African Coffee: The Ultimate Guide

African coffee is a fascinating subject that encompasses a wide range of countries, cultures, and flavors. And since most of us love coffee and can’t live without it, we must take some time to acknowledge Africa and give credit where credit is due. 

In fact, let’s all get down on bended knee and express our ever-loving gratitude specifically for Ethiopia, commonly recognized as the birthplace of coffee.

Coffee is thought to have been first consumed (as a fruit, not a beverage) in Ethiopia. And Ethiopia is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating coffee-producing countries in Africa. But Africa is home to a number of established markets for coffee beans. 

Countries like Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zambia all have their own unique varieties of coffee as well as their own harvesting techniques. Kenya, for example, is famous for its bright, acidic coffee, while Tanzania is known for its rich, full-bodied beans.

For coffee lovers who are interested in exploring the best African coffee, there are many different options to choose from. Whether you are interested in West African coffee, East African coffee, single-origin beans or specialty coffee…there is something for everyone. Always do a bit of research to determine which African coffee beans are right for you. 

All that said, let’s spill the beans on coffee from Africa.  


You probably don’t know it, but Burundi has been putting its stamp on the specialty coffee industry. Formally known as The Republic of Burundi, this tiny country sits snugly between Rwanda and Tanzania, which are both major African coffee producers. And while Burundi may produce coffee in lower quantities, its beans are of stellar quality. 


Coffee made its way to Burundi in the 1920s while the country was under Belgian colonial rule. Starting in 1933, every peasant farmer in Burundi was required to plant and maintain at least 50 coffee trees. 

Burundi eventually gained its independence in 1962, and coffee production went private. Things changed again 10 years later with disruptions to the political climate. In 1991, however, coffee production in Burundi started to gradually return to the private sector. Production was at its peak in the early 1980s. 

In 1993, a civil war caused a significant drop in Burundi’s coffee production. Since then, the country has made efforts to increase both the production and value of its coffee. 

Still, Burundi is a distinctly poor country constantly ravaged by political upheaval. Burundi has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the world. In 2011, it was estimated that 90% of Burundians lived on subsistence agriculture. 

As of 2019, Burundi’s population stands at around 12 million. It’s possible that nearly 1 million Burundian families work in the coffee industry. 

Geography & Climate

Burundi may just have the perfect geography and climate for growing coffee. Coffee does best in a hot, wet climate. It also likes high altitudes and rich soil.

Check. Check. And check. 

Burundi is hot and wet, and boasts large regions at high elevations with an abundance of volcanic soil. Volcanic soil is especially rich in nitrogen. 

Compared to most of its coffee-producing neighbors, Burundi is a small country. Still Burundi is one of the top 30 coffee-producing countries in the world.

Coffee Flavor & Profile

Burundi coffee is known for its complex flavor profile, often with notes of citrus, berry, and chocolate. It has a full body and a bright acidity that is balanced by a sweet brown-sugary finish. Some Burundi coffees also have floral notes, such as jasmine or rose.

Burundi coffee is quite versatile and can be used in a variety of brewing methods. It is a great choice for espresso due to its acidity and sweetness, but also works well for pour-over or French press. When roasted properly, Burundi coffee can produce a nutty and caramel-like flavor.

Overall, Burundi coffee is unique and flavorful, and every coffee lover should give it a try. Its versatility makes it a solid addition to your African coffee collection.


Despite being a brutally war-torn country, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is considered an up-and-coming producer of specialty coffees. The country still faces significant challenges, but there are high hopes for its potential. 


The DRC, also known as Congo-Kinshasa, has a long and storied history of coffee production. Coffee first came to the DRC from Liberia in 1881. But in 1898, Belgian colonists discovered a new variety growing in the Congo which sparked agricultural production. The newly discovered plant was a variety of Coffea canephora that the colonists later renamed ‘Robusta.’ 

Until Congo gained independence in 1960, most of the coffee was produced on plantations under the rule of the Belgian colonists. In the 1970s government funding shrunk considerably. By 1996, only 2 percent of coffee produced in the DRC came from estates. 

The First and Second Congo Wars (from 1996 to 2003) led to a stark decline in overall production. And according to The World Atlas of Coffee, this was exacerbated even further by coffee wilt disease. 

The DRC is still in turmoil. But many parts of the country – due to the soil, altitude, and climate – are perfect for producing exceptional coffee. Hopefully, coffee can be part of the country’s economic revival.

Geography & Climate

Kivu is the general name for the largest Congo coffee zone, which is divided into three provinces: Nord-Kivu (North Kivu), Sud-Kivu (South Kivu), and Maniema. All of these provinces surround Lake Kivu. 

