A Beginner’s Guide to African Coffee Flavors and Varieties

tree between green land during golden hour

When winemakers become poetic about the places that made them into grapes, they sometimes cite places in France. Like the unforgettable Chenin Blanc from Savennières in the Loire Valley or the fragrant Charmes-Chambertin from Burgundy, African coffees have the same memorable effect on coffee pros.

Indeed, Africa is perhaps the most interesting coffee-producing continent on the planet, boasting an amazing range, history, and quality. While almost a dozen African countries grow coffee, contributing to 12 percent of global production, the bulk supply is the highest. Specialty coffee, the emphasis here, is centered in East Africa.

The history of the coffee trade in Africa

green leaf tree near mountain covered by snow at daytime

When we trace the origins of the coffee trade, it brings us back to the Horn of Africa, the coastline with the Gulf of Aden’s coasts, and the Arabian Sea.

Over several centuries, significant trade will take place in the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, regarded as the Gates of Tears, between the western Arabian Peninsula and Ethiopia, in particular Yemen.

The ancient kingdom of Aksum was a major figure in these trading empires. It was presumed to have been established in 150 BCE, based on what we know today as Eritrea and Northern Ethiopia.

Aksum had direct access to both the Red Sea and the Upper Nile between the third and sixth centuries and was considered the largest North Africa marketplace. Its trade has spread to what we know today as Djibouti, Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. Merchants traded agricultural commodities such as ivory, salt, tortoiseshells, gold, silk emeralds, and spices throughout the region, bringing power and prosperity to the kingdom.

However, they could not resist the expanding Islamic Empire, or the Caliphate, which gained the upper hand when they took control of the lucrative Red Sea and much of the Nile. The Islamic Empire experienced a century of rapid expansion through most of northern Africa and Spain under the Umayyad Caliphate rule.

The caliphate will go on to dominate the trade in coffee. By the 14th century, nevertheless, the Empire had grown tired of exchanging coffee with Ethiopia. Instead, they started growing their coffee with plants smuggled from Ethiopia to Yemen.

These ancient kingdoms in Africa were engaged in the same practices as other kingdoms and empires across the world: invading, trading, and striving to preserve their dominance and monopoly. This is something that’s going to change over time.

Globalization of coffee around the world

The monopoly of the coffee trade was a strong tool: coffee was in demand and lucrative. It was ferociously guarded, but it was also stupidly stolen.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire’s coffee monopoly came when the Dutch looted coffee seeds from Yemen in the late 1600s. They were taken from there to the island of Java in Indonesia, the Dutch colony, where commercial coffee plantations were built. Using the land of Java and Java’s labor force, they continued to dominate the world coffee trade.

Colonists have played a leading role in the globalization of coffee. Coffee has gone from being clustered in the Middle East and North Africa to growing worldwide. It was searched for, which made it the ideal crop for colonizers to flourish in their conquered colonies.

Slavery and Atlantic Slave Trafficking have played a major role in shaping the coffee trade. Approximately 11 million Africans have been driven into the Americas for 400 years.

These slaves made up a workforce that directly contributed to the colonies’ economic prosperity through increasing trade products, including coffee. This included British colonies in the French colonies in Haiti, West Indies, and Spanish colonies in modern Latin America.

Brazil, which Portugal colonized, was the leading coffee producer in the 1830s. It relied on black and indigenous slave labor to produce 30percent of the world’s coffee.

Colonists took not only seeds but also lives and livelihoods to ensure the substantial growth of coffee.

Africa and coffee, today

car passing by in between trees

Coffee still plays a crucial role in Africa. You can find it growing in Zimbabwe, East Africa, and West Africa, mostly in Ghana and Ivory Coast.

There are embedded issues in many of these countries that make coffee production and trade more difficult. Issues concerning farm size, changing political climates, infrastructure, and climate change will prevent farmers from excelling in their production. This directly impacts farmers’ incomes and makes it more difficult to support their livelihoods.

Yet, it remains a major contributor to the economy for many countries around the continent. Approximately 20% of exports come from Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, and Ethiopia.

African coffee is identifiable on its own. It is applauded for its special qualities and delicate taste profiles, from the floral notes of high-altitude coffee to bergamot’s distinctive notes in Yirgacheffe coffee, Ethiopia.

