Tanzania Coffee: The Secrets Behind These World-Class Beans

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

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In the heart of East Africa lies a land where fertile soils, rugged landscapes and a favorable climate combine to produce exceptional coffees. Tanzania coffee, anyone? Yes, absolutely!

In the heart of East Africa lies a land where fertile soils, rugged landscapes and a favorable climate combine to produce exceptional coffees. Tanzania coffee, anyone? Yes, absolutely!

This bustling East African nation is famous for the climbers’ paradise Mount Kilimanjaro and the expansive grassy plains of the Serengeti.

However, what many don’t know is that it’s also a world-class coffee-producing nation. In fact, some of the finest single-estate and Peaberry coffee beans in the world come from here.

Tanzanian coffee has seen a meteoric rise from humble beginnings. It’s now a rising star in the world of specialty coffee. Central to this rise is how this country plants, harvests and processes its coffee beans. 

The result? Sublime, fruit-forward single-origin beans and Tanzania Peaberry coffee with fruity, chocolaty undertones and mellow acidity.

Get ready for an exciting coffee safari full of intricate flavors, rich aromas and captivating stories. Join me on an unforgettable journey into Africa’s caffeine-rich soul!

A Brief History of Tanzania Coffee

It may surprise you that the history of coffee in Tanzania dates back to the 16th Century. The Haya tribe in Northwest Tanzania brewed and consumed indigenous Robusta cherries as a stimulant. I doubt they knew just how much this humble coffee fruit would transform their country centuries later!

Then came the Omani Sultanate, which took control of Zanzibar in 1698. It also ruled a large swathe of the East African coast, including Mombasa in Kenya and Dar-es-Salaam on mainland Tanganyika.

While they may have chosen to establish spice instead of coffee plantations, the Omanis did one thing better – they introduced their rich coffee-drinking tradition to the locals.

History of Tanzania Coffee

In the early 1900s, the Germans colonized Tanganyika as a part of German East Africa. By 1911, they had commercialized plantations of Arabica coffee trees in the Kilimanjaro region.

One mandate was that locals grow this coffee over other food crops. However, after World War I Germany lost all its colonies, surrendering Tanganyika to the British.

Arabica coffee production then expanded under the British. The result? Six thousand tons of Tanzanian coffee beans were exported by 1925.

Fast-forward to 1961, independence and the birth of the United Republic of Tanzania. The new republic adopted a socialist policy of Ujamaa, a cooperative system much like the Israeli kibbutz.

Arabica cultivation thrived in the east, and Robusta cultivation in the west. Sadly, all these efforts to build a thriving coffee industry collapsed in the 1970s due to failed government policies.

Tanzania Coffee Production Today

It was in the 1990s that the Tanzania coffee industry picked up again. Independentcoffee farmers got licenses from the Tanzanian Coffee Board. They could now produce and sell coffee directly to roasters and exporters.

The board’s role now involves regulating the industry and advising the government on all things coffee. It also oversees quality control, coffee grading and the weekly auction at Moshi.

Today, coffee is a success story in Tanzania. It’s the country’s largest cash crop, earning over 400,000 families a livelihood.

How to buy Tanzanian Coffee

This East African country is the continent’s fourth-largest coffee producer, after Ethiopia, Uganda and Côte d’Ivoire. Plus, it ranks an impressive 14th in the top coffee-producing countries in the world.

Tanzania did well in the 2022/2023 coffee season. The country hit a new record, producing 81,498 metric tons of coffee – the most since independence. This bumper crop earned the economy an eye-popping $238 million.

What’s more, the Tanzania Coffee Board forecasts good things: a 13 percent increase in production for the 2023/2024 season.

Unlike in some other countries, farmers must sell Tanzania coffee to a cooperative. These cooperatives deliver coffee beans for sale at the weekly auction at Moshi.

Consequently, coffee farmers can no longer engage in direct trade, and this, in my humble opinion, isn’t a good thing. I hope this policy changes in the future to give coffee farmers greater opportunities and freedom to seek out new markets and earn a better income through direct trading.

