While French missionaries are often credited with bringing coffee to Tanzania (then Tanganyika) in the late 1800s, oral tradition has it that coffee actually arrived in the 16th century, brought from Ethiopia by the Haya people. 300-odd years is a lot of time to develop coffee growing traditions, and the Haya people had their own way of cultivating their trees and consuming their coffee. They would boil ripe cherries, smoke them for several days, and then chew rather than brew them: “Haya Coffee” or “amwani.”
So when the German colonial government mandated the planting of Arabic coffee trees in 1911, they met with considerable resentment, conflict, and uprooting of trees in this region. Elsewhere in the country where coffee-growing traditions were not as entrenched, there was less resistance, and coffee production took off, especially after Germany put an end to slave trade in the country
Coffee plants love the sloping foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru, and the rivers and highlands of this verdant land. The first grower cooperative was formed was near Kilimanjaro in 1925. It was soon joined by others as smallholders discovered new-found access to London markets and better prices. Once Tanzania was granted independence by Britain in 1961, the nation focused on coffee production as a key export, hoping to double output by 1970. However, production fell short of that, hindered by inflation and a declining economy, forcing governmental reorganization to multiparty democracy.
These days, coffee accounts for approximately 20% of Tanzania’s export earnings--40-50,000 metric tons of the magic bean exit her shores annually. 450,000 smallholders (producing roughly 90%), and 110 larger estates get their entire livelihood through coffee, and according to Reuter’s, the country’s coffee industry directly and indirectly employs an additional 2.4 million people.
Coffees here are traceable to cooperatives and washing stations, and often back to single farms if grown on an estate. Tanzanian coffee, with its sweet, winey terroir, is reminiscent of neighboring Kenyan profiles with a hint of Arabia. Its complex, with a bright, lively acidity, and juicy, fruity notes. Tanzania is famous for its peaberry coffees, a situation brought about by Japanese purchase of flatberries (regular coffee beans), which necessitates culling out the naturally occurring single beans (peaberries). For peaberry coffee lovers of the world, this is a fortuitous happening. The U.S. buys most of Tanzania’s supply of this exotic grade.