Coffee has traveled from Ethiopia to the rest of the world (and even to my family’s farm in Zimbabwe). Along the way, farmers, merchants, colonizers, and customers’ creativity has been captured throughout history. They have transformed economies, and they remain part of the everyday life of millions of people around the world.

Why Africa’s coffee is unique?

African coffee is recognized across the globe as one of the most distinctive coffee regions with special flavors.

Coffee growing and harvesting methods are favorable in Africa. Volcanic mineral-rich soils, high altitudes, mountainous areas, high altitudes, and the equator’s proximity are responsible for the original taste.

African coffees have vibrant notes of floral, fruity, and berry flavor. It is distinguished by a typical bright acidity and a winey taste profile. It’s the area where you can find the most fruity coffee. Citrus, berries, bergamot, or jasmine are popular flavors.

Kenya and Ethiopia are African countries that have developed a coffee heritage that is celebrated worldwide with exceptional varieties such as Ethiopian Yirgacheffe or Kenya AA. Other countries, such as Burundi, Tanzania, or Rwanda, often have unique flavors and a very high specialty coffee level.

Which African countries grow coffee?

Kenya and Ethiopia are the largest and most known coffee sources in Africa. We’re going to talk about what makes them unique and what to expect from your cup.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s homeland of coffee is home to a remarkable variety of coffee varieties, maybe thousands, many wild and uncatalogued. Coffee roasters often mark coffee bags as “heirloom” for customers, suggesting an unknown genetic origin. (Intriguingly, Counter Culture has initiated a project to archive several varieties that Western exporters mark as ‘heritage.’)

Unlike the rest of Africa, most of which has a century of coffee production experience barely, Ethiopia has been growing, brewing, and exporting coffee for over a millennium. Ethiopia is the world’s fifth-largest coffee manufacturer, accounting for 3% of the world’s supply and recruiting 15 million people—more than a quarter of the working-age population and 60percent of foreign income.

Although most African countries depend on wet (washed) processing, Ethiopia also produces large quantities of dry-processed coffee known as “natural” coffee. Dry processing is labor-intensive but can produce heavy, fruity flavors – blueberry is a typical descriptor – with citrus-like acidity.

On the other hand, Ethiopian washed coffees generate a cup of tea because of their delicate, floral flavor profile (consider bergamot oil in Earl Grey). However, differences are not just due to processing, as regions such as Harrar, Sidamo, and Yirgacheffe have become steeped in their terroir and the various flavors of their coffees.

Kenya

KENYAN COFFEE BERRIES ARE THE WORLDS BEST

Ethiopia’s neighbor to the south, Kenya, hires 6 million people in the coffee industry. Unlike Ethiopia, it has a relatively short history of coffee production, dating back to the late 19th century. However, with a population of 47.6 million, the country has developed a reputation for the quality of its specialty coffee, much of which is grown at high altitudes around Mount Kenya. 

Kenya has historically sold products through a relatively open auction system that rewards higher-quality, higher-priced lots, an uncommon but productive platform for the African industry.

Specialty Kenyan coffees appear to have a medium-to-full-bodied, lovely acidity and characteristics similar to black currant (think Cabernet Sauvignon), plus berry notes, tropical flavors, and citrus undertones. Its renowned cultivars read as codes—SL28 and SL34 (SL connoting Scott Laboratories, the originator of the National Agricultural Lab)—that were observed to be tolerant of drought, some diseases, and many pests.

Tanzania

farmer 4493421 1280

Tanzania specialty coffee, cultivated on Mount Kilimanjaro’s slopes, has established a reputation for bright, clean, medium-bodied, and complex cups. Although the Haya tribe is assumed to have brought coffee from Ethiopia to Tanzania, commercial coffee cultivation was introduced by German colonizers almost a century ago and now accounts for about 20percent of the country’s export value.

In the United States, Tanzania has been famous for its peaberry. This moniker refers to a coffee cherry, which has only one seed instead of the normal two. Around 5 to 10 percent of the coffee cherries, pea beans are smaller and rounder than regular, flat-sided coffee beans.

Rwanda

istockphoto 637319300 612x612 1
Green coffee is dried on raised beds to dry more consistently increasing quality which increases prices for the farmer. The beds are maintained each season and work well using the power of the sun to reach an ideal moisture content of the coffee. Shot in Rwanda.

Rwanda has built an outstanding reputation for a country with less than 20 years of experience producing specialty coffee. Almost 80 percent of its overall production is specialty-grade. 

