Coffee production in Tanzania is concentrated in five main geographical areas in Tanzania. In the north (Kilimanjaro, Arusha & Tarime), in the west (Kigoma & Kagera) and in the south (Mbeya, Songwe, Iringa, Njombe and Ruvuma).
In the last few years, coffee from Mbeya has become very notable indeed.
First, let’s look over the specs
Cooperative/group: Usongwe AMCOS
Varietals: Mostly Kent, Bourbon and Compact with some other local varieties.
Processing: Fully washed & sun dried on African beds
Altitude: Approx. 1,460 metres
Owner: Various Smallholder farmers.
Town/City: Iwindi, Rural Mbeya.
The origin of the name is based on the surrounding area and the nearby Usongwe valley.
The farmers of Usongwe have mature, well maintained trees, averaging around 20-35 years old. Normally they lose productivity much earlier, but these trees have remained productive because of regular pruning and other agricultural practices. Genetic lineage of the coffee varieties should be acknowledged too.
The Farmers of Usongwe have mostly planted Arabica varieties that were grown by their forefathers. Kent and Bourbon are the most common, with the introduction of Compact being more recent.
Kent is thought to be a natural mutation of Typica originally discovered in India, known to be more rust resistant( Hemileia vastatrix aka Coffee Leaf Rust) than Typica itself. Typica is the backbone of most of specialty coffee globally. The first plantations grown in America and Asia were of the Typica variety. Typica’s cup character is generally well balanced and can be somewhat complex. It has lots of clarity and can hold sufficient sweetness to keep you interested even if your coffee gets cold. Even though I have not had the chance to taste Kent isolated, I suspect it has similar cup characteristics to a classic Typica.
Bourbon discovered on Bourbon (an island east of Madagascar, now known as Réunion) and was from coffee brought to the island from Yemen by the French. Bourbon is susceptible to all major diseases and pests, and is therefore a little more difficult to turn into a profitable crop for the farmer in certain countries and/or regions. The cup quality is fantastic with a high quality acidity and a clean and sweet finish that also tends to stay that way as it cools.
The Tanzania Coffee Research Institute (TACRI) has been very active in developing and distributing varieties that are resistant to the ever present Coffee Berry Disease (CBD) and Coffee Leaf Rust and farmers are increasingly adopting these varieties because of their resistance. Compact is one of these new varietals that is being widely adopted in the countryside due to its high resistance to Coffee Berry Disease in particular.
Harvesting and Processing
Usongwe producers home process their coffee . On average, most families’ coffee plots lie within a 15 to 30 minute walk from their small mills. During the harvest, coffee cherries are carried to a small pulper and hand pulped within 7 hours of picking. Cherries are sorted, pulped into a fermentation tank and then left to ferment in clean water for around three days. On the fourth day, the coffee is removed from the tank and washed clean of all traces of mucilage( remnants of the sticky fruit surrounding the seed) before being returned, again, to clean water to soak for another 24 hours. Soaking like this is said to help increase sweetness levels, and is common practice, particularly in Kenya.
In the cup expect-Honey , Grapes and vanilla with a creamy mouthfeel and refined grape- like acidity. Seems to be quite versatile with the caveat of not having a pronounced and more complex acidity. Texture and sweetness seem to dominate, and it does so beautifully.
Enjoy the brews.