We take a trip from North Carolina to Northern Malawi to Edinburgh, exploring the roots, roasts, and impact of the MF Coffee Project.
BY VASILEIA FANARIOTI
SENIOR ONLINE CORRESPONDENT
Photos courtesy of the MF Coffee Project
In the quaint village of Manchewe, Northern Malawi, a story unfolded when Cameron Mcallister made the life-altering decision to relocate from North Carolina to this picturesque corner of the world in 2013. Taking the reins of an off-grid eco-lodge perched on a cliff overlooking Lake Malawi, Cameron and his sister embarked on a journey that would intertwine their lives with the vibrant community and the MF Coffee Project.
From Cliffside Views to Coffee Adventures: MF Coffee Project
The idea of venturing into the world of coffee came up when Cameron decided to explore local coffee farms. What started as a quest for a local coffee supply turned into a profound connection with Lyson, a co-founder of MF Coffee Project and a seasoned coffee farmer. Together, they explored the enchanting smallholder coffee farms perched on rolling hills, cultivating a blend of crops within a harmonious ecosystem.
Inspired by the intimate connection smallholder farmers had with the land, Cameron envisioned a shift from treating coffee as a commodity to cultivating specialty coffee with a unique narrative. “Visiting these farms felt like stepping into a magical world. It revealed the challenging truths of the coffee industry and the untapped potential of smallholder farmers,“ Cameron says.
Empowering Communities Through Coffee
Recognizing the challenges faced by local farmers, particularly in Lyson’s village of Nkhota, Cameron and the Tiko Coffee Collective envisioned a communal washing station in 2016. Designed by Lyson, this station aimed to empower farmers and breathe new life into the dwindling coffee-farming tradition.
The Tiko Coffee Collective, comprising 48 farmers, became the cornerstone of MF Coffee Project. Noel Nyrenda, an experienced local coffee farmer, joined forces with Lyson and Cameron, laying the foundation for a collective that would shape the future of coffee in the region. “Our focus was to bring a direct link to the harvest, embodying the true essence of specialty coffee,“ Cameron explains. “The prevalent approach of treating coffee as a commodity was flawed for smallholder farmers. We firmly believed in their ability to cultivate something extraordinary.“
Roasting Adventures in Scotland
In 2020, Cameron and his sister handed over the eco-lodge to a couple of former Peace Corps volunteers, marking a pivotal moment. The transition allowed them to fully embrace their roles as coffee enthusiasts, leading to the establishment of MF Coffee Shop in Edinburgh, Scotland. Scotland’s vibrant coffee scene and progressive ethos provided the ideal backdrop for roasting MF coffee.
Reflecting on their journey, Cameron says, “Roasting coffee in Scotland became a natural progression. The goal was to independently bring our exceptional coffee to international markets and redefine our role in the coffee supply chain.“ A successful pop-up at Summerhall, an eclectic arts venue, led to the permanent takeover of the coffee shop, aligning perfectly with their mission to roast coffee and connect with MF enthusiasts.
Impact Beyond the Bean
The MF Coffee Project has made a tangible impact on the lives of the locals. Cameron’s involvement in the Chipopoma Power NGO initiative, harnessing hydroelectricity from Manchewe Falls, brought renewable electricity to over 100 homes, businesses, and a local school. Entrepreneurs emerged, powered by renewable energy, while students benefited from improved study conditions, and deforestation decreased with the shift to electricity.
Looking ahead, the MF Coffee Project aims to construct a dry mill, adding further value to the coffee’s origin. By utilizing hydroelectricity and embracing sustainable practices, the project strives to be an environmentally conscious coffee producer. “Our commitment goes beyond curating unique coffee varieties,“ Cameron says. “We prioritize environmentally friendly practices, resist monocropping trends, and ensure our collaboration with Tiko remains the driving force behind our existence.“
The MF Coffee Project, with its roots in Northern Malawi and branches stretching into the vibrant coffee scene of Edinburgh, is a testament to the fusion of passion, sustainability, and community. From North Carolina to Northern Malawi and on to the streets of Edinburgh, this journey is yet another example of how coffee binds us together.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vasileia Fanarioti (she/her) is a senior online correspondent for Barista Magazine and a freelance copywriter and editor with a primary focus on the coffee niche. She has also been a volunteer copywriter for the I’M NOT A BARISTA NPO, providing content to help educate people about baristas and their work. You can follow her adventures at thewanderingbean.net.