With slightly less body and acidity than its cousin Kenya AA coffee, Tanzania Kilimanjaro coffee still exhibits a very fine body and brightness along with an exquisite balance and a zesty, clean tasting cup.
Kilimanjaro coffee is also a bit milder than Kenya coffee and often presents a smooth, velvety texture with hints of black currant. Aggressively flavorful, Kilimanjaro coffee shows many of the positive qualities of good Kenya coffee and is truly one of the world’s top premium coffees.
Kilimanjaro Coffee Review: Origin Flavors
Farmed on the volcanic slopes of the continent of Africa’s highest mountain in northeastern Tanzania, Kilimanjaro coffee exhibits distinct origin tasting flavors along with a lovely body and shining acidity that have given it a reputation as one of Africa’s best coffees.
Coffee Harvesting and Processing in Kilimanjaro
When properly cared for, Kilimanjaro is clearly one of the top coffees on Earth. With Kilimanjaro coffee, however, as opposed to Kenya coffee, there is more concern about the proper harvesting and processing of the coffee beans. The problem is the lack of coffee-related infrastructure in the Kilimanjaro region, which is not nearly as advanced as in Kenya.
The deeper problem is the lack of incentive among the Kilimanjaro coffee farmers to take great care with the coffee beans through all of its stages.
As a result, while it is not hard to find and purchase Kilimanjaro coffee, it is still relatively hard to find truly gourmet Kilimanjaro coffee. Hopefully this situation will improve in the future as a premium is placed on the better cared for coffee beans of the region.
Presently the coffee farmers have incentive only to separate and market peaberry coffee beans from the region, which already garner a premium price. The coffee farmers are typically less concerned about how those coffee beans are treated.
Buying Kilimanjaro Coffee
When looking to buy a premium Tanzania Kilimanjaro coffee it is best to find a single origin Kilimanjaro coffee with a proven record of high quality care during coffee bean harvesting and processing as well as everything from aging to transporting the beans until they arrive in your mailbox.
The chain of custody of coffee is long – it goes through many steps and passes through many hands before it gets to you – and there are many things that can go wrong that may taint the quality of the coffee beans and thus the flavors and aromas of the resulting roasted, ground, and brewed cup of coffee.
Kilimanjaro Coffee Politics
The politics of coffee in the Kilimanjaro region remain tenuous. A bit of history: In 2005, for example, Peet’s Coffee & Tea introduced a Tanzania Kilimanjaro coffee that they had purchased from 839 small-scale growers who, for the second straight year, had been able to sell directly to coffee roasters and bypass the national coffee auction.
In 2000 Peet’s had begun working with the Association of Kilimanjaro Specialty Coffee Growers (KILICAFE) which, by 2005, had grown to include over 8,000 small scale farmers.
One of the goals was to improve the quality and consistency of the Kilimanjaro coffee beans. By bypassing the national coffee auction and selling directly to coffee roasters, the farmers were paid significantly higher prices and the quality of the gourmet specialty coffee was also much improved.
In the past, the Association of Kilimanjaro Coffee Growers (KiliCafe) were part of the Starbucks Coffee and Farmers Equity (CAFE) program, establishing best practices for long-term production.
The Kilimanjaro Native Co-Operative Union
The Kilimanjaro Native Co-Operative Union (KNCU) is Africa’s oldest cooperative and coffee is their most important cash crop. They farm the volcanic soils of the massive Mount Kilimanjaro to produce wet processed (washed) Arabica coffee. The coffee trees are often inter-cropped with bananas.
More than 150,000 small-scale farmers from nearly 100 village societies provide about 5,300 tons of Arabica coffee to the KNCU. This coffee comprises about 60% of the region’s coffee, although this varies with the market and private trading agreements that provide competition.
The KNCU is registered as a Fair Trade supplier and exports some of its coffee beans as Fair Trade Coffee. The coffee collected and traded by the KNCU comprises about eleven percent of the nation’s total coffee production.
The KNCU also supports staff to provide organic coffee development, training, and inspections working with farmers to improve quality and yield while also helping the environment as well as the farmers with higher profits.
Kilimanjaro’s Wachagga People
More than 2,000 small Kilimanjaro coffee farmers are selected for the program including the Moshi coffee farmers and the original people of the mountainous region who are called Wachagga people and speak Bantu. They comprise Tanzania’s third largest ethnic group.
The Wachagga live primarily on the eastern and southern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro as well as Mount Meru and in the Moshi area. They are known for their successful use of extensive irrigation systems, fertilization, and other agricultural methods for more than one thousand years.
The fertile soils of the Kilimanjaro region as well as the sufficient rainfall and mild climate provide optimal conditions for the area’s many small coffee farms which are known as shambas where the coffee is typically inter-cropped with bananas.
The region’s organic premium farmers help to protect the fertility of the volcanic soils and also maintain shade trees. The coffee farmers are rewarded with higher profits as well as decreased health risks due to the elimination of intensive chemical farming.
The KNCU programs are done in cooperation with the Organic Trade Export Promotion of Organic Products from Africa (EPOPA) which was established in 1994 by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).
Harvesting Coffee on Mt. Kilimanjaro
Mount Kilimanjaro rises to 19,334 feet (5,893 meters) above sea level and is the highest freestanding mountain in the world. The coffee harvest season in the Kilimanjaro region takes place from October to February. Approximately 1 million people live on the coffee growing slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and coffee farming is the sole income for many of them. Recently, changing weather patterns due to climate change and changes in temperature have resulted in Coffee Leaf Rust (known locally as “Roya”), which has wiped out upwards of 90% of some trees – significant enough for the local government to declare it a national emergency.