Rwandan coffees, usually based on Bourbon mutations, a coffee variety, tend to have a sweet and full-bodied experience with a broad range of flavor profiles, from red fruit notes (grapes, apples) to a distinct floral character. The country’s high altitude (all of Rwanda is 3,000 feet above sea level) grows dense beans. Experienced roasters know that they have enough high temperatures to prevent an excessively acidic profile and roast beans long enough to grow a rich mouthfeel.

Burundi

Burundi

Like its northern neighbor Rwanda, tiny Burundi (the size of Maryland) cultivates the Bourbon variety on mountainous terrain. Farmers also wash their seeds thoroughly, soaking both during fermentation and afterward. The practice encourages a clean taste as the protective mucilage is completely extracted. Burundi coffees are renowned for their sweet fig and berry flavors, as well as their juicy acidity.

In the 1990s, Burundi’s coffee industry was ravaged by the civil war. Drawing inspiration from Rwanda’s post-conflict coffee performance, however, Burundi has made progress and increased its coffees’ quality—the best examples of astounding buyers scoring high scores from specialty coffee graders around the world.

Here’s a list of the top ten famous African coffee brands

Tanzanian peaberry coffee

The top of the competition coffee brand in Africa and the rest of the world is the undisputed Tanzanian Peaberry Coffee. This rich, intensely aromatic brew is grown on Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro. Coffee is a sweet finish that adds depth to the taste.

The Tanzanian Peaberry Coffee is remarkable for its medium roast flavor, which emits an aroma like no other in the world. Its flavor is layered with floral notes that leave a taste of lemon, pineapple, and coconut. It’s really the finest coffee.

Tanzania Peaberry Coffee, Medium Roast – Good As Gold Coffee Roasters

Tanzania Peaberry Coffee - Good As Gold Coffee Roasters - 5lb Whole Bean
120 Reviews
Tanzania Peaberry Coffee - Good As Gold Coffee Roasters - 5lb Whole Bean
  • 5lb of freshly roasted Tanzania Peaberry whole bean coffee by Good As Gold Coffee Roasters
  • a unique coffee with a smooth buttery body and a sweet delicate finish
  • Medium Roast Whole Bean Coffee
  • Small batch roasted in our custom-built air roaster
  • Providing delicious, high-quality coffee at a great value

Coffee from Ethiopian Harrar

This coffee, which preceded the development of Ethiopian coffee, is full of spices and fragrances. Also, this coffee is heavy-bodied, wild, and exotic, making it the most popular coffee brand in Africa and the seventh-best brand in the world. The bulk of Ethiopian Harrar coffee is grown in the southern regions of Ethiopia. It grows up to 6,300 feet above sea level and is dried, resulting in a blend of bold fruitiness.

Ethiopian Queen City Harrar Grade 4 Coffee Beans (Unroasted Green Beans, 2.5 Pounds Whole Beans)
40 Reviews
Ethiopian Queen City Harrar Grade 4 Coffee Beans (Unroasted Green Beans, 2.5 Pounds Whole Beans)
  • Fresh Roasted Each Morning & Shipped in the Afternoon! Dark chocolate with hints of cinnamon and dried cherry.
  • Ethiopian Harrar coffee is known for its winey and fruity, floral-toned acidity—bright in the cup), even intense—and with a rich and pungent, heady aroma that is wonderfully reminiscent of blackberries.
  • The Harrar coffees are considered power house coffees, exhibiting a bold taste that resonates in the cup.
  • Being sun-dried, these coffees exhibit a complex, wild fruitiness that is unmistakable, though sometimes a bit muted.
  • A fine Harrar coffee has a very interesting dry edge to it, and sometimes a surprisingly pleasant, slightly fermented aftertaste including intense notes of jasmine.

Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee

Ethiopian coffee is renowned for its fragrant and spicy nature, and that is what makes its products stand out in the world of coffee brands. The spicy taste of the coffee is complemented by a touch of sweetness that rivals all other competitors. That’s why it’s the biggest choice for coffee lovers. Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee is cultivated at heights of up to 6,600 feet above sea level. It is also processed wet.

This Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee is perceived to be one of Africa’s best coffee brands and the eighth-best coffee brand in the world. It has bright acidity levels and retains a clean taste. With a lasting aftertaste of toasted coconuts and nuts, the tones are very calming. Some of the coffee’s floral tones also give away notes of chocolate, making it a roast taste to get lost in.

