A troubled history of an amazing coffee!
Uganda is a small African nation nestled between Kenya, Tanzania and Congo which mainly consists of a high plain located over 1000 meters above sea level. The entire country with its beautiful mountains, some of which go higher than 4000 meters, are completely covered with rainforest. Shortly, if you would imagine the ideal territory for coffee, it would be Uganda.
The path of Ugandan coffee has not always been easy. The unfortunately instability of the country, with its difficult social and economical paths accompanied by civil wars and dictatorships, have marked this country since its independence in 1962.
In the 1990s the country began to gradually come out of this situation of instability thanks to the support of entities such as the European Economic Community and various NGOs. Also coffee, which in the meantime had become the country’s main economic resource, has then also begun to improve in terms of quality.
From that moment on, also due to the country’s exit from the ICO (International Coffee Organization) and the creation of its own internal body (the Uganda Coffee Development Authority), the country tries to develop the coffee industry with continuous policies to support production and training of farmers.
Exports have thus begun to grow exponentially and the approach to production has changed, becoming more attentive to the needs of the markets and final consumers.
Coffee from Uganda: arabica and robusta
Uganda is currently the second largest coffee producer in Africa, after Ethiopia. Coffee accounts for 95% of the country’s exports and creates jobs for around three million people.
One of the reasons for the success of the Ugandan coffee industry was also knowing how to take advantage of production problems, especially various “epidemics” like the coffee rust.
This has shifted the attention to the production of Robusta coffee which is easier to grow and today accounts for 85% of the country’s coffee production. A small share of coffee grown in Uganda is also represented by the Liberica species, consumed mainly in the domestic market. The growth of Arabica plants is rather scarce, but of very high quality.
Robusta coffee, in Uganda, is grown mainly on the shores of Lake Victoria, at an altitude between 900 and 1200 meters. This altitude is quite high for the Robusta (canephora) species, but justified by the country’s hot-humid tropical climate.
Other Robusta coffee production areas in Uganda, are located in the northern-central area of the country.
The local Robusta is often referred to as “Nganda” by the locals whereas the Liberic cofffee variety grown in the country is referred to as “Dweverei”.
Characteristics of arabica coffees from Uganda
As we previously mentioned, the Arabica coffees are cultivated with a high cultivation standard techniques and selection degrees. In the next chapter we’ll better identify the Uganda specialty coffee production areas, but we can more generally say that Arabica is produced in Uganda in three main areas:
- The mountains of the South West, in the area of Mount Rwenzori and the Bwindi forest, on the slopes of the “Moon Mountains”
- The North West, in the Arua area, where coffee grows in the shade of banyan trees
- The east, in the restricted area of Mbale
Most Ugandan Arabica coffees are processed with the washed method, although in recent years there has been an increasingly high level of experimentation, even with various fermentation techniques.
It is also interesting to say that 3% of Ugandan coffee production is certified as sustainably grown (source Uganda Coffee Development Authority). This doesn’t mean that the rest isn’t sustainably grown, as many of the farmers are not able to afford the expensive certifications which guarantee an organic or fairtrade certification.
Production areas of specialty coffee in Uganda
As previously mentioned, the Arabica from Uganda is a small part of the total production and currently represents about 800,000 bags.
Quite a few of these reach the +80 points necessary to be recognized as a specialty coffee.
These coffees come from very small crops grown on steep slopes, each with
unique characteristics. The most frequently grown varieties are: Typica, SL 14, SL 28 and Kent.
Since small producers usually don’t have all the necessary machinery, the drupes are almost always brought to the “washing stations” to be processed.
Many of these coffees come from one of the most developed areas, Mount Elgon, home to a characteristic variety of the Arabica from Uganda. The Bugisu variety is grown near the Sipi waterfalls, on the border to Kenya and is recognized for its strong flavor, wine-like notes and a taste that reminds us of sweet chocolate.
If you are looking for a truly comprehensive report on Ugandan coffee, this document is for you