Despite these setbacks, Tanzania is making a name for itself as a single-estate coffee wonder kid. Connoisseurs especially rave about Tanzanian Peaberry. This specialty coffee boasts a distinct flavor profile with chocolate and citrus at the forefront, winey undertones and a sweet, mellow acidity.

AA-quality Tanzanian beans mainly end up in Japan, Italy, the United States, Germany, Russia, Morocco and Australia.

Why Does Coffee Grow Well in Tanzania?

Coffee, like wine, is a demanding mistress. Don’t treat her right, and you can expect losses. You’re guaranteed a terrible harvest and possible financial ruin without the proper growing conditions, inputs and cultivation techniques.

Thankfully, Tanzania has the right growing conditions for both Arabica and Robusta plants.

Coffee here grows at high altitudes, between 1,400 and 1,800 masl (meters above sea level). These elevations classify Tanzania coffees as Strictly High Grown (SHG) or Strictly Hard Bean (SHB). This type of coffee experiences cooler night air, abundant rainfall and just enough sunshine. Coffee plants also thrive in the fertile volcanic soils, especially around the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru.

What does all this mean eventually? For starters, it means a slow-growing coffee plant that produces a nutrient-dense cherry and coffee bean. All in all, these conditions guarantee a healthy, sweet and flavorful coffee.

Arabica coffee that thrives in Tanzania include the Arabica Bourbon, Kent, Typica, N39, Blue Mountain and Nyassa varieties. Farmers specialize in shade-grown coffee, intercropping their coffee plants with banana trees.

The benefits of cultivating coffee this way include:

  • Better quality. Sweet, complex and great-tasting coffee.

  • Protection of natural biodiversity. Birds, insects and other animals call tree canopies home.

  • Protection of local water supplies. Intercropped coffee trees prevent excessive pesticide, fungicide and fertilizer runoffs.

  • Enhancement of the natural ecosystem. Shade-grown coffee plants get nutrients from the trees and shade trees protect coffee plants from frost damage. It’s the perfect symbiotic relationship.

Tanzanian Coffee Growing Regions

Although Tanzania is the lesser-known neighbor of Ethiopia and Kenya in the coffee world, its coffees are just as good!

Uniquely (here’s where it beats Kenya and Ethiopia), Tanzania also has a sizable area under Robusta production. Interestingly, the country is still discovering new Robusta coffee species. Recent encounters in the Eastern Arc Mountains include Coffea kihasiensis and Coffea bridsoniae.

Arabica harvests occur from July to December and are available to the market from February the following year. Robusta harvests take place between April and November.

Tanzanian Coffee Growing Regions

The Northern Highlands 

The Northeastern region of Tanzania includes Arusha, Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Meru and Pare. You’ll find coffee thriving here at between 1,250 and 1,400 masl.

Due to the high elevation, cooler climate, abundant rainfall and volcanic soils, coffee here develops slowly. This concentrates nutrients in the coffee cherry and bean. The result? A premium, flavorful coffee with no bitter taste.

The West Lakes Region

Lying next to the shores of Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika, the beautiful Western Lakes region borders Burundi and Rwanda. This is where Tanzania’s coffee story started, when the Haya tribe satisfied their curiosity about indigenous Robusta beans.

Centers like Bukoba, Kagera, Manyara and Muleba produce the bulk of Tanzania’s Robusta coffee. Unlike other regions, farmers here concentrate on Robusta cultivation. Coffee thrives at 1,200 – 1,400 masl in fertile loam soils.

The Southern Highlands 

The Southern Highlands comprises Songea, Ruvuma, Mbeya and the Matengo Highlands. This area borders Lake Malawi, at 1,200 – 1,800 masl.

The beans here are distinctly fruity, floral and medium-bodied, thanks to the fertile, non-volcanic loam soils.

Southern Highlands coffee also benefits from improved drying conditions and easier shipping. They don’t suffer from “steaming in transit,” a common cause of defective Tanzanian beans. The bulk of Tanzania’s coffee production comes from the Mbeya region.

How Is Coffee Processed in Tanzania?

