The name Malawi means "flames of fire," and the country is said to be named for the way the sun shimmers on giant Lake Malawi. This little sliver of a country tucked in between Zambia, Mozambique, and Tanzania, shows evidence of human occupation as early as 8000 B.C., and is a treasure trove of cave paintings, flint arrowheads, and other archeological finds. Though land-locked, it is close enough to the eastern coast of Africa to be included in the ebb and flow of trade history ranging from gold and ivory to slaves. Here Dr. Livingstone made his famous expeditions, ultimately helping to end the slave trade as he exposed what he found. After colonialism and various invasions by other ethnic groups, Malawi gained its independence in 1962.
This is a land of verdant highlands and mountains, mighty rivers, waterfalls, and it is in those rain-fed highlands that coffee grows. Coffee’s history here is relatively recent, only taking root in the 1930s. Producers are divided into 4 sectors: micro-scale, small-scale, medium-scale and large-scale farmers. 92% of smallholders fall into the micro-scale category with less than 2,222 trees. Interestingly, the farmers group themselves into socio-economic characteristics: rich, average, and poor. The latter category tend to have small land parcels which cannot quite meet their subsistence needs, and must work outside their farms for cash to purchase necessities,. Buying fertilizer for their coffees is not always possible, but without fertilizer, trees produce less and they earn less, a hard cycle to break.
Through outside assistance and the development of cooperative organizations in the last decade, these smallholders are able to organize and achieve a higher price for their specialty coffee, as well as work together to strengthen their coffee communities. Furthermore, co-ops offer transparency from farm to cup as members market their own coffees.
Malawi’s coffee sector is hampered by aging pulping facilities which are taxed to capacity by the increases in coffee production. Machines break down, and fines for members that break the rules are not enforced, weakening the cohesiveness of the organizations. However, farmers are optimistic, viewing the increase in grower numbers and coffee trees as opportunity for sustainable business which can in turn result in improved and updated processing facilities, coffee quality, and overall marketability. Typical cup profile for coffee from Malawi is medium in body and acidity, sweet, with citrus, berry, and chocolate, slightly reminiscent of Yirgacheffe offerings.