The rise of specialty coffee in Uganda
With the recent release of an exciting filter coffee from the Nyakshenyi region of Uganda, we take a closer look at how the small country is quickly emerging as a destination for some of Africa’s best specialty coffees.
Not long ago, the idea of Ugandan specialty coffee was almost unheard of, with the majority of the country’s coffee production consisting of Robusta and low-quality crops. However, in recent years new efforts and infrastructure have helped Ugandan coffee to develop, and produce some incredible lots that are helping to redefine its place in the specialty world.
Uganda has seen a period of meteoric growth in coffee production over the past few years, with more than a 16% increase in coffee exports during the 2010's. Despite an ever larger increase in the growth and consumption of tea, a long history of the cultivation and production of coffee, as well as renewed interest in improving quality, is creating a wave of excellent specialty coffee produced in Uganda.
A short history of Ugandan Coffee
Commercial coffee production began in Uganda around the start of the 20th century, and began to rise to new heights after independence from the British in 1962. By the mid 1980’s, coffee had already become one of the main exports of Uganda and there were a number of well-established farms, mills and exporters throughout the country.
Civil conflict during the 1980’s and 1990’s severely damaged the Ugandan coffee industry, particularly the larger producing regions in the West Nile. Efforts to restore the country’s agriculture and exports have largely focused on rare minerals, cocoa, sugar, tea and robusta coffee; however the production and export of specialty coffee have seen a surge in the past two decades.
In 1991, the Ugandan Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) was established to provide an independent body to assist growers, producers and exporters, with reduced state intervention. With a primary focus on increasing and promoting the quality of coffee produced in Uganda, the efforts of the UCDA have resulted in a new generation of producers who are focused on entering and leaving their mark on the specialty market.
Specialty coffee in Uganda
One such example of the rise of specialty in Uganda is the Kingha Coffee collective and their work in the Kinungu district, in the south west of the country. Established as a collective that works with different growers across the region, Kingha Coffee is dedicated to increasing the income, education and livelihood of coffee producers through increased quality of coffee.
When searching for a unique coffee from Africa to prepare as a filter, Fjord Coffee Roasters’ Roastery Manager, Michal Sowinski encountered a mixed SL-varieties lot from the Nyakshenyi Mill. Produced by Kingsley Griffin, founder of Kingha Coffee, this washed processed lot was purchased through collaboration with Kingha, Nordic Approach and Fjord Coffee Roasters.
Michal says that this particular coffee not only surprised him, but has since motivated him to search for more coffees from Uganda.
“We were astonished by the clean cup profile and complex sweetness we found in this coffee,” he said.
“This is the first coffee we’ve purchased from Uganda – when we think of delicious fruit and floral notes, we usually start searching somewhere like Ethiopia. However, the Nyakshenyi lot has shown us that Uganda not only has exceptional coffees, but also coffees that can compete with some of the best lots from neighbouring countries.”
The Nyakshenyi lot is grown between 1300-1550 metres above sea level on mountain ridges surrounding the town of Nyakshenyi, about two hours east of Kingsley’s washing station. During harvest season, he organises transport of cherries three days per week and trains farmers and buyers to assess the quality and consistency of each lot before transport to the washing station.
A combination of two lots of fully washed SL34, SL14 and SL28 varietals, this coffee has a complex sweetness or tartaric and stone fruits, as well as a floral aroma and finish. Michal says that this profile made it a perfect option to roast and serve as a filter coffee.
“The [Nyakshenyi] coffee has notes of ripe plums, white grapes and honey-like sweetness, with some white florals through each sip”, he said.
“When we first sample roasted and tasted this coffee, we knew that its quality and transparency of flavour would make a great filter coffee. We’re really pleased with the results.”
What’s next for Ugandan coffee?
With more collectives and companies such as Kingha Coffee driving a new generation of quality in specialty coffee throughout Uganda, the future looks bright.
With growth in the influence of and assistance from the UCDA, as well as renewed interest from the government in investing in coffee production, Uganda is on track to become a producer of some of Africa’s finest specialty grade coffees.
“We’re excited to see what emerges from the next harvest in Uganda,” says Michal.
“Our recent experience has shown us that there’s a lot of potential for Ugandan coffee, and we’re definitely keeping an eye out for new and exciting lots in the coming months.”
Want to learn more about Ugandan coffee from Fjord Coffee Roasters? Click here.
Images: Nordic Approach, bloom.that.coffee