In northern Tanzania Mount Kilimanjaro reigns supreme; it is simultaneously the continent’s highest peak (16,000 feet from base to summit), an extinct stratovolcano and the source of a majority of Tanzania’s high quality arabica coffee since the late 1800s. Here the mineral rich, volcanic soil and abundant intercropping of mostly tall banana trees for natural shade, provide excellent growing conditions for small farm holders. This peaberry microlot from the Kibosho cooperative is a collection of washed Bourbon and Kent from Kilimanjaro’s southern slopes that cups quite nice with notes of spicy brown sugar, tea, tropical fruits, and caramel.
Cooperative growing is the norm in Tanzania with independent, small farms accounting for approximately 90% of the annual production. Practically all of Tanzania’s exported coffee is of the washed type, and although there is a small contingent of robusta grown at lower altitudes, the vast majority is arabica. In the late 1800s German colonists were responsible for arabica’s introduction and with it an array of laws that mandated its cultivation. Historically the Haya tribe in the northwest were the only people that possessed a documented, pre-German use of coffee, believed to have arrived from Ethiopia via Kenya. Fast forward a hundred years — following the formation of an independent Tanzanian state that instituted a series of unsuccessful government-controlled initiatives aimed at consolidating production, reforms were made in the 1990s that helped open up the industry to independent, privately run co-ops. At this time the Tanzanian Coffee Board (previously The Coffee Authority of Tanzania) was re-established and given limited authority to issue licensing permits for cultivation, sales and exports. Moreover the board handles all inspections and grading as well as the Moshi Coffee Auction, a weekly Kenya-style auction in Kilimanjaro that gives farmers similar access to international buyers and licensed local exporters. Tanzania coffee farmers can also utilize specialized services and receive education in modernized agricultural made available through the Tanzania Coffee Research Institute, which was founded as a non-profit in 2000 to assist the nation’s approximately 2.4 million coffee growers.
Tanzania borders a few of the great East African coffee producers, namely Burundi, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda and Uganda. The Kibosho cooperative is located in the Moshi district, just south of Kilimanjaro’s peak near Tanzania’s northeastern border with Kenya. Kibosho Mwekasungu heads co-op operations and its membership in cultivation and processing (wet), which is achieved using locally-made, hand-driven pulping machines. Fermentation is done on a very small scale using buckets in a similar fashion to those frequently used by farmers in rural Sumatra. The coffee is then sun dried on patios and/or mats before the dried parchment is delivered to a central collection point and stored in sisal bags prior to its delivery to the local dry mill. Once milled and graded, it is put up for auction via the Tanzania Coffee Board. In the final stage, the lot is transported over 300 miles south to the Eastern port of Dar Es Salaam for final processing and export.