So, what happens after the harvest?

As in similar African countries, coffee here is hand-picked. Farmers in the northern and southern regions harvest from July to December. In contrast, they pick cherries in the Western Lakes region from May to October.

Once the harvest is over, the cherries undergo one of two processing methods:

Washed Coffee Process

Wet processing (Washed Coffees)

Quality control is the first step in wet processing. Workers sort, peel, soak and ferment the coffee cherries in water to break down the mucilage. Next, they sun-dry the coffee beans to achieve a 10-12 percent humidity level.

Why do farmers go for the wet-processing route?

It consistently results in high-quality coffee. But keep in mind this processing method is more expensive. Not everyone can afford it because it requires specialized fermentation tanks. Plus, it uses more water than natural processed coffees.

Still, most of Tanzania’s Arabica harvest undergoes wet processing.

Dry Processing (Natural Processed Coffees)

Robusta coffee farmers in Tanzania process their coffee cherries rather differently.

Workers spread the coffee cherries on a raised bed and allow them to sun-dry in a process known as dry processing. Again, they wait until the beans achieve a 10-12 percent moisture content.

Hand-turning the cherries is vital to avoid mold contamination, fermentation or rotting. Workers remove the skin and pulp once the cherries are sufficiently dry, revealing the green beans within.

This parchment coffee is now ready for packaging in jute bags, cup quality checks, grading, roasting or export.

What Does Tanzania Coffee Taste Like?

Tanzanian coffees pack quite a punch. However, their acidity is gentler than coffees from their northern neighbors, Ethiopia and Kenya. In addition, after roasting, coffee beans from each growing region display unique characteristics.

Coffee from the Kilimanjaro Region

Kilimanjaro coffee boasts prominent black fruit, red fruit and lemon flavors. It also has sweet chocolate, vanilla and praline undertones. Like Kenya coffee, beans from this region have a distinct acidity and smooth, velvety mouthfeel.

Coffee from the Southern Highlands

Southern Highlands Tanzania coffee has distinct fruit flavors of black cherry and tangerine. Look out for pronounced chocolate, molasses and caramel undertones.

These roasted coffee beans have a famous silky body and gentle acidity. It’s unique characteristics such as these that distinguish Tanzanian coffee beans from other African coffees.

Coffee from the West Lakes Region

Robusta coffees come from the West Lakes region near Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika. These coffees share many premium qualities with Arabica Kenya coffee.

They make a good quality breakfast or morning coffee as a light roast. What stands out about these beans? Lovely citrus flavors with hints of caramel, and lively but gentle acidity.

You could also take these beans through a second crack and enjoy them as a dark or espresso roast. With this roast profile, these coffees bloom, revealing hidden chocolate notes full of spice.

Tanzanian Peaberry Coffee

Picking Coffee in Tanzania

Most Tanzanian peaberries come from the Mount Kilimanjaro and Meru regions. This type of coffee differs from regular coffee. It contains a single bean within its coffee cherry instead of two half beans.

Incidentally, one in nine cherries in a typical coffee harvest is a peaberry. It takes patience and dedication to separate these beans from regular beans, making them a coveted item in the coffee world.

Due to the greater nutrient concentration in a single bean, Tanzania peaberries make great coffee. They exude a bright yet mellow acidity and fruity, chocolaty flavors in every cup. These caffeine-rich coffees boast a fragrant aroma, superior cup quality and a gentle aftertaste.

It’s no wonder that peaberry coffee from Tanzanian estates, such as Kilimanjaro and Ngila sell at a premium and always fetch more at the market!

How to Buy Tanzanian Coffee

So where can you buy these delicious beans from an East African country serious about its coffee?

Look for Tanzania coffee beans at your favorite independent roasters online or at your neighborhood coffee shop. It’s unlikely (though possible) you’ll find them in grocery stores.

As these are high-quality specialty coffees, they mostly sell as single-estate micro-lot coffee or Peaberry beans.

At Coffeeness, we recommend purchasing fresh-roasted Tanzania whole beans to ensure you get the real thing. Fresh roasted coffee beans will also last longer in your pantry, giving you superior cup quality every time.

