Tanzania - The Best Kept Secret

Waking up, stumbling out of your bed, heading into the kitchen, and choosing your favorite mug doesn’t take too much effort. As you pour into your cup your favorite brew of coffee, you might not even think too much about it. But behind each coffee bean, there is so much history and tradition. Knowing these fascinating stories makes the yummy drink that more special! This time we want to introduce you to Tanzania. Kenya’s less well-known neighbor that produces almost the same quantity of coffee annually and perhaps, even more delicious varieties of beans.


Humans first tried coffee around the 15th century in Ethiopia, which is just a few hundred miles from Tanzania. The story of coffee in Tanzania began on Réunion Island (which was then called Bourbon). Although Tanzanians smoked, boiled, and chewed coffee, at the time they never drank it frequently. As time went on, coffee beans were planted in the Mogoro and Bayamoyo regions. At the end of the19th century, coffee became one of the most popular plants in whole Tanzania.


As you may know, after World War I, Tanzania went into the hands of the British as a colony. Although Arabica coffee was known in western parts of the country, its production was still quite limited. As the country regained its independence in 1961, one of the key goals was to increase the production of coffee. Nowadays, coffee is cultivated throughout all the highland regions in Tanzania. However, it is still thought that the gorgeous country hasn’t reached its full potential when it comes to coffee production.


Although Tanzania is mainly known for Arabica coffee (which comes from the beans of a Coffea Arabica plant), today you can also find wild species of the plant, for example, Coffea kihansiensis which has been discovered in the Udzungwa Mountains.


Watch out for peaberry


When is coffee harvested in the area? Starting from July up until December, you can experience the fruit picking process for Arabica coffee, while Robusta typically is collected a bit earlier – from April to November. Nowadays, coffee is mostly cultivated near Kilimanjaro, Kigoma, Mbeya, Mara, Ruvuma, Kagera, and Bukoba. However, due to climate change and overall urbanization, some regions have shrunk. Therefore place for the plantations has become smaller.


Interestingly, coffee grown in southern Tanzania thrives in dry conditions and overall has higher quality since it has better access to transportation. That is important because sometimes Tanzanian coffee has received criticism for being “steamed” during the transportation process. It is estimated that more than 400 000 farming families currently benefit from the coffee business as they are involved in farming.


Like other places in the world – amongst some of the harvested coffee beans –, you may find peaberry, which includes a single bean per fruit (typically, they have two). Since a single bean typically has more concentrated flavors and is richer in nutrients, it is usually sold as premium quality. The explanation behind this is quite simple – since it is smaller in size, the flavor can develop better during the roasting process.


Most of Tanzania's Arabica and Robusta coffee is grown in the Kilimanjaro region, however, our coffee can be found in Mbeya, produced by small cooperative farmers. The delicious drink qualifies as Strictly High Grown, and it is planted in higher elevation growing areas. For example, our coffee beans are grown at the altitude of 1200-1900 meters above sea level.


Processing coffee in Tanzania


Tanzania is the fourth biggest coffee producer in Africa, therefore it is no surprise that you may find different methods for processing the drink. Sometimes it is pulled by traditional disc pulpers, then dry fermented, and washed. Some producers prefer to soak coffee in clean water after the fermentation process, which usually takes up about 30 to 40 hours and, in some cases, even longer. This is a tradition that is primarily known in Tanzania.


Since water is of high value in the beautiful country, many producers look for ways how to save water during processing. Some may recycle water back into the process, some convert to demucilagers. What is interesting, it may even differ from batch to batch. After this part of making coffee is finished, the parchment is spread out on tables and drained. This is, perhaps, one of the most important steps – producers must be careful and cover the parchment during the hottest parts of the day or unexpected rainfalls. Otherwise, it may crack, which impacts the overall quality of the coffee. Since most coffee is washed in Tanzania, you may expect the taste of the coffee beans not to be overshadowed by pulp sugars.


Producing coffee – a multi-step process


Coffee is a significant export of Tanzania. But most of the farmers (more than 90%) own only a few hectares of land, and after the coffee is harvested, the farmer usually sells it at a negotiated price to a cooperative. Of course, if  the farm is big enough, they may offer it on their own. For already three years, a new system must be followed – all coffee production has to go through a centralized auction, which takes place every Thursday. This process is followed because unregistered coffee buyers often try to buy coffee from small farmers for a bad price and after sell it for more. Although the idea behind the system is good, it has complicated the trading process and created many levels of bureaucracy.


All the hassle is well worth it because the end result is truly magical. Tanzanian coffee is known for having fascinating flavors. The most professional coffee drinkers may taste notes of pear, florals, jasmine, and strawberry. The higher quality coffee – Arabica – is famous for its acidity and fruitiness. Overall, you may expect Tanzanian coffee to taste similar Kenyan or Ethiopian coffees since they all grow in similar conditions.


Our coffee is grown on clay minerals, which have a lot of beneficial properties. Since they act like “sponges”, they hold on to nutrients that may come across. Since clay minerals attract water, coffee plants are guaranteed to have moisture and better taste.