Ethiopian Coffee, Yirgacheffe Region by Volcanica Coffee Store

Ethiopian Coffee, Yirgacheffe Region, Organic, Whole Bean, Fresh Roasted 16-ounce
1,437 Reviews
Ethiopian Coffee, Yirgacheffe Region, Organic, Whole Bean, Fresh Roasted 16-ounce
  • 100% Pure Ethiopian Coffee Beans - Yirgacheffe, Medium-bodied and brilliantly acidy with rough, fruity or winy tones. Thick body and an earthy aroma coupled with lemon, blueberry and blackberry notes.
  • Organically grown, medium roasted whole beans allowing the true flavor characteristic to come through for a remarkable taste.
  • Fresh roasted then immediately packed and sealed to assure freshness.
  • 100% Customer Satisfaction Guaranteed

Kenya AA coffee

Not only is Kenya’s AA Coffee one of the largest coffee brands in Africa, but it’s also been named the tenth best coffee brand in the world. Kenya, the country best known for its quality coffee products, has become the best coffee-producing country. The government is very active in the development of coffee in the country. By rewarding farmers with better prices for greater quality, they ensure that they only produce the finest.

Kenya AA Coffee is cultivated more than 6,600 feet above sea level on the highest plateau of Kenya. Coffee produced in Kenya has been proclaimed to have a complex acidity degree but light flavors that embody a rich taste and aroma. The tastes of coffee come in two shades: floral and citrus. Kenyan AA Coffee is cherished by coffee lovers in Africa and its exports.

Kenya AA Coffee Beans by Volcanica Coffee Store

Kenya AA Coffee Beans, 100% Pure, Whole Bean, Fresh Roasted, 16-ounce
252 Reviews
Kenya AA Coffee Beans, 100% Pure, Whole Bean, Fresh Roasted, 16-ounce
  • 100% Pure Kenya AA Coffee Beans with a rich body, pleasant vibrant acidity, fragrant aroma and flavor notes of raspberry, cranberry, fresh-cut redwood, alyssum-like flowers in aroma and cup.
  • Medium/Light roasted whole beans allowing the true flavor characteristic to come through for a remarkable taste.
  • The "AA" grade marks out the very largest beans that naturally contain the largest amount of aromatic oils that are so integral to the coffee-drinking experience
  • Highest grade of Kenyan coffee and considered to be one of the best Arabica coffees in the world,
  • 100% Customer Satisfaction Guaranteed

Good African coffee in Uganda

Uganda is also showing up in the coffee industry, and one of Africa’s main players in the sector is drawn to the country. With some of the best Robusta trees globally, Uganda has been one of the top coffee exporters on the continent. The country has also succeeded in removing Ethiopia due to its low local consumption rates. Since the rate in Uganda is less than 2percent, about 3 million bags are created per year.

Strong African Coffee is home-grown and has had a significant influence on the international coffee industry. The coffee brand was processed by Andrew Rugasira, an ambitious entrepreneur who wished to create a quality Ugandan coffee brand marketed in local and foreign supermarkets. The good African Coffee brand is now sold under four different names: Freeze Dried Instant, Espresso Roast, Rukoki Gold, and the Rwenzori Mountains. It’s a blissful combination that is shared by many around continents.

RhoadsRoast Select, Premium Medium/Dark Roasted Coffees, Whole Bean (Uganda AA West Nile - Erussi RFA Roasted Coffee Beans, 5 pounds)
  • We have roasted, cupped, tasted, and enjoyed these international coffees. We recommend these as some of the finest cups for iced and hot coffees!
  • This offering is selected by our roasters as the best coffee beans roasted at a full city+ just before dark/espresso level. Fresh roasted every morning and shipped same day. Organic, Fair-trade, and Rain-forest Alliance certified coffees are available.
  • Cupping notes are included. Great for home, entertaining, and restaurant use. Contact merchant if you want your coffee order ground, although we always recommend whole beans for maximum freshness.
  • Offering present a range of coffee imported from various countries. All coffees are single origin and ALWAYS from the current crop/harvest.
  • Coffee beans range from full natural processing to wet processing in the mills. Beans are all hand sorted to ensure the highest standards of our products to our customers.

Cameroon’s arabica coffee

Cameroon is renowned for its thick, spicy, mellow-flavored coffee, accompanied by a good aroma. The spicy flavors of Arabica coffee have won Cameroon a reputation for excellence in quality. Paired with the productions of Robusta, Arabica has earned worldwide recognition. The country is also in good standing with a healthy climate that ensures favorable agricultural conditions. These factors give the coffee an outstanding quality.

