Sudden Coffee

The Complete Guide To Coffee Bean Origins: Africa

Have you ever tried coffee beans from the native coffee forests of Ethiopia? What about coffee grown across the volcanic landscapes of Rwanda? The African continent is rich with diversity—in culture, geography, and, you guessed it, coffee.

Let’s explore the coffee growing countries of Africa together. It’s healthy, for many reasons, to learn about the histories and cultures of far away places, but by the end, you’ll also have a much better idea of how to buy the right African coffee for your unique taste preferences and lifestyle.

It’s disclaimer time: coffee flavor can change dramatically from region to region and farm to farm within a single country. When we make generalizations about a country’s coffee flavor, please keep in mind that the typical flavor profile is certainly not the only flavor profile.

Let’s begin with the area where, as far as we know, coffee began—the birthplace of coffee.

Ethiopia

A land of legend when it comes to coffee’s origins, Ethiopia is a coffee producer that tickles our imagination. Lush natural coffee forests can be found in many areas of the country. A thousand-year-old coffee ceremony including harvesting, processing, roasting, grinding, and brewing brings us to awe.

As the birthplace of coffee, Ethiopia also has the most extreme coffee genetic landscape. There’s 99% more genetic material in Ethiopia’s coffee alone than in the entire rest of the world, and most of it hasn’t been formally identified or categorized. We call these mystery plants “heirloom varieties”.

Most coffee in Ethiopia is processed via the natural method, which is largely responsible for the wild, exotic fruity flavors that are common among specialty-grade Ethiopian beans. With notes of blueberries, strawberries, floral aromas, a wine-y tang, these coffees can seem like a whole other beverage entirely.

Common Flavors:

  • Medium “Wine-y” Acidity
  • Medium Body
  • Exotic Fruit And Berry Flavors

Processing Methods:

  • Natural
  • Washed

Kenya

Kenya, a tea-loving nation, didn’t actually start growing coffee commercially until the 1900’s—which is crazy, considering that Ethiopia is the country’s northern neighbor. When independence from Britain was won in the 60’s, plantation-like farms were split up among locals. Most farms are very small and not the primary source of income—many having fewer than 300 trees.

Specialty-grade coffees from Kenya often have a fruity flavor, a rich floral aroma, and a deep sweetness that’s akin to that of brown sugar or dark fruit.

Common Flavors:

  • Low Acidity
  • Heavy Body
  • Chocolate, Earth, Spice

Processing Methods:

  • Washed
  • Natural

Rwanda

Rwanda had a coffee market in the 1800’s, but it was German and Belgian missionaries in the 1900’s that really spurred the industry to what it is today. Most coffee early on was of the robusta species, which meant yield was high but quality was low.

The tragedy of the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 devastated the economy, including the coffee industry. Remarkably, the country is an example of radical reconciliation and has since rebuilt a thriving economy and culture of forgiveness. Part of this regrowth was the widespread cultivation of arabica plants on recovering farms, which has led to a burst of quality.

Specialty-grade Rwandan coffees frequently feature a rich earthy flavor with subtle notes of fruits, flowers, and spices.

Common Flavors:

  • Crisp Acidity
  • Medium Body
  • Earthy, Fruity, Floral, Spice

Processing Methods:

  • Washed


Burundi

The exotic landscapes of Burundi grow some equally exotic coffees, but the small country doesn’t produce much, thanks to a series of setbacks for the local coffee industry.

When Burundi became independent in the 60’s, many local farms chose to uproot their coffee plants for other crops, not wanting to continue working in an industry that had been established by their oppressors. Civil wars in the 90’s led to more economic disruption, but coffee farming emerged as a way toward renewal and income security, inspiring thousands of smallholder farmers to grow coffee again.

Burundian coffee is well-known for its exotic acidity and complex flavor profile. Many people describe the coffees to have sweet notes of dark fruit, crisp floral aromas, and an acidic tang that’s similar to that of Dr. Pepper.

Common Flavors:

  • Soda-Like Acidity
  • Light Body
  • Dark Fruit, Floral, Sweet, Complex

Processing Methods:

  • Washed
  • Natural

Ivory Coast

On the western coast of Africa lies the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). This small nation has a rather large coffee industry, though you’re not very likely to find beans from here in specialty coffee shops

After World War II, the local coffee economy experienced a major boom. By the 1970’s, the Ivory Coast was the world’s 3rd largest exporter of coffee and, for a short time, the #1 producer of robusta coffee. By 2000, however, the coffee industry had lost some steam due to political upheaval and a civil war. On a happier note, the current, stable government projects 400% growth in the industry by 2020.

Since nearly all coffee grown here is robusta, the typical flavor profile includes darker notes of chocolate, nuts, earth, and spice—and that characteristic robusta bitterness.

Common Flavors:

  • Low Acidity
  • Medium Body
  • Chocolate, Nuts, Earth, Spice

Processing Methods:

  • Washed
  • Natural

Yemen

Just to the east of Egypt lies Yemen, a smaller country on the Arabian Peninsula. Few coffee lovers know how important this region was to coffee’s early expansion. Yemeni coffee fans invented the Turkish coffee brewing method. They also opened the world’s first coffeehouses and traded the first coffee commercially from the port of Al Mokha.

Sadly, Yemen’s in the midst of a civil war and drought, which has caused the once-thriving coffee industry to stall. Coffee culture is deeply embedded in the country’s identify however, and local farmers are optimistic that they’ll pull through.

The few Yemeni beans we are able to get out of the country tend to have deep flavors of earth and chocolate. They also often feature that fascinating and exotic wine-y acidity we love from Ethiopian coffees.

Common Flavors:

  • Low Acidity
  • Heavy Body
  • Chocolate, Earth, Spice

Processing Methods:

  • Washed
  • Natural

Uganda

Commercial production of native robusta plants began the mid-1800’s, and arabica plants were introduced around 1900 from Malawi and Ethiopia. The industry has grown ever since, and, in 2015, passed Mexico as the 8th largest coffee exporter globally.

A large portion of the country’s crops are still of the robusta species, but the many farms focusing on arabica coffee are producing some stellar results. These specialty-grade beans often a deep earthy flavor, citrus tang, fruity sweetness, and a full body.

Amazingly, Ugandan farmers have actually grown some specialty-grade robusta coffee. It’s very rare and still experimental, but these offerings are redefining how we think of specialty coffee.

Common Flavors:

  • Crisp Acidity
  • Heavy Body
  • Earth, Spice, Citrus, Fruity, Chocolate

Processing Methods:

  • Washed
  • Natural

There are a handful of other coffee producing countries in Africa, including Malawi, Sierra Leone, and even Madagascar, but their production is very low and we wanted to focus on the more influential and common specialty coffee producers.

Now that you’ve learned about these coffee growing countries, actually tasting coffee from them will be even more rewarding. That’s one of the things we love about Sudden—the experience is convenient, delicious, and only gets better the more you learn about what you’re drinking.

Check out our current lineup of coffees and grab yourself a free sample.

Get your FREE 2-Cup Trial here:

Use Code: WELOVESUDDEN