Divided from the rest of Africa by the immense Rift Valley there are many reasons why East Africa is the granddaddy of the coffee producing world. Encompassing two of Africa's tallest mountains, the world's second largest freshwater and second deepest lake not to mention home to the Big Five of the animal kingdom. This undulating landscape boasts a generally moderate climate with highs of 25c and lows of 15c at 1500masl creating some perfect coffee growing environments, and did I mention that its also the birthplace of coffee?
Although there are some great coffees coming out of many other countries in this region, this blog post will be focusing on four particular countries - Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya and Burundi.
The specialty coffee scene in Africa is dominated by the largest trade platform in Africa, the African Fine Coffee Conference (AFCA) formerly the East African Fine Coffee Association it consists of 11 member countries (Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia, DRC, Cameroon, Uganda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Malawi and Zambia) and is a member driven, non-profit and non-political association. Their goal is to create 'Sustainable Businesses for Happy Coffee People', what a great ethos to start from and it is really reflected in the quality beans that we are seeing coming out.
Home to Bourbon, Typica, Blue Mountain and Kent cultivars which are typically grown at around 1350 - 1800masl. Tanzania produces around 800,000 bags of coffee annually and is in close running with Kenya for being the 3rd or 4th largest arabica coffee exporter in Africa.
In Tanzania, we purchase our coffee direct from Acacia Hills, a beautiful estate owned by Mark Stell from Portland Roasting Company and Leon and Aideen Christianakis (local Tanzanian coffee farmers). The farm is surrounded by some of Africa’s most famous landscapes including the Ngorongoro crater and National Park which is teeming with all the quintessential African wildlife which make this area a spectacular and unique part of the world.
Elephants, giraffes, hippos, buffalo, zebras, wildebeest, rhinos, lions, leopards, cheetah and hyenas are all found here — to name just a few! One of the biggest challenges of the farm is keeping its workers safe from elephants stamping through the fields. Acacia Hills Estate has been in existence for over 50 years, but it was only five years ago that it was re-invigorated with a new ‘speciality’ approach.
Now things like variety, processing, soil analysis, sides of the mountain etc. matter and are taken into account over the whole growing process. What had become an old, disused farm is now thriving and green and is finally producing the abundant crops of beautiful coffee which they always knew this region was capable of. It’s a real testament to their hard work and effort — and also their passionate belief that they could make their little place on the top of the ridge into something special. The farm currently harvests Bourbon and Kent varieties and is in the process of experimenting with Geisha, Pacamara and Castillo.
The farm house looks over the lush coffee trees with an unobstructed view of the mountains and Lake Eyasi. The farm itself is the highest altitude farm in the region and they have planted the Geisha and Pacamara varieties at the very top at 1900masl. This small estate has its own purpose-built cupping lab with everything required to analyse coffees onsite. They use a brand new Penogas wet mill and specialise in micro-lots and honey milled coffees; all the coffees are dried on raised beds. It’s all about the small details here and we consider this estate a bit of a diamond in the rough.
The Rift Valley is steeped in human and religious history and often considered not only the birthplace of coffee but all of mankind after 3.2 million year old 'Lucy' and her 4.4 million year old big brother 'Ardi' was discovered here. The latter inspired the name of one of our much loved singles - Ardi Sidama.
Around 10,000 years ago, Ethiopia not only created the perfect climatic conditions for human reproduction but also for the Coffea Canephora T and Coffea Eugenioides to create a little arabica baby. So began a coffee production in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is the 5th largest producer in the world, exporting an astounding 6.6 million bags a year and employing an estimated 15 million people in some way along the production line. A real powerhouse of on the global coffee market.
We have been working with Sammy at Keffa Coffee for the last five years. Over this time we have managed to secure constantly outstanding lots through the ECX (where most of the Ethiopia's beans are traded) which maintain their flavour and quality consistency.
The coffees from Kenya are renowned for their unique fruit character, intense acidity, rich body and constant cleanliness with many factors contributing to these great qualities in the cup. From Kenya’s location, right along the equator, to uncommon varietals and exceptional growing conditions, Kenya is perfectly suited to growing great quality Arabica coffees.
Ranked 16th as a global producer they have been honing their craft since 1890s and held the first ever coffee auction in the 1930s. Producing a similar annual yield as Tanzania, Kenyan coffee is typically grown between 1400 - 2200masl in its rich red volcanic soils and the shadow of Mount Kenya all creating perfect growing conditions.
Co-ops and private estates produce the majority of coffee which is, for the most part, wet processed or double fermented and then dried on raised beds to ideal moisture levels of 9.5-10.5%.
We work with Cafe Imports to bring some delicious coffee over from Kenya and maintaining the reputation for clean, crisp and consistent beans.
Burundi, not unlike Rwanda, is quite unique as most of the country lies at a very high elevation, the lowest elevation being 700masl with the majority of the land is over 1000masl - perfect growing conditions.
Burundi is a land locked country but it has access to the 2nd largest fresh water lake in Africa but means they must export through neighbouring countries rather than directly themselves but they still manage to export around 200,000 bags annually.
We work with the Long Miles Project which is headed up by Ben and Kristy Carlson. They started with just one washing station and have gone on to set up three more, working with over 140 family units at the stations. They produce beautiful washed and natural coffees here such using bourbon and local bourbon hybrids.