Coffee generates 20% of Tanzania’s income. The country’s economy is based upon farming. Today, they sell most Tanzanian coffee to Japan, Italy, and the United States.
Tanzanian farmers grow mostly Arabica beans, but produce Robusta in the northwest corner of the country. Their most famous bean is Tanzanian peaberry, which fetches the best reviews and prices.
What does Tanzanian coffee taste like?
Tanzanian coffee is much like Kenyan coffee, but it’s a bit milder. Its flavor carries notes of molasses and baked bread, with a hint of apple and a winy acidity. From that shared base, the flavor branches out into flavors of herbs, spices, fruits, and more. Each farm has a different taste profile. Try some from different regions and taste the difference.
In This Guide:
Tanzania has a long history of growing coffee. Tanzanians brewed coffee in the 16th century. They boiled the beans in a pot and tossed in some herbs. When the beans were done, they would chew the beans as a stimulant. (Sorry, folks, I don’t have a recipe for that one.)
Regions and types
You can find great coffee grown all around the country, following the ring of mountains that loops around the outside of the country. They grow most of the coffee in the savannah-highlands.
The coffees to look out for are Moshi, Arusha, and Kilimanjaro. Farmers grow these beans at elevations over 4,500 feet on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru, near the border with Kenya on the north side of the country. Coffees grown here have a brighter taste and a little more acid than beans grown elsewhere in Tanzania.
Tanzanian peaberry is one of the most famous and in-demand of all peaberry beans. The same farms that produce Northern Mountain beans grow Tanzanian peaberry. Peaberries make up 5% of coffee grown on most farms.
A peaberry happens when a coffee plant grows one fruit in a pod, instead of the normal two. People like peaberry coffee because it tastes better. The tree is putting all its energy into one bean instead of two. They also roast better because they are more evenly round than regular coffee beans.
Growers sort the peaberries out early to make certain they have the best treatment. The rest of the beans are still high-quality Arabica, so the growers give them caring treatment as well.
Another set of highly desired Arabicas comes from the Southern Highlands. These include Mbeya (the name of a town) and Pare (the name of a market). Farmers grow the beans between Lake Nyasa and Lake Tanganyika. These coffees are a touch stronger with more body.
Farms produce Robusta coffee in Bukoba. Bukoba is in the northwest, near the border and Lake Victoria. Tropical rainforest makes up most of this region, unlike the rest of Tanzania.
People grow Arabica coffee on farms across the country of Tanzania. Many coffees grown around Tanzania qualify as Strictly High Grown (SHG) / Strictly Hard Bean (SHB) Arabica. Farmers grow this coffee from 1,400 to 2,000 meters above sea level (starting at 4,593 feet.)
Less prominent regions include:
We know Arabicas and Robustas well. Some of us have tasted Liberica. Growers have discovered two new species of coffee in Tanzania’s Eastern Arc Mountain Range. These species are Coffea bridsoniae and C. kihansiensis. So far, farmers have not grown these beans in enough volume to see if they have a market.
Most coffee farms grow other crops as well, hoping that diversification can help them ride out the whims of the market. On the high savannah, many of the coffee fields look like orchards with the trees planted in a grid pattern on sloping hills. They can run tractors between the plants for weeding, or can use that space for complementary crops to grow. Bananas and other trees create shade for the coffee, making its growing conditions more ideal.
Climate change is already harming Tanzanian coffee production. Rains are lessening and there is not enough surface or ground water in most places to make up for that loss.
You are very unlikely to find organic beans in Tanzania. However, any Tanzanian bean you drink is likely to be organic anyway.
Smallholders hold most of the farms, although there are some larger remnants of earlier plantation agriculture. Small holders make up 90% of the 400,000 farming families that grow coffee. Most smallholders lack the money for things like fertilizers or pesticides. And they also lack the money for organic certification. These beans are called organic by default.
Tanzanian coffee is wet processed (or washed), as is about half the coffee around the world. First, the water washes away the skin and dirt from the outside of the berry. Because of the need for expensive, specialized equipment, these steps mostly happen off the farm.
The beans are then put in a large vat of water. Bad beans rise to the top. The rest form a mucilage around themselves which is fermented and washed off with water. This stage adds a winy taste to the coffee beans. Processors then dry and mill the beans to make them ready for sale and roasting.
Typically, Tanzanian coffee is given a City Roast. To get this medium-dark roast, a roaster cooks the bean until its color has turned dark and they hear the first crack, then they roast it just a tiny bit more. A Cinnamon Roast removes the bean immediately after the first crack. Full City Roasters darken the bean almost to the second crack.
The resulting roast brings out berry flavors, floral scents, and just a hit of black pepper. City Roast complements the Tanzanian coffees because it brings out the high acidity and sweet, wine-like flavors. However, light roasts do the best to bring out the delicate details of the flavor profile.
Buy your Tanzanian coffee freshly roasted. These coffees tend to sit around the warehouse for a longer time. That’s fine, as long as the roast is fresh.
Coffees to try
These three coffees are equally good. To pick between them, look at the very different flavor profiles they have from each other.
This coffee was chosen as #18 in Coffee Review’s “Best Coffees of 2022”. Tanzania Mbeye Mimba comes from the Southern Highlands of Tanzania. This light roast brings out flavors of fig, passionfruit, and molasses, but the dominant flavor is like cola with blackberries.
Meanwhile, it smells like peaches. It’s a lively, fruity mix. The taste does not stop there with this complex cup. Other tasters speak of finding chocolate, mustard, star jasmine, or sandalwood. It’s a great representative of not just Tanzanian coffee, but one of the best in all of Africa.
Another award-winning coffee, Tanzania Acacia Hills Gesta Peaberry is the peaberry to try. It’s complex flavor profile is sweet-savory. It comes on strong with toffee and blueberry jam, then picks up unusual notes of lavender, spearmint, and cedar with florals and spices. All of this coffee is Gesha peaberries, making it one of the most sought-after coffees around. Coffee drinkers widely consider Gesha to be the best bean around. This medium-light roast brings out the best in the coffee.
This one is not always available so check out the following alternatives:
Tanzania Ngila Estate SL28 is another complex cup that adds flavors of flowers, herbs, and fruits to a complex base. The smell hits you first with red currant and pink grapefruit zest over a rich, deep molasses. This bittersweet cup also has flavors of almond brittle and hop flowers. It has bright acidity and a very syrupy mouthfeel. Paradise Roasters specializes in micro-lot coffees, each grown from a small farm footprint.
If you can’t find this one, try the Ngila from Blackwater Coffee Roasters