Cameroon Boyo Peaberry Freshly Roasted Coffee Beans 16oz
34 Reviews
Cameroon Boyo Peaberry Freshly Roasted Coffee Beans 16oz
  • Grown in Cameroon, Boyo region
  • full body
  • More than FairTrade
  • The full traceability of the farmer-owned Cameroon Boyo Coffee micro lots is another way in which we hold ourselves accountable for our coffee, a testament of our confidence that we have delivered the quality coffee that will keep our customers returning, over and over!
  • 16oz

From this point on, these are very unique and unfortunately, Amazon doesn’t have any of these coffee beans. If you like adventure, feel free to let us know which site you purchased any of these! You can check out African coffee club!

Madagascar excellence roasted coffee

Coffee growth in Madagascar is necessary, accounting for almost a third of the country’s export economy. The blends of Arabica, Robusta, and Exceise are all found across the island country. Small farmers grow more than 90percent of the country’s coffee, and many prefer to harvest wild coffee trees only once a year to produce better quality coffee.

Madagascar Excellence Roasted Coffee is available in various flavors such as light roast, town roast, and medium-dark roast. It is made of the finest Madagascar beans, and it contains an aroma that makes coffee lovers have more.

Burundi AA kyrimiro coffee

Burundi’s main exports are tea and coffee, which account for nearly a 90percent of foreign exchange earnings. With coffee as their motivating factor, farmers have perfected the art of sustainable mountain farming and recognized the value of their climate. The coffee cultivated in Burundi is Robusta and Arabica.

Burundi AA Kirimiro Coffee boasts thickness and richness, aromatic flavors of black tea and lemon, delicate hints of spicy cloves, all of which are made with a sweet nut. It is a brand that is cherished and actively explored by its loyalists.

Côte d’ivoire – ivory coast coffee beans

Brewing out of Côte d’Ivoire is a recent trend that has been set in motion by the explored coffee market and community. Most coffee beans entering the world market come from African countries such as the Ivory Coast, but a few companies roast and package them locally. This is quite the reverse in the Ivory Coast, as some of the Robusta variations are being processed for local consumption. This provides a tremendous boost from the local front and offers an exceptional boost to the multinational brands heading to the Ivory Coast.

“They have understood and realized the potential of this market, because we have a competitive growth in our economy that invites a lot of people,” said Fabienne Dervain of Couleur Cafe Abidjan, a quality Ivorian coffee vendor.

Bakayoko Lamine, an Ivorian coffee brewer, said, “[Our] is a form of coffee that is a bit bitter and rough, but still so tasty. It’s a positive thing.”

It is estimated that almost forty-five percent of the population of Côte d’Ivoire is living off coffee production.

Virunga beans of the DRC

It is one of Africa’s main coffee producers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Tiny coffee farms throughout the DRC grow both Robusta and Arabica blends by using dry harvesting. These mixtures can be found in the northern, eastern, and central basin regions. The newest, most successful DRC brand has been favored across the continent and is breaking ground internationally.

Beans used in the most common Bean Coffee markets are imported from the Virunga Cooperative, a member recently founded by farmers in the Kivu province in the eastern region of the DRC. Coffee beans are beautifully unusual in their taste: they have a fruity and slightly sweet lingering, followed by a crisp tang of zest. As described by one roaster: “This coffee from the Democratic Republic of Congo Virunga releases a plum aroma, outlines a crisp acidity and wraps up with a rich, fruity flavour.”

Conclusion

African coffees are renowned for their unique flavors and distinctive taste characteristics. This is partly due to the perfect growing conditions that make coffee cherries thrive.

Ethiopia and Kenya have developed their coffee heritage and are considered to be some of the world’s best coffee regions.

However, your curiosity about African coffee beans shouldn’t end there. Less well-known African countries such as Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, or Uganda are growing high-quality specialty beans worth making.

Widen your single-origin horizon and get a glimpse of these unique areas.

Remain caffeinated!

Leave a Reply

nv-author-image

Self-proclaimed coffee drinker. I would, on a typical day, start my day by grinding my coffee with a manual grinder and use a French Press as a starter (2 cups), then a pour-over in the afternoon (4 cups). I had my fair share as a barista but I prefer to drink it, not serve it.