When thinking of African coffees, it’s the eastern nations that more often come to mind. Coffee being born in Ethiopia and with a long history of cultivation in Kenya, Tanzania and nearby countries, it’s rare that the Atlantic side of Africa is thought of as a coffee-growing region. But it is. Cameroon coffees have as long a history of cultivation as most, more famous, coffees from the Indian Ocean coast.
Coffee was introduced in Cameroon by the German colonizers, back in 1884. The production started in the central, western and northern areas of the country, the ones with the highest altitude, and it was at first only of the Robusta type. Later, the French, namely the agricultural engineer René Coste, expanded the area of coffee production to what is today most of Cameroon, with the first Arabica plants finding their way into Cameroon. Focusing on Robusta instead of Arabica for most of the 19th and 20th century, Cameroon coffees didn’t gain much of a popularity among experts because of this. Yet, Cameroon managed to have a large production, reaching the 12th place as volume, worldwide. It has since dwindled and the government invested about US$1.5 million in 2014 to increase it again.
Nowadays coffee is grown everywhere in the country, the little plants benefitting from the all year warm and humid climate, with rarely any chilly nights outside of the mountains. Most of it is still Robusta, but especially in the western highlands a good quality production of Arabica is taking its roots, and making itself famous in the coffee circles.
The different areas of production of coffee in Cameroon are seven: West, Northwest, Littoral, Southwest, South, Central and Eastern. In all of them the lower altitudes are dedicated to Robusta, while Arabica is kept for the higher zones, and not grown in every area. Only the northernmost region of Cameroon, bordering the Sahara desert, and the super-humid coast are inhospitable to coffee cultivation.
Specifically, Bamileke and Bamaoun are on Cameroon’s high plateau and host a large production of Arabica coffees. The cool and humid climate, with plenty of rainfall and the volcanic soil are ideal for a quality output of Arabica coffees. Most of Arabica grown in Cameroon is from the Typica or Java varietals and is usually wet processed.
More recently, the northwestern department of Boyo has gained appreciation among coffee experts for its excellent sweetness and body. An earthy, heavy and flavorful coffee, Boyo beans are well-reputed, with a natural sweetness that takes its form in flavors of caramel, toffee and stone fruits. The Boyo peaberry rated beans have a bright acidity, wild sweetness and a deliciously full body.
Few other regions gained the spotlight yet. Cameroon coffees are still climbing the ladder of quality recognition among coffee roasters worldwide, and their availability may be limited. Those top quality Arabica regions already produce an excellent coffee, spearheading the Cameroon coffees production. The recent efforts of the local government, also with the help of Brazilian coffee experts, are only going to make Cameroon coffees increasingly available, of better quality and with a greater output.