Other growing regions include Oriental in the east, Kongo Central (formerly Bas-Congo) in the west, and Equateur in the northwest. 

Overall, the region has a high altitude, volcanic soil, and a tropical climate, which are ideal for growing coffee.

Coffee Flavor & Profile

Coffee grown in the Congo has a bright and citrusy flavor profile. Its brightness can be attributed to the fact that it’s grown at high altitudes. Congo-grown coffee is also celebrated for its delightful fruity notes with hints of chocolate and caramel. 

Some regions of the DRC primarily grow Robusta beans while others grow primarily Arabica. Some grow a mixture of the two.


Often referred to as the birthplace of coffee, Ethiopia produces an array of diverse and flavorful beans. Coffee professionals are fascinated by Ethiopia – not just because of the coffee it produces but also because of the mystery surrounding it. 

Ethiopia’s coffee can be divided into three categories: 

  • Forest Coffees – these come from wild coffee trees found primarily in the southwest part of the country. 
  • Garden Coffees – these come from trees typically planted around a homestead. Garden coffees make up most of Ethiopia’s coffee production. 
  • Plantation Coffees – these come from trees grown on large farms


Though Ethiopia is thought of as the birthplace of coffee, The World Atlas of Coffee points out that this should come with some caveats. 

Coffea arabica likely first appeared in southern Sudan, but flourished after it spread into Ethiopia. And Ethiopia is where coffee was first consumed by humans – initially as a fruit. 

Coffee was probably first exported from Ethiopia in the 1600s, eventually tapering off when plantations began to emerge in Yemen, Java, and the Americas. But interest spiked again in the early 1800s when, according to records, 100 quintals of coffee were exported from Enerea, which is part of modern-day Ethiopia. (A quintal is equivalent to 100 kg). 

The 1950s brought more structure and a new grading system to the Ethiopian coffee industry. In 1957, The National Coffee Board of Ethiopia was formed. The 1970s saw change resulting from the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie. Strict Marxist policies restricted land ownership or hired labor, which had a profound impact on the coffee industry. In the 1980s, Ethiopia was plagued by famine, killing more than a million people. 

In the 1990s, Ethiopia began to move towards democracy and the government opened up international markets. Coffee farmers were forced to deal with unpredictable price swings. Eventually, this gave rise to cooperatives to help members with funding and transport. 

In 2008, the Ethiopian coffee industry was impacted yet again – this time by the creation of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX). Coffee producers had to deliver their coffee to the ECX warehouse for it to be numbered and graded. THE ECX system also restricted which coffees could be offered on the international market.

Ethiopian Coffee Farm

Geography & Climate

Ethiopia has a combination of altitude, temperature, rainfall, and soil pH that make it an ideal environment for growing coffee. Additionally, the country doesn’t use agrochemicals and takes great measures to protect it’s rainforests. This contributes to the quality of Ethiopia’s coffee.

Most of the coffee in Ethiopia is grown in the southwest part of the country, which has a tropical climate. The vast central highland area can be classified as cool-tropical. The seasons are defined by rainfall.

Coffee Flavor & Profile

Ethiopian coffees are celebrated for their diversity. Flavor profiles range from citrus and florals to tropical and candied fruit. The growing regions of Ethiopia are some of the most well-known in the coffee industry. Growing regions include; Sidama, Limu, Jima, Ghimbi/Lekempti, Harrar, and Yirgacheffe. 

Arabica is the only coffee species grown in Ethiopia.


Despite being right next to Ethiopia, Kenya was relatively late to the coffee game. According to The World Atlas of Coffee, the earliest documented import of coffee to Kenya occurred in 1893, when French missionaries brought coffee trees over from Reunion. The consensus is that these were Bourbon coffee trees, which yielded Kenya’s first crop in 1896. 


Coffee was first introduced to Kenya in the late 19th century by French missionaries who brought Bourbon coffee trees from Ethiopia. The first commercial coffee farm was established in 1900 in the Taita Hills. 

By the 1920s, coffee had become a major export crop, and in the early 1930s the Coffee Act was passed and the Kenyan government established the Coffee Board of Kenya to regulate the industry. In 1934, the auction system was established: It is still in use today. 

In the early 1950s, not long after the Mau Mau uprising, the government passed an agricultural act to create family holdings that combined subsistence farming with the production of cash crops for supplemental income. This was called the Swynnerton Plan, named after an official in the Department of Agriculture. 

The Swynnerton Plan marked the start of coffee production from the British to the Kenyans. The effect was significant, nearly tripling total income from 1955 to 1964. 

