Java Beat: The Coffees of Africa
This article originally published in The Sturbridge Times, May 2018
By Elvis Dyer, Owner/Roaster, Sturbridge Coffee Roasters
African coffees are grown in high elevations and lush soil conditions, which are optimal for the cultivation of excellent coffee. Coffee farmers here typically own and operate much smaller plots and many African farmers are subsistence farmers, meaning they survive off their own land and grow food for their own consumption. Coffee tends to be the only actual cash income a farmer may receive. In general, washed African Arabica coffees are bright, balanced and contain a citrus, berry, winy or floral essence.
Ethiopia: The very first Arabica coffee plant was found in Ethiopia in the ninth century. According to legend, a goat herder took notice of the plant when he realized the energizing effect it had on his herd. Ethiopia is the largest coffee producer in Africa and is the geographic home of Arabica coffee, the most popular beans worldwide. The processing methods – whether it be the dry method (the beans are dried inside the fruit) or the wet method (the fruit is immediately removed from the beans in a series of complex operations before the beans are dried) provide for a range in variation of the wine- and fruit-toned acidity characteristic of Africa coffees. The best washed coffees are elegant, complex and delicious, and the best naturally processed ones can be described as wildly fruity and pleasantly unusual. Ethiopian coffees are known for their distinct and elegant floral, herbal and citrus notes. Ethiopian coffee drinkers often sense notes of jasmine flower, bergamot and blueberry in aftertaste. The body of the coffee is not very strong and acidity is mild and pleasant.
Kenya: Kenya produces top quality Arabica coffee which is globally recognized for its unique and exquisite taste. Kenyan beans produce a sharp, fruity acidity, combined with full body and rich fragrance Kenyan Arabica is grown on rich volcanic soils found in the highlands between 1,400 to 2,000 meters above sea level, often by small farmers. This altitude affects the taste, and Kenya offers some of the most intensely aromatic, brightly acidic coffees in the world. The taste profile is complex and can possess interesting fruity flavors, notes of berry and citrus, some almost winy. Taste wise, Kenyan coffees often are either big and bold with a clean juiciness, or tropical and crisp. Compared to Ethiopian coffee, Kenya coffee is much brighter, and higher in acidity.
Yemen: The coffee also referred to as “Mocha” (also spelled Moka, Moca, or Mocca) is grown as it has been for hundreds of years in the mountains of Yemen. Yemen Mochas are dry or natural coffees; dried with the fruit still attached to the beans. Yemen coffees are complex and balanced, high acidity, floral in aroma and have a medium-heavy body.
Uganda: Uganda is the original home of coffea canephora, or robusta. The majority of Uganda coffee production is dry-processed robusta used in instant coffees and as fillers in blends. Uganda also produces wet-processed arabicas, which are almost entirely grown by villagers on small plots.
Burundi: Burundi coffees are produced on small plots by villagers in the northern part of the country and wet processed at small mills. Most is grown in full shade and tend to be bright and dynamic, with flavor notes of red fruits, berries and citrus.
Tanzania: Most Tanzania coffee sold in the United States is peaberry, a grade made up entirely of coffee from fruit that produces a single, rounded bean rather than twin flat-sided beans. Most Tanzania coffees share the sharp, winy acidity typical of Africa and Arabia coffees. They tend to be medium- to full-bodied and rich in flavor. Other Tanzania coffees from the Kilimanjaro region may exhibit soft, floral profiles reminiscent of similar washed Ethiopia coffees.
Malawi: Malawi specialty coffees currently reaching North America are produced by estates. These estate Malawis embody the softer, more floral style of East Africa coffee – sweet, delicate and bright.
Zambia: Most often produced by large estates, these are coffees in the classic East Africa tradition – medium bodied, floral in aroma, with a wine-toned, acidy cup.
Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe is a wet-processed coffee grown on medium-sized to large farms and is another variant on the acidy, winy-toned coffees of East Africa.
Rwanda: Rwandan coffees are often sweet with bright notes, with flavors ranging from citrus to floral. Rwandan coffees are also known for their smooth buttery taste.
Ready to have some coffee? African coffees are a great way to expand your palate and amaze your senses.