Our sourcing strategy
- We are focusing on small farmer groups where we believe our investment in purchasing can reap greater returns for improvement across processing and hence cup quality and livelihood for the farmers
- We always buy coffees above the current market prices
- We are committed to purchasing from the same farmer groups every year as far as is possible
- All coffees are traceable back to the CPU and Farmer Group
- We only buy coffees when we know what it is and where it comes from
- We always require information on altitudes and farming practices, harvesting period, processing and drying methods as well as storage conditions
- Our coffee buyers visit Tanzania at least once a year
- All coffees are cupped blindly, a number of times, scored and evaluated properly before purchase
- Our selection is based on a scoring system, where the general cut off is a minimum of 86 points
Compared to the neighboring country Kenya you have to dig deep to find the super complex and intense fruit driven coffees in Tanzania. Still, there is great potential. Price-vice it’s cheaper coffees in general than in Kenya and Ethiopia. If you are looking for heavy bodied and sweet coffees with flavors of dark cherry, cocoa and roasted nuts Tanzania is something to look into. There are other flavor profiles towards more floral, rosehip, rhubarb and citrus, but they can be hard to find. We have found these profiles mainly in the south.
We made an intentional decision to look for projects in Tanzania that challenged the traditional areas that where already established in production and infrastructure. We began working in the South of Tanzania in 2014, instead of looking in the North which was already well known for its coffees. We have focused on the Mbeya Region and have found two districts in particular to be showing great promise, Mbeya Rural and Mbozi.
We think Tanzania can have amazing flavor profiles and potential. Still there are limitations in accessing a consistent supply of high performing coffees. The reason for this is a mix of several things. It’s partially how coffees are processed and dried, varietals, how it is traditionally traded, the auction system, storage conditions etc. Mbeya is one of the largest Arabica coffee growing areas in Tanzania, but the majority of the coffees are poorly processed by the smallholders themselves. Meaning, the farmers are pulping, fermenting and partially drying the coffees at their farms, before it is sold (sometimes even as wet parchment) to local middlemen or to exporters. These products can work well as lower priced commercial coffees but are not of interest for us at NA. 90% of the coffees in the area is home processed and only 10% is “fully” washed at washing stations etc with a proper set up. The general varietals grown in the area is Bourbon, SL28 and Catimor. The altitudes varies from 1500 – 2000 masl.
The cup profiles
In the limited areas we have decided to work we have seen a surprising amount of diversity in profiles. Both chunky fruit driven profiles as well as delicate, herbal like coffees.
Tanzania is a large country and one of the poorer countries in the world, while it is also very rich in Natural resources. The country has experienced growth in its national economy however this growth has seen to only benefit very few with the Global Hunger Index (GHI), a statistical tool measuring the state of a country’s hunger, finding Tanzania worse than any other East African Country.
The country also suffers with very bad infrastructure, in 2011 only 15% of Tanzanians where recorded to have electricity. Most of the transportation in Tanzania is by road, and so is the transport of coffee, yet the roads are in very poor condition.There is quite a distance between the different coffee producing areas,and in turn some 820 km from Mbeya to Dar Es Salaam.
Traditionally coffee production has been centred in the North, around Arusha and Kilimanjaro. This is where much of the production is either through big estates owned by Europeans or through the Cooperative structure. It is also in the North that the Tanzania Coffee Board resides and where the weekly auction takes place. Recent years has seen more investment in the production of the Southern Region of Mbeya.
We have established relationships with a few small wetmills, called CPU’s (central processing units). Coffees from a group of farmers or a small Cooperative will be processed here in a more controlled way. Based on the cupping profiles we think are more interesting according to our preferences we have been working with one small group already for some years now and are establishing new relationships, with CPU’s that are able to consistently supply great coffees over the next years. The concept is to be able to offer a consistent and stable market for these coffees, and hopefully through these relationships see improvements in processing and agronomy, and hence quality. This will build a sustainable model, we hope. All the coffees we are buying is Direct Export, meaning it is not bought through the auction, but directly from the groups. The DE window was established 4 years ago with the criteria: must be a producer group or have a direct relationship with them an FOB price must be higher than current auction price.
In 2018 the Coffee Authority of Tanzania decided to prohibit farmers to do direct export through representative companies without holding their own export license, and also to follow the Ethiopian model by creating a centralised auction system that removes exclusivity and partial traceability, and gives any buyer in the world access to the coffee. They hoped that it would drive buyers to compete for the best lots and increase the final price, giving more back to the farmers.