Kenya gained its independence in 1963, and now produces top-quality coffee from a number of sources. Many Kenyan farmers are incredibly knowledgeable in coffee production. Still, corruption within the system may be preventing these coffee farmers from reaping the rewards they’ve earned. 

Geography & Climate

Most Kenyan coffee is produced in the central part of the country. Its growing regions are situated on or near the slopes of Mount Kenya (an extinct volcano) and the Aberdare Range, at altitudes ranging from 1,400 to 2,000 meters above sea level. 

The soils in these regions are rich in volcanic minerals, which contribute to the unique flavor profiles of Kenyan coffees. The climate is characterized by two rainy seasons and two dry seasons, which create ideal conditions for coffee growing.

Coffee Flavors & Profiles

Kenyan coffees are known for their bright, vibrant acidity and complex flavor profiles. They often have tart, floral, and fruity notes, with hints of chocolate, citrus, and spices. 

The most popular coffee varieties in Kenya are SL-28 and SL-34, which were developed by the Scott Laboratories in the 1930s. These make up the majority of high quality coffee Kenya. 

Kenya AA coffee, which is grown at elevations above 6,600 feet, is especially prized for its rich body, pleasant vibrant acidity, fragrant aroma, and wine-like after taste with citrusy overtones. 

Coffee harvesting in Kenya is typically done by hand, and the beans are carefully sorted and graded according to size and quality. The highest quality beans are graded AA, followed by AB, PB, and C.


Malawi is a landlocked country in southeastern Africa, sharing borders with Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia. The country’s most prominent geographical feature is Lake Malawi, which stretches nearly the whole length of the country. The country’s coffee growing regions are located in the southern and central regions, including the Thyolo and Mulanje districts.


Historical research suggests that coffee was first introduced to Malawi in the late 1800s. The World Atlas of Coffee describes a claim that one single tree taken from the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens was brought to Malawi in 1878 by a Scottish missionary. This single tree supposedly took root and sparked Malawi’s coffee production.

Unfortunately, Malawi’s coffee production quickly slowed due to poorly maintained soil, pests, diseases, and competition from Brazil. 

In 1946, however, the cooperative movement started and coffee production soon grew. But the cooperatives were dissolved in 1971 at the hands of government interference. 

In the 1990s, coffee production in Malawi actually peaked. At that time, the country was producing almost 8000 tons per year. Production has since shrunk back down to around 1600 tons per year. 

Geography & Climate

Though Malawi is landlocked, the country has managed to build a strong export economy.  When it comes to coffee, some attribute the country’s success to little government interference in exports, which allows for direct relationships between sellers and buyers. 

Malawi’s high altitude and fertile soil provide ideal growing conditions for coffee. Malawi’s growing regions are characterized by hills and river valleys. 

Coffee Flavors & Profiles

Malawi coffee covers the extremes of the coffee spectrum. Some producers grow the Geisha variety, which has generated a lot of interest in Central America. Other producers grow the Catimor variety, which is typically lower in quality.

Malawi grows almost exclusively Arabica beans. Overall, Malawi coffee is generally sweet and clean. But it is not as fruity and complex as other East African coffees. There are frequently hints of raisin with chocolatey notes.


Coffee was first introduced to Rwanda by German missionaries around 1904. Not until 1917, however, did Rwanda begin to produce enough coffee for export. Coffees in Rwanda seem to be traceable back to washing stations and the various farmer co-ops and groups that supply them. 


Until World War I, Rwanda was under German rule. But after the war, the League of Nations mandate stripped Germany of its ownership of Rwanda and gave it to the Belgians. As illustrated by The World Atlas of Coffee, this is why most of Rwanda’s coffee has been exported to Belgium.

Rwanda’s first coffee trees were planted at the Mibirizi mission in Cyangugu province, which is how the first Rwandan coffee variety got its name. Coffee cultivation eventually expanded into the rest of Rwanda. 

In the 1930s, strictly controlled coffee export from Rwanda and placed high taxes on growers. This resulted in Rwanda producing high volumes of low-quality coffee at low prices. 

By the 1990s, coffee had become Rwanda’s most valuable export. Sadly, the industry was largely destroyed due to widespread genocide in the country. In 1994, nearly a million Rwandans lost their lives. 

Eventually, though, coffee became a symbol of positivity and played a significant role in Rwanda’s recovery. With foreign aid, coffee production became a strong focus. The government helped build washing stations and expressed a commitment to producing higher-quality coffee.

