Shangri-La Estate coffee farm in Tanzania. Photo by Kifaru Coffee.
Tanzania. In addition to hosting the famous Mount Kilimanjaro (the highest mountain on the African continent) and the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania (which just so happens to be the largest country in East Africa), features the optimal geography and climate for coffee production.
The history of coffee production in Tanzania is fairly condensed, with most of the industrial development occurring within the last century. It is believed that the Haya people originally brought coffee from Ethiopia to Tanzania during the 16th century. Jump to 1919, and Tanzania has just become a British colony, and Arabica coffee has been introduced to Tanzanian soils. In 1961, Tanzania gained independence, and the government implemented an economic strategy in order to increase coffee production. In the 1990’s, industry reforms were implemented, to provide a more direct sale between producers and buyers, rather than concentrating activities through the State Coffee Marketing Board.
There have also been several setbacks within the industry, including the spreading of coffee wilt decease (leading to a major loss of coffee trees), the nationalisation of the larger coffee farmers that resulted in state-managed production (proving to be majorly inefficient), along with high levels of inflation and a declining economy, as experienced by the country in the late 1960s. Despite all of this, coffee has prevailed, and is now a primary export for Tanzania, putting the nation on the map of coffee enthusiasts.
Today, almost all coffee cultivations occupy the highland and high-altitude regions of Tanzania. However, some of these regions are shrinking as a result of the increasing urban sprawl and climate change. There are, interestingly, numerous wild coffee species that are still being discovered throughout Tanzania; with the most recent one being Coffea kihansiensis, which was found in the Udzungwa Mountains.
There are around 450, 000 smallholders (or ‘kahawa’, as they are more locally known), whose livelihoods are dependent on coffee production. It is estimated that this industry is able to support over 4 million employees and family members. Considering that this is around 11% of the country’s population, it’s easy to see why coffee holds a special place in the Tanzanian culture. Additionally, the smallholder farms - which are usually comprised of 5-hectare plots of land - produce around 90% of the country’s entire coffee production, with the remaining 10% resulting from co-operatives and larger estates. Given the large proportion of coffee coming from smallholder farmers, the traceability for Tanzanian coffee is quite high.
Kilimanjaro is known as the oldest growing area in Tanzania for the Arabica variety. Given the longevity of production, the coffee from this region has developed an international reputation, along with the region itself developing more advanced infrastructure and facilities for production. One of the oldest (and largest) estates in Tanzania is The Kilimanjaro AA, which lies at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. This particular estate benefits from the cooler climate, the fertile volcanic soils, and the irrigation that results from the glacial runoff from the mountain. The coffee from this region showcases a fine body, a velvety texture and notes of blackcurrant.
Arusha surrounds Mount Meru; an active volcano (last erupted in 1910) located just west of Kilimanjaro. Coffee from the Arusha region is known for its pleasant acidity, complex finish, and flavour notes of molasses and raisin.
Located in the south of Tanzania, is the Ruvuma region (named after the Ruvuma river), which started to host coffee production in the 1950s. Most of the coffee is grown around the Mbingo district, which is particularly known for its outstanding coffee. The coffee from Ruvuma is full-bodied, with a medium to strong acidity, and hints of berry, lime and tea.
Image by Cafe Imports