Coffee may have been introduced to Tanzania’s northwest as early as the 1600s from Ethiopia, It was likely Robusta, and it was cultivated and used by the Haya (Bahaya) people, as a fruit, boiled, and combined with herbs to be chewed as a stimulant. It was so precious that it was used as a means of exchange. Arabica may first have arrived in what is now Tanzania, from the French...
Coffee may have been introduced to Tanzania’s northwest as early as the 1600s from Ethiopia, It was likely Robusta, and it was cultivated and used by the Haya (Bahaya) people, as a fruit, boiled, and combined with herbs to be chewed as a stimulant. It was so precious that it was used as a means of exchange. Arabica may first have arrived in what is now Tanzania, from the French island of Réunion (formerly Bourbon Island; an early experimental coffee cultivation platform) where the local Spiritan (Holy Ghost Father) bishop resided.
The Sultan of Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania) gave the Europeans permission to start a mission. Perhaps as early as 1868 the Spiritans were in Bagamoyo on Tanzania’s east coast, where the local tribal leadership offered the sect land purportedly to aid the survivors of slavery. By 1877 the local mission school had a flourishing Arabica coffee garden.
The German colonization of Tanganyika was undertaken by a private German enterprise, the Society for German Colonization. According to Alexander MacDonald,, in Tanzania:Young Nation in a Hurry, NY, 1966, “when the Germans arrived at Bokoba in 1885 they found that Bahaya chewed the beans but made no drink of it. In the nineties, German priests of the missionary Holy Ghost order showed the Chagga tribesman in Moshi, on the slopes of Kilamanjaro, how to cultivate the plant.”
Between 1896 and 1912 a railroad was built connecting Tanga and Moshi. It encouraged coffee-growing activities on Kilimanjaro. The British, who occupied Tanganyika during WWI, received a mandate to administer it in the Treaty of Versailles that ended that war. Under the English coffee planting was extended, and though the Haya resisted, the Chagga people, with limited coffee experience under the Germans, now took it up as a serious means of income, as slave trading, one of their traditional income sources, had been stripped away by law. The Chagga exported coffee valued at $1.2 million in 1925. In that same year, Tanganyika’s first coffee co-op, the Kilimanjaro Native Planters’ Association (KNPA) was founded. Under the British, Internal improvements as the extension of the railway into the interior enabled furthered the expansion of coffee lands.
Harold R. Higgins, the great English Coffee-man of the first half of the 20th century, introduced his Tanzania Kibo Chagga to London in the early years after World War II. While it was Higgins’ flat bean coffee that made it’s mark in Britain, In the US it was the Peaberry style of Tanzania coffee that found an audience, followed in the 1990’s by David Robinson’s, Sweet Unity Farm brand coffee; a flat bean from Tanzania’s Southern Highlands, that brought added attention to Tanzania’s coffee produce.
Grown in the shadow of bananas trees, coffee was a lucrative crop for the Haya until climate change in recent years severely diminished crop size. Market conditions have hurt the value of the crop also, reducing income to farm families still further. The technologies for combating climate change are varied, and costly. Additionally, these costs will increase the cost of production at a time when good sound coffee is selling at unsustainably low prices.
Coffee is grown by about 450,000 families, which is about 90% of total Tanzania coffee producers. The remaining 10% comes from private estates. Indirectly coffee provides an income to about 6% of the nation’s 40-million people. Tanzania produced 1.3-Million bags (60Kg) in the 2018-19 season.
Arabicas grow on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru, near the Kenyan border are sold as “Kilimanjaro.” Northern towns as Moshi and Arusha, also lend their names to the coffees of this area. Arabicas also grow In the Southwest, between Lakes Tanganyika, and Lake Nyasa. These are often called Mbeya, and Songea, taking the names of local towns. There is also some Arabica grown around Iringa in the central area of the country, near Tanga in the East, and Moragoro, and Tarime in the North.
Adding to Tanzania’s coffee challenges, is that in Japan, the nation’s largest coffee trading partner, the All Japan Fair Trade Council decided that all Tanzanian coffee can be labelled "Kilimanjaro coffee" regardless of where it was grown in Tanzania, and any coffee blend that contains 30% or more Tanzanian beans can also be labeled “Kilimanjaro coffee.” The net result is more interest in Tanzanian coffee in Japan, and degradation of the Kilimanjaro name, as it allows products that have only 30% Tanzania beans, perhaps none of them from the slopes of Kilimanjaro, to be labelled “Kilimanjaro coffee.”
Tanzania, as Kenya, and Uganda, uses the old colonial British grading scale based on bean size with AA being the highest grade followed by A, AB, and B. Peaberry (PB) is a special grade.
Tanzanian Peaberry coffee (PB) is a mutation, where instead of two beans facing each other, there is only one bean within the fruity. The bean that forms has no flat side, and is often the shape of an American football, or “pea”; hence Peaberry, in English. The peaberries are separated from the flat bean coffee, and sold as a separate deluxe grade. Some cuppers, myself included, believe that peaberry produces a more intense cup than flat bean of the same variety. They are sought by US candy-makers who coat them with hard chocolate shells, and sell them through specialty shops.