What the government didn’t realise was that, by changing the rules this way, no export company would benefit from the investments made on farm or station level. Furthermore, it was too expensive for farmers to hold their own export license, hence buyers still had to rely on exporters to consolidate shipments which meant that going through the auction was inevitable. As a result of the lack of investment, farmers were not able to match the inputs needed, which in the long run would lowered the yield and quality. For many of the largest commercial roasters in the world, Tanzanian coffee could be substituted for coffee from other countries, and that’s what happened.
Our export partner on the other hand, saw this as an opportunity as few exporters were left in the country. They adapted to the new rules, offered to split the cost of investment in the farms and stations 50/50 with their partner AMCOS, and started buying AMCOS specific lots at the auction.
This is how we have been securing some of the best Tanzanian lots we have ever tasted.
Coffee was brought in to Tanzania by the French Missionaries in the 1890’s and planted in the Kilimanjaro Area. This is the Bourbon varieties that was introduced to Kenya later on. The Kent varieties coming from Mysore in India was introduced and planted in the 1920’s, and there is a variety called Nyasa Strain, Menado, Rumi Sudan you have some Catimors and others. In general there are two traditional varieties that are widely used, the Bourbon related hybrid N 39 and the Kent variety, KP 432, as well as traditional Kent varieties K7 and K9. TACRI (Tanzanian Coffee research Institute) has developed hybrid varieties from the old traditional Bourbon trees to be more disease resistant, specially to CBD. Instead of distributing seedlings to farmers they have several nurseries where they plant cuttings from several trees. They believe planting cuttings, as opposed to having seeds will even out the odds of developing one block full of trees with the same set of bad genes. They also distribute catimors and other high yield Arabica/Robusta hybrids. TACRI are researching what will work in Tanzania and although they have developed some hybrids, these are not well received by majority of farmers. The trees in Tanzania are generally very old, and the practice of re-planting blocks to encourage better yield are not commonly followed. Farmers are also very sceptical to new varieties.
Growing conditions and production
In general the production of the smallholders are extremely low, about one kg of cherry pr tree, and the potential could easily be 5 with the right treatment. Many of the trees are extremely old, and not always able to give a great yield, but in general a lot could be done with right pruning, mulching and inputs. In general the soils in the north is volcanic and full of minerals, and the soils of the south are rich and fertile. An average production of green coffee from a smallholder would typically be 200 kg of greens pr hectare, the production at estates would be about 1000 kg’s of green coffee pr hectare. The Estates are also struggling these days in general because of droughts and lack of water. Most growers in the north are dependent on irrigation to get a good yield as well as enough water for processing. Many of the Estates have bore holes or they are constructing water dams and reservoirs to ensure enough water for irrigation and during harvest. Depending on the rains and flowering.
The main harvest will for most areas start in June, but can be earlier, peak around August/September (depending on altitude and weather) and end in October. Some producers have pretty strict routines for cherry picking and reception, but in general the acceptance of half ripes is high. You can find CPU’s where they use buckets to skim of the floaters at cherry reception. The better producers makes sure the coffees are sorted by the pickers/farmers in the fields or at deliverance.
Processing, washing and drying
There is no standard way of processing coffees in Tanzania. In general the coffee is pulped by a traditional disc pulpers like Mckinnon and dry fermented before washed. Some Estates and CPU’s have aquapulpers like pentagos and use a mucilage remover. Some coffees are soaked in clean water after fermentation or mucilage removal and some are not. This can even vary from batch to batch from one single producer depending on water access and capacity. They traditionally ferment for 30-40 hours. In some cases this seems to be longer than necessary and done by tradition. But it really depends on the temperature at present time. Still there are some producers that have awareness and are improving their processes by doing trials and experiments.
As many of the producers this days have water capacity issues they are looking at ways to save water during processing. Some convert to demucilagers and some recycles water back into the process. If done well under strict control recycling is ok, but it can also be risky if they process with polluted water.
After washing or soaking the parchment it’s spread out on raised tables, drained and at most of the serious producers hand sorted for defected parchment. They do have occasional rains during the drying period, and challenges on drying. It can also be to hot in the middle of the day. If they are not careful covering up the parchment it will crack up, and affect the degrading/aging and cup profile. The drying time seems to vary from 5-14 days depending on the weather, occasional rains and micro climate. There is hardly any use of moisture meters anywhere, and the general qualities seemed to be unstable with everything from 9,5 to 13% moist.
Parchment and storage
After drying the parchment is stored in local warehouses until they have enough to send to the mill. Normally they will mix the daily lots randomly when finished at the drying tables. The coffee would normally be milled immediately and stored in green beans. When coffee is sold at the auction it’s often moved to warehouses in Dar es Salaam. In general storage conditions both in Moshi and especially Dar es Salaam can be challenging.
