Even if you haven’t had a chance to visit Tanzania yet, you may have had a little taste of it…in your coffee cup!
The country is now the 19th-largest producer of coffee in the world, exporting over 50,000 tons of coffee every year, but it came to the coffee game relatively recently. The crop may have been introduced as long ago as the 16th century (the beans chewed raw as a stimulant, or even used as money by certain tribes), but the coffee industry in Tanzania didn’t start up until the turn of the 20th century, when German colonists started cultivating it as a cash crop.
Coffee plantation at Gibb’s Farm, located in the Ngorongoro Highlands of Tanzania
Over 90% of the country’s coffee is produced by small farmers, most of whom grow Arabica beans (70% of the crop is Arabica). This type of bean flourishes at higher altitudes, and coffees from the slopes of Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru—often sold under the names “Arusha,” “Moshi,” or, predictably, “Kilimanjaro”—are considered the highest quality in the country. In general, better Tanzanian coffees are described as having a rich flavor, medium to full body, and a distinctive acidity.
For American consumers, Tanzanian coffees might often have another distinctive characteristic: they’re often peaberry coffees. When growing coffee (in any region and at any elevation), some amount of the beans develop into peaberries, coffee beans that grow singly inside the coffee cherry fruit (it’s more typical for the bean to divide in two during growth, leaving each bean with a distinctive flat side). Some connoisseurs believe peaberries have a superior flavor, since two beans have been “concentrated” into one; they’re often believed to be brighter tasting, and lighter-bodied, than normal beans grown in the same conditions. Roasters often also prefer peaberries; with no flat side, they move more consistently in the pan, preventing burning and creating a more reliable product.
Peaberry coffee beans have a “seam,” but no flat side, a fact that makes them easier to roast.
For these reasons, peaberry coffees are often marketed as specialty brews, and priced accordingly. While that may seem like a negative, in the end American consumers may be benefitting; the US market is essentially getting only Tanzania’s “cream of the crop” coffee beans, which can otherwise vary widely in quality from grower to grower.
So next time you’re looking to experience Tanzania, go no further than the coffee pot in the kitchen. It may not be quite as “full-bodied” an experience as you’ll get by visiting the country, but it’s a great way to start your day with just a hint of East African flavor!