Given the title by Winston Churchill back in the 1908, Uganda is a hidden gem of coffee production nestled in the heart of Africa.
Landlocked between its neighbours South Sudan (to the North), Kenya (to the east), Tanzania and Rwanda (to the south), and The democratic Republic of The Congo to (the west), Uganda is mostly unknown for its coffee internationally. However in recent years it is fast becoming a powerhouse of the world's coffee production.
In the southern regions of Uganda sits Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa and the second largest freshwater lake in the world! The coffee grown on the skirts of the lake is mostly ROBUSTA, a coffee variety known for its harsh and bitter taste, mostly used in cheaper blends and instant coffee. However the northern and bordering regions grow high quality ARABICA coffee, grown above 1400 MASL, which allows the cherries to grow slower and form complex sugars and flavours over a longer period of time. The robusta beans work in the same way, and you can find specialty grade robusta coming out of Uganda. Over time we may see more Ugandan Robusta make its way onto the cafe shelves, however as this time the flavours of ARABICA are just romantically better.
These Robusta coffee trees have been growing natively in Uganda for over 30 Million years, however were only commercially produced after the late 1800’s. The Arabica seeds brought over in the 1900’s could not handle the crop diseases that kept wiping out each harvest. It wasn't until the late 1970’s that Uganda stepped into the spotlight, as Brazil (The world's top coffee producer) had major frost damage and Europe had to look elsewhere to fill their coffee void, Uganda was ready and available to step up to the plate. After its success on the world stage, Uganda is now the 8th largest exporter of coffee in the world! Even if 80% of it is Robusta…
Focusing more on the Arabica Coffee coming out of Uganda, there are 5 main regions that this coffee grows within the country.
Arabica Coffee trees scatter the outskirts and northern borders of Uganda, which is where we supply our delicious Ugandan Single Origin coffee from. Around the lake district you see more robusta coffee being grown. It is unclear why robusta is grown around the lake, as it's perfect for growing the beautiful arabica beans that obviously taste better and farmers can sell for much more. Maybe the climate is slightly harsher on the water? Maybe there is a secret we just don't know about? At least the coffee coming from the outskirts of Uganda, such as Mt Elgon is some of the best in the world!
Of the Arabica grown in the country they consist of mostly Typica (the mother of all coffees), SL14 and SL28 varieties. These are from Scott Laboratories in Kenya, where researchers selected 42 types of varieties of plants to look at yield, health, disease resistance and other factors. SL28 became the most famous one because of its ability to deliver on all fronts.
There is another variety which is a cultivar, meaning human cultivation in the lab, Bugisu. This is highly regarded as a variety and has made a region called Sipi falls, very famous for Uganda. The flavour notes of the Bugisu is a very clean flavour and that lovely winey acidity that you typically associate with those high end Ethiopian coffees. These clean crisp flavours come from the washed process that is used to prepare the coffee (as Uganda’s water availability is much more accessible) unlike Ethiopia which has more naturals due to scarcity of water.
If you are wanting to buy UGANDAN COFFEE and it's sold out from your regular supplier, look for these things and you will be sure to get the best Ugandan coffee you can find!