African Coffee

African coffee, a unique experience.

I have had a soft spot in my heart for African coffee for a long time!

My first introduction to the coffee world was through Bean There coffee and they are brilliant at finding and developing African coffees. It was through my interaction with them that my love was developed for the more delicate, fruity flavours that the region is so famous for.

Most of my coffee sourcing trips these days are in Africa and this has taught me quite few lessons about coffee as a beverage and as a product.

Coffee being traded in Africa is really interesting. Africa is the birth place of coffee, Ethiopia has the legend of Kaldi and his dancing goats and it is still grown wild in the forests there today.

The part that surprises me most each time that I go to a new producing country is just how different it is. Each country has different trade laws, growing conditions, plant care and processing techniques.

The journey of coffee in Africa also faces a few challenges that are raised those revolve mostly around ethical, logistical and environmental issues. The ethical issue comes up every time we talk around how we pay the farmers, most of the time the farmers work in co-operatives and the coffee is then sold either to a government run and operated auction or direct to a coffee trader who will then market the coffee to roasters and other green bean buyers. There are a few roasters who are able to buy directly from the farmers or co-operatives in a direct trade agreement.

How the contracts are written up will often determine the price, quality, quantity, delivery date and any conflict resolutions. This is normally a pretty standard contract that can then be used for most trades, it is however up to the buyer and seller to come to this agreement and that is where the farmer could potentially be treated unethically.

Logistics is another issue we face when it comes to the journey of coffee in Africa, there are a few wars still being fought on the continent and civil disruption and “terrorism” often delays the movement of coffee to the departure port. Sometime a country like Rwanda which is landlocked, also faces challenges as getting extra paperwork in order can be slow for transit across a neighbouring country.

Environmental change is becoming very evident on the farms. Speaking to farmers in Kenya and Tanzania recently they all mentioned how it is affecting them. Issues around the delayed rain fall or the volume of rain, either too much or too little was raised consistently in both countries. Temperature changes have also rushed the seasons and made them slightly more unreliable.

Coffee is very fussy and likes cooler temperatures and the cooler it is the slower the coffee ripens and it becomes denser. The cells of the coffee plant breath and the cooler it is the slower it breathes and we refer to this as the cellular respiration rate, and the cooler temperature slows that respiration rate down which in turn develops more sugars and more flavour. With the environment warming to get to the point where we can get those cooler temperatures the farmers are pushing higher up mountains which has the potential problem of deforestation.

All these issues make Africa an exciting place to work with coffee and once you get to know some of the farmers and hear their stories you can’t help but fall in love. They are amazing people who do their best to produce a product, very few of the farmers consume their own coffee, with the exception of Ethiopia but all of them will view it as a cash crop that should be making their lives better. Part of my job is to try make sure that the life of the farmer is a better one because they farm coffee and this will encourage future generations to become farmers and it encourages farmers to remain in coffee.


***This article was written and submitted to us by Matthew Carter, a Barista and Coffee Sustainability Manager, who has recently embarked on numerous trips throughout Africa on his ever-growing coffee journey. We thank him for his valuable input!