This is especially true for dark roasts with significant amounts of surface oils. Excess oils mean these beans spoil much faster than medium or light roasts.

Use this short checklist when choosing coffee beans from reputable coffee traders: 

  • Buy coffee beans packed in vacuum-sealed, nitrogen-flushed valve bags. Ideal quantities are 5-pound (2.3-kilogram) or 12-ounce (340-gram) bags.

  • The “roasted on” date should be visible to ensure high-quality brews every time.

  • Coffee bean bags should label the country origin, region and for single-estate coffees, the estate that produced the coffee beans.

  • Tanzania’s coffee is high-grown at elevations above 1,400 meters. The coffee bag should state this information.

  • The contents should read “100% Arabica” for single-origin coffees or a 90 percent Arabica-Robusta blend for blended coffees.

  • Tanzania coffees that boast “shade-grown” and “micro-lot” labels are a sign that your roasted coffee comprises high-quality beans.

How to Brew Tanzanian Coffee

Tanzania coffee shines as medium roast and dark roast offerings. Remember that beans grown in different regions and altitudes pick up different flavors. Processing techniques also impart unique characteristics.

Tanzanian medium roast coffee is light and sweet with a delicate fruity flavor, winey notes and bright but gentle acidity.

Moccamaster Kaffeemaschine Preinfusion

Coffee beans from the Kilimanjaro and Southern Highland regions are perfect for your drip coffee maker or pour-over coffee maker. These two brewing methods highlight these coffees’ sweet, delicate fruit flavors and vibrant acidity.

Roasting these beans to a medium-dark profile for espresso or espresso drinks will yield superior cup quality. Due to the high quality of the coffee beans, you’ll likely still discern the sweet chocolaty taste and achieve as good a crema as with a dark roast.

If you prefer a dark roast, source Tanzania Arabica beans blended with Robusta from the Western Lakes region. These beans are full-bodied and chocolaty with pronounced floral and spice undertones.

To bring out the best in every cup, buy dark roast Tanzania coffee beans for cold brew, or French press.

As for Tanzania Peaberry, you can have it as a hot or cold beverage. These beauties are quite oily, so it’s best to use a metal filter for the proper filtration of the oils. Brewing with a pour-over, French press or Chemex will get you the perfect cup of joe

Final Thoughts: The Future Looks Peaberry Bright for Tanzania Coffee

So, there you have it! Everything you need to know about Tanzanian coffee in one place.

As we’ve seen, Tanzania has the perfect coffee-growing conditions. It’s no wonder high-quality Arabica and Robusta varieties thrive in this East African country’s diverse microclimates.

This ideal environment also adds to the distinct flavors and tasting notes that coffee lovers who know their stuff cherish. I particularly enjoy the berry-like delicacy of Tanzanian Peaberry, Bourbon’s bright acidity and Kent’s earthiness.

Whether a passionate connoisseur or casual coffee enthusiast, I guarantee you’ll enjoy Tanzania coffee beans. They result from the intricate interplay between nature and quality production.

It’s my hope you enjoyed reading all about Tanzanian coffee. Have you tried this coffee before? Please share your thoughts with the Coffeeness community in the comments section below!

Tanzania Coffee FAQ

Tanzania has fertile, volcanic soils, lots of rainfall and rugged, highland coffee-growing zones. Coffee here benefits from the nutrient-rich soils and the cooler environment. These all promote slower growth, resulting in a coffee with complex flavors, brilliant acidity and superior cup quality.

Tanzania coffee is excellent, with consistently high quality. These coffee beans benefit from a medium or dark roast profile.

Often compared to Kenya coffee, Tanzania coffee beans have a bright but gentle acidity, medium body and fruity, winy flavors. They sometimes display distinct black tea, spice, cedar and chocolate undertones.

Tanzanian Peaberry is of exceptional quality. It’s famous for its full body, vibrant flavor, fragrant aroma and mellow winey notes. The acidity is moderate and subtle. This offers drinkers a unique coffee experience compared to regular coffee beans.

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Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

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