Grades and qualities
Cupping through several parchment lots from the same producers shows pretty big differences in quality. Accordingly to the blocks or farms where the cherries comes from, how the conditions are during process and drying, ripeness of cherries and of course awareness during chain of all operations, the quality will vary. It seems like focusing on the peak of the season will as in most cases normally give a more consistent profile.
The standard grades based on size is more or less the same as in Kenya. In terms of “quality” you have AA (18 up), AB (15, 16,17) and PB. Then you have C grade, E (misfostered Elephant beans) AF, TT, T and F’s. This are lighter beans from the grades mentioned above.
On top of the quality chain you have the Estates or CPU processed coffees considered as “fully washed”. They can be great but even here you will often find inconsistency and defects. Specially over fermentation.
Then you have the organized coops where the coffee are processed by smallholders, but some of them have a certain extent of quality control at farm level and the coffees can occasionally be clean and transparent.
You have local parchment buyers. Most of them will buy and blend random smallholder coffees of various and poor quality from certain areas, mix it and sell it to the mills. In general poor cup quality. Many of the mills work in close relationship with, or have their own parchment buyers to ensure volumes.
The way coffee is traded in Tanzania makes it challenging, but not impossible, to source quality. You are allowed to do direct export (DE) but the specific sale, contract and quality has to be approved by the Tanzanian Coffee board. The main focus for the exporters is volumes of average commercial quality. Most of the coffee goes through the TCB (Tanzanian Coffee Board) auction, and it is almost as defected coffee is excepted. The quality control of coffees going through auction is monitored by the lab of TCB. Still, if you look at the coffees, even the supposedly clean AA’s A’s and B’s rated as quality there will often be black beans, over fermented and in general a high level of defects. Strangely enough they still get good premiums this days and this does not give good incentives for the farmers and millers to increase quality in general. To do direct export you have to get the approval based on sample by the TCB. This is a confusing and often a time consuming process and will delay sales and exports. Very often farmers that have direct relations with importers and roasters even take the coffees through auction, buy it back and ship it direct to avoid the hassle with the direct export license.
Dry mills and Exporters
Most producers work in close partnership with drymills. As soon as they have a decent amount of parchment, sometimes almost straight from the drying tables, it’s trucked to the mill. Very often they mill it immediately to present it in the auction catalogue. Occasionally the coffee is conditioned or stored in parchment in a warehouse, but in general there are few following strict routines as such.The exporters are not allowed to have their own mills and this requires a different license. Still most exporters divide milling and exports in to two separate companies managed as one, to get around the law. Tanzanian coffees are known to fade quickly and I think the reason is a mix of factors. Over/under drying is an issue, no conditioning and storage in higher altitudes, coffees are often polished in the dry mills to look better, and get heated during this process. On top of that the coffee is often stuck in Dar es Salaam with high humidity and temperature. I believe if you work with producers and exporters to control this factors it should improve dramatically.
At a glance
Harvesting season: June – September
Arrival times: November – December
Quantities: Lot volumes can range from 6 to 120 bags, we are focusing on smaller groups but have seen these grow and capacity through some CPU’s increase as they get more established.
Packaging: 60 kg grainpro
Price levels: 9,00 – 11,00 USD/kg
Cultivars: Kent, Bourbon, SL28 and Catimor
Processes: Fully washed and sundried on African beds
Usage: Widely used for filters, as single origin espresso and in espresso blends.
Shelf life: Normally holds up well for a year. We can never guarantee more than 6 months after arrival for any coffees
We’re sponsoring a new educational project in Tanzania called Coffee Club, with the aim to improve the future for the kids in the regions we are buying coffee from, and increase the quality of the coffee in this region long term. We will sponsor Coffee Club in one school, the school is in the area …
Tanzania has been the most exciting country for me this year, largely ignored and marginalized for never quite having good enough coffee, well I am happy to completely disagree! While there is no doubt there are some areas of concern one should pay serious attention to, and a certain effort in finding great coffees and making sure they arrive in your warehouse tasting as great, what would the point be in only looking in places where good coffees came easily.
Compared to the neighboring country Kenya you have to digg deep to find the super complex and intense fruit driven coffees in Tanzania. Still, there is great potential around. Price wice it’s cheaper coffees in general than in Kenya and Ethiopia . If you are looking for heavy bodied and sweet coffees with flavors of dark cherry, cocoa and roasted nuts Tanzania might be something to look in to.