Of all the places I have travelled to in East Africa, Tanzania is by far one of my favourites. And one thing that the country does extremely well is tea and coffee. It makes up a very large part of the whole country's export, and economy.
Some consider Tanzanian Coffee beans as some of the very best that come from East Africa; which is a very significant statement as the surrounding nations offer extremely high competition. The quality of the beans does vary from farm to farm, and reign to region, but the coffee-growing climates in Tanzania are perfect and produce an exceptional, floral, winey coffee.
So, let us dig more into the history, coffee regions and everything else you need to know about coffee from Tanzania.
Tanzanian Coffee Growing Regions
There are 9 main coffee-growing regions spread out across the country. The most well-known coffee regions are found in the North of the country. it could be argued that they are the most well known due to the high population of tourists who travel through the areas every year and visit the coffee plantations before heading to one of the many Tanzanian National parks.
Every year, it is estimated that between 30,000 and 40,000 metric tons of Coffee is harvested between the traditional harvest between October and February - of that 70% is Arabica beans and 30% Robusta beans.
This has remained true for many years, however, as tastes have developed the presence of premium beans (like the Jamaican Blue Mountain Bean). An example is the Lunji farm in Mbeya who produce this bean and export to Germany.
The 9 main coffee regions are:
- Arusha/ Kilimanjaro/ Mount Meru
- Usambara Mountains
- Songea & The Matengo Highlands
The story of Tanzanian coffee is closely linked to the country's colonial past. It was the Germans who found coffee on the land and saw the opportunity to make a profit from the crops; which were just as valuable then, as they are now.
In 1911, the German Tanzanian government mandated that Arabica coffee trees were to be grown throughout the Bukoba regions, and gave easy access to seeds and facilities for local farmers to grow the crops. All while closely controlling the cultivation and harvest by the locals. Coffee spread in Tanzania, and the German's started to cultivate in the Arusha region; around the city, and at the foothills of Tanzania's two great mountains (Mt Meru & Kilimanjaro)
First, there were the Germans, and then the British. After the victory during world war I, the British empire took control of the previously German-occupied lands. The British brought with them a railway network which accelerated the campaign of Coffee Growth. Coffee was extremely big business in this part of the world.
A landmark to mention is the formation of the Kilimanjaro Native Planter's Association, which was formed to help farmers enter into the coffee market, and improve prices for all growers. Even today, a similar organisation centralises most of the coffee exportation. Almost 90% of farms in the country are small, independently owned properties which are not big enough to cope with industrial demand. Local cooperative unions purchase the coffee from small farmers and market it abroad on their behalf.
This ensures that the farmers are offered a fair price, and so that the industry is not monopolised by larger industrial producers.
The coffee crops in Tanzania enjoy high qualities, the clean climate of warm days and cool mornings. The character of the coffee is created by these unique climate ecosystems which are only common in East Africa.
While there are variations in the flavours based on the bean itself, and the cultivation methods, there are some characteristics that always shine through. Tanzania is best known for its medium roast coffee, but dark roasted coffee is a personal favourite.
The medium-roasted coffee is highly renowned for its light, delicate flavour that is noted as sweet. The classic characteristic of all Tanzanian regions is a light coffee with a winey quality. There is a sharpness, almost sourness, to the coffee which brings out delicious notes of red berries and accentuates the creaminess of the creme. Medium roasted coffee also has a much higher content of caffeine, compared to dark roasted.
Dark roasted coffee is generally more peppery and favoured by those who enjoy a strong bitter cup. The coffee is rich, heavy bodied with hits of floral notes which rounds the cup off perfectly. To compare Tanzanian coffee with Colombian, a Colombian bean has a throat kick of strong, bold flavours. The coffee from Tanzania is much more sophisticated and not lacking in any character.