Africa’s newest country’s first batch of coffee, she said: “The farmers are very excited and they are happy” about the prospect of cups of coffee being the first non-oil export from the war-ravaged country. Following last year’s limited edition sale in France, her coffee community in South Sudan’s southwestern city of Yei has in 2016 produced enough beans for Swiss capsule maker Nespresso, which has been working alongside the development non-government organisation TechnoServe, to offer capsules in five more countries. This year’s launch, however, has been overshadowed by further violence in South Sudan, this time involving Yei, which had hitherto been relatively peaceful. TechnoServe has been temporarily forced to withdraw its staff and suspend farmer training, while Ms Poni, who is also an agronomist helping other farmers, has left her farm in Yei and is taking refuge in Uganda. Demand spurs search for different tastes: The coffee bean and conflict have historically gone hand-in-hand, but the surge in popularity of specialty, or premium, coffee over the past few years has spurred the search for different tastes. This has taken coffee merchants and roasters to new frontiers, including former conflict areas where tensions still simmer as well as active war zones. With an increasing number of roasters catering to the “hipster” market, buying their beans directly from the grower as well as large coffee traders such as Neumann, Ecom and Olam offering gourmet beans, the specialty market is an increasingly crowded place with new flavours and growers’ unique stories giving the coffee a competitive edge. “People like to know where their coffee comes from to be inspired,” says Richard Hide, head of trading and marketing at Twin, a UK development NGO, with projects in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), although he adds that “it wouldn’t work without the quality” of the beans. From the single-serve capsule in a home machine to the artisanal drip brew, more than half the coffee consumed in the US is specialty, or gourmet, up from 40 per cent six years ago. Compared with a US national retail average of about $4.40 a pound, specialty beans are retailing at just under $28, up 15 per cent over the past two years, according to transparenttradecoffee.org, a website promoting transparency in the gourmet coffee market.