Tanzania has a long history of coffee cultivation. The first coffee plant, probably of the Robusta species, was planted in modern-day Tanzania already in the 16th century, coming from Ethiopia. Locals used to boil and chew the coffee cherries long before the colonial period.
It was not until the beginning of the 20th century though that coffee production started as we know it, involving drying the cherries, roasting and then brewing it. Germans introduced Arabica coffee, and the British continued the production after World War I. Between the two world wars the first Tanzanian cooperative was born, the Kilimanjaro Native Planters’ Association, with the aim to collaborate and guarantee farmers better prices for their coffee at auctions. Tanzanian coffee started then to make a name in the coffee world.
After Tanzania reached independence, numerous economic and political crises prevented the coffee industry from reaching its full potential. Most of the area of coffee farming was hit by wilt disease in the 1990s and that affected the burgeoning coffee industry, especially in the Arabica-growing zones.
Nowadays the largest part of Tanzanian coffee is Arabica, with a third remaining with Robusta. The grading system is similar to the country’s northern neighbours, Kenya, with coffee beans being classified by size and defects in AA, A, B, PB, C, E, F, AF, TT, UG and TEX categories. Most of the excellent Tanzanian coffee sold abroad comes from the AA, A, B and PB grades, with the rest more used in blends or for cheaper products.
The most well-reputed area of coffee production in Tanzania is the Kilimanjaro region. It’s fully Arabica and has an optimal altitude to allow the coffee cherry to fully develop its flavours. The Typica and Bourbon varieties dominate the production, with a complex, fruity, very acidic taste profile.
In the north-west region of Tanzania, close to the border with Uganda, Robusta cultivation takes precedence over Arabica, with ancient farms being faithful to this coffee plant species.
On the opposite side of Tanzania, in its extreme south, the regions of Ruvuma and Mbeya have gained consideration from the coffee industry for their recent quality coffees. Lack of financing and with a limited international profile have held back these regions to gain the acceptance their coffees would warrant.
We can use similar words for the central region of Kigoma: some excellent coffees have come from this origin in the heart of Tanzania, but the area is still to be considered in its infancy with regard to recognition and acceptance abroad.
More famous is instead Tanzania Peaberry. Not a region per se but a particular share of the production of the country, graded as PB. Less than 9% of all the beans of Tanzanian coffees are classified as Peaberry: when a single bean grows inside the cherry instead of a pair, that’s a Peaberry. Usually the Peaberry graded beans show well-developed flavours, which in the case of Tanzanian coffees mean a vibrant, very fruity and buttery coffee, with hints of cedar and a lingering aftertaste. Tanzanian Peaberry coffees raise high prices at auctions worldwide, are highly sought-after and are roasted medium to enhance their good body without losing the more delicate, fruity, flavours.