Rwanda’s first washing station was actually built in 2004 with help from USAID. In recent years, the quality of Rwanda coffee has been superb. 


Geography & Climate

Landlocked in East Africa, Rwanda is known as the “land of a thousand hills.” Its hilly terrain as well as its climate are great for growing coffee. 

Most of the country’s coffee is grown in the high-altitude regions of the central and western parts of the country, where the soil is rich and volcanic. The climate in these regions is characterized by two rainy seasons and two dry seasons.

Widespread soil depletion does pose a problem, and so does transport. This frequently results in increased production costs. 

Coffee Flavors & Profiles

Rwanda produces some of the best coffee in Africa. The country’s coffee is known for its bright acidity, floral and fruity notes, and medium body. 

Rwanda’s coffee flavor profiles can vary depending on the region and the processing method used. Some of the most common flavor notes found in Rwandan coffee include citrus, berries, chocolate, and caramel.

Many wonderful coffees from Rwanda have a freshness that is reminiscent of red apples or red grapes. 

Most of Rwanda’s coffee output is fully washed Arabica. But the country does produce a small amount of Robusta. Some farmers experiment with natural and honey processing methods to create more complex and unique flavor profiles.


As the story goes, coffee came to Tanzania from Ethiopia in the 16th century. It was brought over by the Haya people and it was appropriately known as Haya Coffee. The ripe coffee cherries were boiled and then smoked and chewed instead of brewed into a drink.  Coffee has since become an integral part of Tanzanian culture. 


Though coffee supposedly came to Tanzania in the 16the century, it didn’t become a cash crop for the country until much later. In 1911, the colonists mandated the planting of Arabica trees in the Bukboa region. They employed methods that were quite different from those of the Haya people. 

After World War I, the British gained control of the region. The endeavored to plant over 10 million trees, but the Haya people weren’t thrilled by this and uprooted many of the trees. In 1925, however, the country’s first cooperative – called the Kilimanjaro Native Planters’ Association (KNPA) – was formed.

By the 1950s, Tanzania was one of Africa’s largest coffee producers. The country then gained independence in 1961, leading the Tanzanian government to focus more strongly on coffee production. Unfortunately, political instability and economic mismanagement led to a decline in production and quality in the 1970s and 1980s. 

In the early and mid 1990s, reforms allowed for direct sale of coffee from producers to buyers, which helped the industry regain its footing. But the industry faced another obstacle in the late 1990s when coffee wilt disease spread throughout the country.

Today, Tanzania’s coffee production has great potential. Overall the country yields around 70% Arabica and 30% Robusta, with six major growing regions.

Tanzanian Peaberry coffee
Tanzanian Peaberry Coffee

Geography & Climate

Tanzania is located in East Africa and is home to Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak on the continent. Coffee is grown in the country’s northern regions, including the areas around Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru. 

Tanzania’s coffee is grown at high altitudes, ranging from 1,400 to 2,000 meters above sea level. The soil is volcanic and rich in nutrients, which contributes to the coffee’s unique flavor profile. The climate is tropical, with two rainy seasons and two dry seasons.

Coffee Flavors & Profiles

Tanzanian coffee is known for its bright acidity and complex flavor profile. The country is often recognized for its Peaberry coffee, which is a type of coffee bean that grows as a single, round bean rather than the usual two flat beans. 

Peaberry coffee is typically described as having a winey or fruity flavor with notes of berries and spices. Other Tanzanian coffees have a more traditional coffee flavor with hints of chocolate and caramel. 

Overall, Tanzanian coffee is a unique and flavorful addition to the world of African coffee.


Only a small number of countries have indigenous coffee. Uganda is one of them, with Robusta growing wild all around Lake Victoria. Coffee plays a major role in Uganda’s export economy. In fact, Uganda is one of the largest coffee producers in the world.

Unfortunately, because of Uganda’s coffee is Robusta, the country struggles to maintain a reputation for quality.


Though Robusta coffee has been indigenous to Uganda for centuries, it was never really part of the country’s agricultural industry. Eventually, Arabica was introduced to Uganda – likely from Ethiopia and Malawi. But as The World Atlas of Coffee describes, the crop essentially succumbed to disease. There was, however, an increase in the farming of Robusta and a disease-resistant variety seemed to flourish.

In 1925, coffee was considered an important crop in Uganda despite making up only one percent of the country’s exports. Then, in 1929, the Coffee Industry Board was established.

With the introduction of cooperative farming, coffee eventually took hold in the 1940s as Uganda’s principle export. In 1969, after Uganda became independent, the government passed a Coffee Act that gave the Coffee Industry board control over pricing.

