If there is one thing I knew I needed to bring back from Uganda, it was a pack of coffee. As a country that is world-famous for its coffee production, I was actually surprised by how difficult it was to find local brands that I could by. Even in Kampala, it took a little bit of searching before I found some local beans.
Personally, I love the coffee from Uganda and I have savoured a small pocket of beans for a sad day to pick me up.
So, because I have a packet in the house, I thought I would do a deep dive into the wonders of Ugandan Coffee.
Coffee Growing Regions In Uganda
There are only 5 main coffee-growing regions in Uganda, and many of them lay sporadically between towns and cities.
A significant majority of the coffee grown in Uganda are two varieties of Robusta known as Nganda and Erecta (up to 80% of the country’s production), with a smaller (20%) production of Arabica Typica (SL 28 – high altitude), SL 14 -medium-altitude, KP 423 -medium altitude) and Kent varieties.
The main Robusta production can be found throughout Uganda’s central lowlands (900-1,500m above sea level) northern lands between Gulu and Lira, and the southern stretch between Kampala, through Mukino to Jinja on the border with Lake Victoria. Arabica tends to be grown on the highland (1,300-2,300m above sea level) borders of the country with Congo on the west (Okoro & the western Nile & the Rwenzori Mountains), and Uganda’s border with Kenya (Mbale & surrounding Bugisu areas – including the Sipi falls and Mt Elgon) on the East.
The harvest between October and February 2020 produced 290,000 plus tonnes of Coffee beans and made Uganda one of Africa’s largest coffee exporters. Even overtaking Ethiopia. Strangely, Ugandan coffee is largely overlooked and (we found) hard to find in local supermarkets.
The 4 main coffee regions in Uganda are:
The North (Robusta)
- Gulu & Northern Lira
- Eastern Mbale & Larger Bugisu Area (Including Mt. Elgon)
South ( Robusta)
- Kampala, Mukono and Jinja
- Okoro & the Western Nile (North West)
- Rwenzori Mountains (South West)
The Story of Ugandan Coffee
In the same way that it has been for many East African nations, Coffee has always been an extremely important crop for Uganda. It has been Uganda’s top export since the 1980’s and the trend continues even until today.
Throughout the 80’s, it was estimated that a total of 224,000 hectares were dedicated to coffee in Uganda, and while the economic figures stayed consistent, it is alleged that much of the coffee was smuggled into neighbouring countries to be sold at a higher margin. Coffee was so important to Uganda’s economy that the European Economic Community launched a rehabilitation campaign between 1984-6 to set coffee production as a high priority, and to support research, training and industry development.
In 1986, when Museveni (Uganda’s current president – as of 2022) gained office with the National Resistance Movement he also set in motion a project to improve coffee production, reduce smuggling and diversify crops to reduce Uganda’s reliance on world coffee prices.
The government also raised prices paid to coffee producers in May 1986 and February 1987 to, in their minds, better reflect the value of their economy and to reflect market prices and other factors like inflation. The margin of increase were fairly small, and ranged between 10Ush per kg to around 15USH per kg. In 1988, the government again raised the prices significantly, some over 100% increases. This caused a catastrophic failure in the coffee economy leaving the Coffee Marketing Board unable to pay farmers for new deliveries, or clear debt on old ones. While the government did say they would help contribute to the industry’s mounting debt, their payments were often as much as a year late.
Throughout the rest of the 1980’s, trouble with coffee prices, and production saw the coffee production slow significantly. This was reversed partly reversed in the 1990’s but sadly, disease and rot killed over 45% of the arabica production in 2003. Coffee production in Uganda has been disrupted many times over the years down to mismanagement, armed conflict and natural disasters.
What is clear, is that coffee is extremely important to Uganda’s economy and there are multiple international aid projects which focus on coffee production to keep the country rolling on.
How does the it taste?
Coffee across Uganda is fantastic. Generally, it has a clean, smooth fuller bodied taste compared to other east African coffees. It is mostly darker, richer and can be on the side of the bitter-chocolate end of tasting notes.
The unique landscape of Uganda makes for some variation in the coffee. For instance, coffee from the volcanic high-altitudes of the Bugisu region, on the Kenyan border, is more acidic, winy and fruit-toned. It is citrusy, and floral like other East African Coffee regions. While the western highlands can be much darker, and richer in flavour.
The coffee from the western Nile are a mixture of the two – citrusy and chocolatey.