Juicy green rainforests, deep blue lakes, rapids on the Nile, acacia scrub, or an unexpected and mysterious kingdom of snow and ice. All of this can be found in a rather small East African
country called Uganda. It incorporates, among others, almost half of the the Lake Victoria, which it shares with Tanzania
. It also borders Rwanda
, South Sudan and DR Congo.
Just like in the other countries of equatorial Africa
, ideal climatic conditions for growing coffee reign in Uganda, coupled with suitable altitude
. The best altitudes for coffee in this country are relatively high, between 1300 – 2400 m.a.s.l.. These specific conditions play an important role for the taste. With increasing altitude, the complexity of tastes which can be found in the cup increases as well. The positives for the taste are balanced by negatives for the farmers themselves, though. Harvesting in these areas can get very difficult. Small-scale farmers
and their trees have to face strong winds and rains, landslides, low temperatures and other issues. Coffee trees are rarely covering more than a hectare per farmer. On the other hand, this gives the farmers more direct control over their produce, and has potential to improve quality control. Farmers hand-pick the ripe cherries and then, usually with their own manpower or with the help of donkeys, carry them downhill to the nearest cooperative washing station
. The quality of Ugandan coffee keeps growing, mostly thanks to improving infrastructure, for example building of more processing microstations closer to the farms, paved paths and roads, which facilitate coffee cherry collection, but also thanks to agronomical and economical trainings being more available lately.
The species cultivated in Uganda include both robusta
, which accounts for about 80%, and arabica
with a 20% share. Robusta can be found in a large continuous belt starting at the border of Rwanda
in the southwest of the countries, connecting to the traditional robusta-growing areas of Tanzania
. It continues along the shores of Lake Victoria, through the central highlands all the way to the foothills of Mount Elgon on the eastern border with Kenya
. These areas roughly correlate with the historical kingdoms of Ankole, Buganda and Busoga. The coffee trees benefit strongly from the clay soil of the lands surrounding Lake Victoria. Moreover, the altitude
here is unusually high for robusta, compared to other countries, which makes the taste
more acidic than alkaline, which is rare and special for this species. The harvest runs roughly from November to February, but because this is an equatorial country, it can differ valley to valley, hill to hill. It is not uncommon to encounter coffee trees shaded with cocoa trees. Cocoa can not only help the farmers generate more revenue, but also provides shading for the coffee trees
. That’s also caused by the fact that prices of robusta are historically lower than arabica, although we believe that proper processing and marketing can level this difference out.
Compared to the almost omnipresent robusta, arabica is confined only to certain regions, which also define its taste. There’s three main areas - Bugisu on the steep slopes of Mount Elgon in the east, the ragged cliffs of the Rwenzori Mountains in the southwest and the so-called West Nile region in the northwest, surrounding the northern shores of Lake Albert.
The Bugisu region is named after the local nation inhabiting the slopes of Mount Elgon on the Kenyan border. It is, by the way, the oldest volcano in East Africa, which can already be told by the majestic and unfathomable size of the massif. The coffee trees can find everything they need in the surrounding natural environment. The grow on steep mountain slopes, shaded by the local rainforests, fed by abundant waters running downwards through gorges. The harvest in the lower parts begins in June and last until the end of the year, with the higher altitudes harvesting from July all the way to February . An unbelievable part of the coffees from this region is hand-washing. Unlike in the surrounding countries, where the washing is done in mechanized facilities, the coffee here is pulped in manual mills and then hand-washed in baskets in natural water of the mountain streams. Despite all of that, the coffee is perfectly washed. These coffees are known for their subtle acidity with subtle winey and fruity tones. You might even find notes of dried grapes or figs in the taste
The Rwenzori Mountains are nicknamed „Mountains of the Moon“, but the name actually means “a white thing” - meaning snow - in the language of the Konzo people. These permanently snow-capped mountains are located on the border with the DR Congo. In altitudes
between 1500 and 2300 m.a.s.l, clinging to dramatic cliffs with vistas of the white peaks, one might notice the isolated villages, where small-scale farmers care for their tiny coffee farms. The taste of this coffee
reminds of blackberries, peaches and plums, sometimes with notes of cinnamon.
The common specific in the taste
of the coffees coming from these two mountainous regions is a full body, which, coupled with the pleasantly intense acidity, reminds of yoghurt, or even kefir.
The last region to grow arabica is the West Nile. Arabica here is grown relatively low
, only up to 1600 m.a.s.l.. The required shading from the intense equatorial sun is guaranteed by cross-planting with banana trees. Regarding the taste
, the lower altitude produces a stronger acidity, reminiscent of citruses.
Coffees in this country are processed
in both ways - natural and washed. It is important to note that the key factor is the farm location. The complexity of the terrain can on the one hand complicate the construction of conveniently located washing stations, but at the same time, natural drying is extremely problematic thanks to the omnipresent humidity and rain. This means that currently, the quality of washed coffee from Uganda beats the quality of naturally processed coffees. This can be improved in the future though by constructing proper infrastructure.
Whether arabica or robusta, Ugandan coffees are definitely worth trying out. Behind every cup of coffee, there’s a huge amount of hard labour done by the farmers, who probably had to carry their harvest down steep slopes on their own backs. Only thanks to that, we can enjoy the best Ugandan nature can offer. Let’s make sure that hard work never comes in vain.