Coffee remained one of Uganda’s strongest industries for many years. But in 1989 the International Coffee Agreement collapsed, causing a significant drop in prices and production. In the early 1990s, the coffee industry experienced liberalization, and the Ugandan government took a step back from its role in marketing and development.

Today, the Ugandan Coffee Development Authority has heavily relaxed rules, and coffee producers are building their own brands. Uganda is slowly building a reputation for decent Robusta. The best Ugandan coffees generally come from cooperatives or producer groups.

Geography & Climate

Sitting snugly between Kenya and the DRC, Uganda has what is generally considered an ideal climate for growing coffee. The country has two volcanos to the east – Mount Elgon and Muhavara – which spit out nutrient-rich volcanic ash. And much like other surrounding countries, Uganda has two rainy seasons.

Uganda has four major growing regions: Bugisu, West Nile, Western Uganda, and Central Lowlands. (These regions aren’t very well-defined and are rarely agreed upon.) The Bugisu region has a reputation for producing the best quality Ugandan coffee.

Sadly, studies suggest that issues like deforestation, climate change, rampant coffee tree diseases and an unstable society may threaten the future of Ugandan coffee production. 

Coffee Flavors & Profiles

Uganda is continuing to improve the quality of its Robusta, which is the country’s primary coffee export. Arabica production is still quite small. Still Uganda is the second largest producer of African coffee.

The best coffee from Uganda is sweet, with fruity notes and a clean finish. But you are unlikely to find a cup of Ugandan coffee that truly wows you and makes you say Uganda be kidding me.


Zambia seems to be frequently overlooked by the African coffee industry. As The World Atlas of Coffee describes, “One could argue that it is a chick-and-egg situation, as historically little interest from specialty buyers has led to little investment in quality, and little investment in quality has led to little interest from specialty buyers.”


Coffee production in Zambia began in the 1950s, when Bourbon seed stock was introduced from Kenya and Tanzania. However, it was not until the 1970s that projects were initiated to discover the best practices for both irrigated and rain-fed fields.

Zambia’s coffee exports peaked in 2005 and 2006 but have since dropped. Some blame this on the lack of long-term financing in the coffee industry. Additionally, in 2008, Zambia’s largest coffee producer closed after defaulting on its loans.

Today, the majority of coffee growth in Zambia takes place in the mountains of the Muchinga Mountains and the city of Lusaka. Most Zambian coffee comes from larger estates, which are generally well-maintained and have access to modern production equipment.

Luombe Coffee Farm in Zambia

Geography & Climate

Zambia is an undulating plateau located in Southeastern Africa, and is bordered by eight different countries including Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia. Most of the country is 1,000 meters above sea level (or higher), making it an ideal location for growing coffee.

The country’s climate is subtropical, with – you guessed it – two distinct rainy seasons.

Coffee Flavors & Profiles

Zambian coffee is generally known for being bright and floral, with fruit-like complexity. It is similar to the coffee produced in Tanzania, Malawi, and Kenya. Zambian coffee is predominantly Arabica, with small amounts of Robusta.

African Coffee: Summary

African coffee is diverse and complex, offering a range of flavor profiles. The continent has a rich history of coffee production that dates back to the 17th century, and today, it is one of the largest coffee-producing regions in the world.

Ethiopia is widely considered the birthplace of coffee, and it continues to play a significant role in the African coffee scene. The country’s high altitude and fertile soil make it a prime location for growing coffee; and its unique processing methods result in distinct flavor profiles. Ethiopian coffee is known for its bright acidity, floral notes, and fruity flavors, with some varieties offering hints of chocolate and spice.

Kenya is another major coffee producer in Africa, and its coffee is known for its bright acidity and complex flavors. Much like Ethiopia, Kenya is a prime location for growing coffee due to its high altitude and fertile soil. Kenyan coffee is known for having notes of berry, citrus, and blackcurrant. Coffee producers in Kenya generally use the washed processing method, which results in a clean and crisp cup.

Though it’s a lesser-known coffee producer, Tanzania is starting to gain popularity for its beans. The country’s coffee is grown on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, where the high altitude and volcanic soil create a distinct flavor profile. Tanzanian coffee is known for its bright acidity and fruity flavors, with notes of apricot, peach, and black tea.

Overall, African coffee offers a range of flavors and profiles that are unique to each country. The continent’s rich history of coffee production, combined with its diverse geography and climate, contribute to the characteristics of African coffee. 

Whether you prefer bright acidity, fruity flavors, or true complexity, there is an African coffee that is sure to caffeinate your soul.

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