Tanzania is known globally for its majestic wildlife, breathtaking landscapes, and perhaps surprisingly, its coffee. Each time we savor a cup of Tanzanian coffee, we are not just enjoying a delightful drink, but we're also partaking in a journey that has traversed across oceans, cultures, and processes. This is a journey through the Tanzanian coffee supply chain, from the farm to your cup.
Tanzania's coffee journey begins in its lush highland areas, including the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, the Mbeya Highlands, and the regions surrounding Lake Victoria. These areas provide the perfect climate, altitude, and rich volcanic soil that coffee plants thrive in.
Smallholder farmers, who own less than 10 hectares of land, produce about 90% of Tanzanian coffee. These farmers painstakingly care for their coffee trees, nurturing them from planting to harvesting. The trees usually bear fruit after three to four years, which are handpicked by the farmers when ripe.
After harvesting, the coffee beans (which are initially encased within a cherry-like fruit) must be processed. This can be done using the 'washed' or 'natural' method.
In the washed method, the coffee cherries are pulped to remove the outer skin and pulp. The beans are then fermented in water to remove the remaining mucilage, washed, and left to dry in the sun.
In the natural method, the coffee cherries are sun-dried as soon as they are harvested. The beans are then hulled out of the dried cherries.
These processing methods significantly affect the flavor profile of the final coffee product, with washed coffees generally having a cleaner, brighter taste, and naturally processed coffees exhibiting more fruity, wine-like flavors.
The processed and dried coffee beans are then sorted and graded based on size and density in hulling stations. After this, the coffee undergoes a rigorous quality control check where defective beans are removed. The beans are then packed into sisal or jute bags ready for export.
The Tanzanian Coffee Board oversees the auctions where exporters bid for the coffee. Once the coffee has been sold, the exporters arrange for the beans to be transported to the port of Dar es Salaam, where they are shipped to various destinations worldwide.
Upon arrival in the destination country, the coffee beans are roasted, a process that brings out their flavor. Roasting profiles vary depending on the desired flavor characteristics. The roasted beans are then cooled, packaged, and distributed to retailers.
For the final leg of their journey, the beans are ground and brewed. The grind size and brewing method used will depend on personal preference, with different methods bringing out unique aspects of the coffee's taste and aroma.
So next time you sip on a cup of Tanzanian coffee, remember the incredible journey that those little beans have been through. From being lovingly cultivated by Tanzanian farmers, processed to preserve their unique flavors, and eventually making their way into your cup, each stage of the process contributes to the delicious final product.
And with each sip, you're not only enjoying a delicious brew but also connecting with a tradition that's deeply embedded in the fabric of Tanzanian society and has a significant impact on the country's economy. A simple cup of coffee indeed holds a remarkable story, a testament to Tanzania's rich coffee culture, and the extraordinary journey from farm to cup.