Tanzania Mbeya, pronounced as "tan-ZAH-nee-uh m-BAY-uh," is a unique coffee-growing region located in the southwestern highlands of Tanzania, East Africa. Situated at an altitude ranging from 1,200 to 1,800 meters above sea level, this region is renowned for its high-quality Arabica coffee beans and the distinct flavors they produce. One interesting fact about Mbeya coffee is that it is often overshadowed by the more popular Tanzanian peaberry coffee, despite its exceptional taste and quality.
Coffee has been cultivated in the Mbeya region for over a century, with the first coffee plants introduced by Catholic missionaries in the late 19th century. Since then, coffee production has become an integral part of the local economy and culture, with smallholder farmers making up the majority of producers. Over the years, the Mbeya coffee industry has experienced significant growth, thanks to government initiatives and the introduction of modern farming techniques.
In the Mbeya region, coffee farming is primarily carried out by smallholder farmers who own plots ranging from 0.5 to 3 hectares. These farmers rely on traditional methods of cultivation, with some incorporating modern techniques to improve crop yield and quality. Most coffee in Mbeya is shade-grown, which means that the coffee plants are grown under the canopy of larger trees, providing a more sustainable environment for both the coffee and the surrounding ecosystem.
The processing of Mbeya coffee typically follows the washed method, which is the most common processing technique in Tanzania. In this method, the outer skin and pulp of the coffee cherries are removed using a pulping machine, and the beans are then fermented in water for 24 to 48 hours. After fermentation, the beans are washed and spread out to dry on raised beds or drying tables for about 7 to 14 days, depending on the weather conditions. Once the beans reach the desired moisture content, they are sorted, graded, and packed for export.
Coffees from the Mbeya region are known for their bright acidity, medium to full body, and complex flavor profiles. Typical tasting notes for Mbeya coffee include fruity flavors like black currant, red berries, and stone fruits, as well as floral and citrus notes. In addition, Mbeya coffees often exhibit hints of dark chocolate, caramel, and spices, giving them a well-rounded and balanced taste. The combination of high altitude, fertile volcanic soils, and traditional farming methods contribute to the exceptional quality and unique flavors found in Mbeya coffee.
While there are numerous farms and farmers producing exceptional coffee in the Mbeya region, one noteworthy cooperative is the Iyenga Agricultural Marketing Cooperative Society (Iyenga AMCOS). This cooperative, established in 2003, comprises over 500 smallholder farmers and has gained recognition for its commitment to quality and sustainable farming practices. Iyenga AMCOS has received several awards, including the Taste of Harvest competition, which showcases the best coffees from East Africa.
Overall, the Tanzania Mbeya coffee region is a hidden gem in the world of specialty coffee, offering unique and complex flavors that are sure to delight coffee enthusiasts. As more attention is drawn to this remarkable region, it is expected that the demand for Mbeya coffee will continue to grow, further solidifying its place in the global coffee market.