History of Coffee in Tanzania

You can break down the history of Tanzanian coffee production into three eras, their ancient beginning, their period of colonization, and post-colonialization. Each era brought significant changes to coffee production. The current cultivating climate shifted from a lot of government intervention to more freedom allowing for more privatizing of farms and more individual responsibility for farmers. Tanzania coffee production is a testament to the resiliency of people overcoming obstacles to see a better quality of life. 

Ancient Beginnings  

Coffee in Tanzania began back in the 16th century. It most likely came from Ethiopia since it's so close geographically. The people of the Haya tribe populated the region. They would chew coffee beans because of it's stimulating effects. They didn't consume it as a beverage. They also used it as currency to trade goods. Their government structure was based on tribal leaders and not a formal government. Tribal leaders would decide who grew beans and how much. All that would change with the colonial period on the horizon. 

Colonized Period  

Before Tanzania became the country we know today, its name was Tanganyika. In 1911 the Germans came and colonized the region. Later on, by order of the League of Nations, colonization would be transferred to England. As a result of governments coming in, its name would change from Tanganyika to Tanzania. Tanzania would experience many years of European colonization. During that time, whether it was Germany or England, they would strip tribal leaders of authority. Tanzania transitioned from tribal rule to a type of monarchy with a sultan. The League of Nations was heavily involved in the political structure of Tanzania. Their intervention would affect the authority of tribal leaders and the monarch.  

German Colonization  

Tanzania came under German colonization in 1911. They encouraged the Haya people to enter the coffee economy in a more formal way by exchanging coffee with cash. Prior to this change, coffee beans were used as currency. The Germans also encouraged growing coffee using seeds. Although the Haya were reluctant to join the cash economy, coffee exports increased dramatically. Over time, some would replace their food crops with coffee.  

The Chagga tribe of the Moshi region on Mt. Kilamanjaro started using Arabica beans in their agricultural practices. This was a departure from their tradition of cattle raising and other food cultivation. They were more active in trade, and after the slave trade came to an end in Africa, they would switch to predominantly coffee growing.  

British Colonization  

The borders of Tanganyika weren't clearly determined until the British Colonization around 1919. They tried to modernize the coffee trade and planted millions of seedlings from 1919 to 1925. Even though the Haya tribe resisted some of the new British practices and rules, their work provided stability to coffee growth through the 1950s. But even with some stability, they would continue to struggle, and the coffee industry in that region would not thrive. The Chagga tribe, on the other hand, would export 6000 pounds of coffee valued at 1.5 million dollars in 1925. Even though they had no previous coffee growing experience, they joined the coffee economy enthusiastically and would cultivate for cash. They would begin the Kilimanjaro Native Planters' Association (KNPA) in that same year. The KNPA was the first of many coffee cooperatives formed. Forming the cooperative allowed farmers to sell directly to London markets and fetch a higher price for their coffee.  

Post-Independent Period  

In 1961, Tanganyika would gain independence, and its new name would officially be Tanzania. It started as a socialist government, and while they intended to grow the coffee economy, they couldn't do it successfully. High inflation and a declining economy would slow the growth of the coffee industry. In 1992, they would become a multiparty political system that would usher in major economic change and would provide farmers more freedom from government rules and intervention.  

Coffee Cultivation Today  

Coffee is grown on smaller farms and is the largest export crop in the country. Coffee contributes $115 million in domestic income. Both Robusta and Arabica are grown in Tanzania. 70% is Arabica and 30% is Robusta. The Moshi region of Kilimanjaro accounts for 75% of all coffee production and is praised for being some of the best arabica coffee grown in Tanzania. It has two main regions for coffee farming, the North and the South. 

Farming in the North  

Coffee from the north is often sweet and tropical. Unfortunately for them, it's not just government regulations that impact the farm but also elephants. You read that right, elephants. I read a report from a well-known importer that lost 60% of its farm because of an elephant stampede. To protect their farm, they now have to invest significant resources for strong enough fencing to keep elephants out. When you consider the obstacles farmers face, I was surprised that Tanzania contends with such a formidable animal. I always imagine elephants in wide-open spaces and not running through coffee fields. 

Farming in the South  

Coffee grown in the Southern region of Tanzania is known for being more complex while still maintaining its fruity flavor. The south has a long history of producing coffee, especially in the Mbozi region. Most people in that region have been farming coffee for generations.   

More than Just Peaberry  

For a long time, it's been believed that peaberry grew only in Tanzania, but in fact, it's a mutation that occurs in any coffee variety. Peaberry consists of only 10% of most crops, so when you think about it, Tanzania produces far more traditional coffee than peaberry. Farmers can't really plan for or specifically plant peaberry coffee, and it's a mutation that occurs naturally. Maybe Tanzania beat everyone to the punch and was the first to separate and introduce peaberry to the world. Now coffee from all over the world separates traditional coffee from its peaberry. For more information about peaberry in Tanzania, check out this blog.

The future of peaberry looks bright in Tanzania. They've mastered supplying coffee and contributing significantly to their economy despite political uncertainty and even the challenges of natural obstacles, like elephants. 

Shop our Current Tanzania Offering