Does Tanzania Grow Coffee?
As the fourth largest producer of coffee in all of Africa, coffee production plays an important role in Tanzania’s economy and infrastructure. Like many African countries, Tanzania’s coffee production peaked in the 1990s, fell dramatically, and is now making a concerted effort across industry partners, coffee farms, washing stations, and processing locations to ensure a long and prosperous coffee industry in Tanzania.
Tanzania Coffee Growing History
Tanzania's coffee-growing history is said to have started during the 16th century, with the Haya tribe in the Northwest of the country. The crop was primarily Robusta and wasn’t meant for consumption as a drink; instead, the cherries were boiled with herbs, smoked for several days, and then chewed upon. Additionally, coffee held cultural significance as an object of great worth to be used in a variety of social traditions, and as a tender for transactions. In fact, the Haya people needed to be granted royal permission in order to grow coffee trees.
In the late 1800s, Germany played an outsized role in the region. During this period of time, many Eastern African countries were used by colonists as a means of bulk producing coffee for export. For the Germans, this meant introducing their own laws on propagation, which in turn began to make coffee trees more common, and ultimately lowered the value that the Haya tribe associated with coffee, forcing them to grow food crops and Arabica coffee instead.
Following World War 1, the British superseded colonial rule from the Germans, and were eager to modernise and scale coffee production in the region. They side-stepped local traditions and preferences, and went on to plant over ten million seedlings between 1919 and 1925.
Meanwhile, other regions in Tanzania took to the cultivation of coffee with much less resistance, as they had no longstanding tradition or agricultural practice with coffee to overrule. They simply saw growing coffee as an opportunity to jump on a new cash crop in the area. The first coffee co-op in the country was even created by one of these regions: coffee farmers of the Chagga tribe formed the Kilimanjaro Native Planters’ Association (KNPA) in 1925, based within the Moshi region of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Tanzania established its independence as a country from the British in 1961, but between changes in government, inflation, and the dreaded coffee wilt disease, coffee exports struggled to hold the monopoly that they once had, and profits began to fall.
Despite this, coffee is the second most valuable export in Tanzania, right behind tobacco, and these days more and more efforts are being implemented to help regain the country’s footing in the coffee empire.
Where is Tanzanian Coffee Grown?
Coffee is grown throughout Tanzania: Mountainous areas grow the preferred Arabica coffee trees while places of lower elevations grow Robusta.
Northern Tanzania Coffee Farms
The Northern regions of Tanzania are where some of its most favoured coffee beans are grown. On the slopes of mountains like Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru, arabica coffee is grown to perfection. These are often the most coveted beans that Tanzania offers. Here coffee trees are intercropped with banana trees which provide sunshade and protection from erosion in the rain.
Western Tanzania Coffee Farms
Out West, inland Tanzania is where both Robusta and Arabica are grown. Robusta is primarily grown in the lower sections of the Northwestern portions. This only comprises less than 30% of Tanzania's coffee production.
Southern Tanzania Coffee Farms
The Southern Highlands is host to many smallholder farms. They grow Arabica trees in smaller sub-regions like Ruvuma, Arusha, Mbeya, and Songwe. Southern soil has fewer minerals than are typically found in mountainous regions, giving Southern Arabica a taste that is distinct from its Northern cohorts. Coffee trees can be grown free-standing or intercropped with bananas in this area.
Is Tanzanian Coffee Good?
Tanzanian coffee is world-renown. 90% of the coffee produced in Tanzania is internationally exported. In particular, Tanzanian Peaberry beans are mostly exported to the U.S.A, U.K, and Japan.
Coffee produced in the North has a distinct taste and aroma profile as compared to coffee grown in the South. Northern coffee is balanced with a pleasing aroma, sweet flavours,and a full acidic mouthfeel and body. This is from the volcanic soils found in the North.
In the Southern Highlands, the soil composition is profoundly different, leading to a fruitier taste with added floral notes and aroma. They have fine acidity and are medium-bodied.
What Types of Coffee are grown in Tanzania?
Tanzania grows both Robusta and Arabica. Robusta is a traditional crop that was produced by native tribes. Arabica was brought over by European interests at various points since the 16th century. Over 70% of coffee exports from Tanzania are Arabica at this point.
The main varietals cultivated by Tanzania include Bourbon, Kent, Blue Mountain, and Typica. Along with Nyassa and N39, these Arabicas account for over 70% of the coffee grown throughout the country. Experimental varietals such as SC 3, SC 11, and KP 423 are also being investigated for potential in the areas of yield and disease immunity.
Peaberry coffee is a coffee-growing anomaly whereby a coffee cherry only produces one coffee bean instead of the usual two. Peaberry coffee doesn't exclusively happen in Tanzania, and can occur within virtually every coffee varietal. In Tanzania, however, it is not uncommon to separate Peaberries from normal coffee beans, as, even though it is technically considered a defect, some people prize the genetic deformity, believing it to have a unique and even superior taste.
Some industry experts say that Peaberry beans have more occurring flavours, since the coffee cherry’s nutrients all pour into one bean instead of two. Others say that the case is overstated and that there is no significant difference. Nonetheless, Peaberry coffee sells quite well and is a popular choice for coffee from Tanzania.
When is Coffee in Tanzania Harvested?
Harvest typically starts in July, though different regions have slightly different start dates. Depending on proximity to nearby co-operatives, delivery to washing stations happens shortly after harvest. Farmers who are further away from a station may start the first steps of processing themselves before bringing them into the washing station. By December, much of the coffee beans have been processed and shipments begin.
For coffee grown in Western Tanzania, the differing climate and geography of the regional slopes means that this whole process starts in the middle of May, and ends in October.
How Much Coffee does Tanzania Produce?
According to Knoema, Tanzania’s total coffee production numbered 60,651 tonnes for the year 2020. This is thought to have risen in 2021 past 70,000 tonnes as the government works to expand coffee production throughout the country. They are doing this by improving the crop used, moving to hybrid varietals that can better withstand disease while still testing for top-quality coffee beans. Efforts are also being made to improve washing stations and other processing infrastructure to encourage farmers to grow coffee over other crop like Tobacco.