Though one of the smaller countries in Africa—roughly the size of the state of Oregon—Uganda actually ranks 2nd in coffee production for the continent and 7th in the world. Not only that, but rather than production coming via large plantations as is the case in Kenya and Tanzania, and estimated 1.3 smallholder farmers accomplish this great feat on an average of 2.5 hectares (about 6 acres) of land each. In all, more than 3.5 million families earn a living in coffee-related fields. Tiny farms. Small country. But making huge strides forward in the specialty coffee industry.
Ugandan coffee has not always been in demand. This is partly because Robusta coffee varieties used for commodity coffee worldwide originated in Uganda and the adjacent Democratic Republic of Congo, and are still produced there. Furthermore, though Uganda has some stellar mountains for the more flavorful, high-altitude-loving Arabica variety coffees—to the west, the Rwenzori mountains, which 12,000 feet above sea level, and in the east, Mt Elgon, an extinct volcano—it is only in the last 2 decades that the country has begun to tap its potential for quality Arabica coffees.
In fact, historically in the Rwenzori region, natural processing of strip picked cherries (picking all cherries, ripe or otherwise), and inclusion of defects has created a low-grade commercial coffee known as DRUGAR—Dried Uganda Arabica. Even the washed Arabicas of the Mt. Elgon region have not been remarkable up until the 1990s. But when the specialty coffee industry began realizing the potential of high end coffees coming from Uganda, growers themselves began a push to create outstanding coffee that could command premium prices. Increasingly, farmers are being trained in sustainable agricultural methods, top-notch processing, and building state of the art washing stations. Meticulous husbandry, harvesting and processing is paying off, and more and more stellar offerings are coming out of Uganda, resulting in better quality of life for farmers and their families and communities.
As far as flavor profiles, Uganda’s washed coffees are silky in body, carrying ripe stone fruit and red berry notes, balanced acidity and buttery finish. Natural-processed offerings tend to feature a candied dark berry jam flavor, nougat mid-tones, and sweet, velvety mouthfeel.