The Rise of Ugandan Coffee

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At the Famous Brands Coffee Company we import coffee from around the world. We love central South American coffee from Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras and Colombia, and we are also big fans of Ethiopian coffee. However, over the past few years we have become increasing buyers of coffee from Uganda.

Coffee is a big industry in Uganda with around 30% of Uganda’s export earnings coming from coffee and around 8% of the population working in the sector. The original focus of the Ugandan coffee industry was on the Robusta species for coffee growing because coffee farmers had the benefit of an easy growing variety that was both hardy and resistant to disease. Although that said, Uganda has had its fair share of disease disasters and in the early 2000’s, over 40% of the robusta plants were destroyed by a fungal disease.

It has been the efforts to increase arabica production in the Mount Elgon and Rwenzori regions, and to couple that with increased availability of washing stations, that has seen Uganda emerge, if a little late to the party, as a rising star in the international arabica coffee market. This is surprising given that it is surrounded in the region by some of the finest African producers such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. We say rather late than never, and we do so for a number of reasons.

Firstly, for a coffee roaster like ourselves, the need for continuity is important and so we like the fact that coffee is taken seriously by government agencies like the Ugandan Coffee Development Authority, which supports the industry. It is heartening to know that the target production for 2030 is set at a massive 20 million bags and considering that around 7 million bags were produced in the 2020/21 season, this is indeed a stretch target. Is it doable? We’d like to think so, and the increasing involvement of large international players like Nestle, and others from Germany and Italy, is cause for hope.

We also like the fact that the Uganda Coffee Farmers Alliance is driving increased professionalism in the sector and that this is attracting further investments into growing and processing operations. When farmers get involved in driving their industry, it is always a good sign of commitment and drive for improvement. It should also be mentioned that many of the smallholder coffee growers are women and there are a good number of women run coffee co-operatives. Coffee cultivation, by its very nature, is an ideal activity for women who have to balance family responsibilities with income generation. The fact that production is expanding, and that quality is increasing, bodes well for family income generation and improved livelihoods in the rural areas of Uganda.

Our preference is for the dried Ugandan arabica coffee, shortened in form to “Drugar”, which is sourced largely from smallholder farmers in the Rwenzori region. Here, in the western part of Uganda, the coffee is processed using the dry method and sun dried. We enjoy the smoothness on the palate, the liveliness, and the fruity flavour that is so pronounced in coffee from the region. We also like the stronger body that we find in Drugar, and one could be forgiven for thinking that they were tasting a good Indonesian bean.

We also like Bugisu coffee from the moderate altitude slopes of the Mount Elgon region. Grown on rich volcanic soils and intercropped with shade plants like banana, this is a washed arabica where the berry flavours are still as pronounced as the Drugar and we like the hint of chocolate in the aroma.

The temperature variations which occur due to the altitude, result in a slower growing bean and this creates a slightly harder bean. While naturally light in acidity, our preference for slightly darker roasts, which suit this bean, further balances the acidity and we get excellent results from the roast. Of course its mild acidity is welcomed by our coffee drinkers, who appreciate the role of acidity, but who are not overwhelmed by it. We blend Ugandan coffee into our Loba range of specialty coffee and our Loba – Depths of Maziwa Makuu pays homage to the coffee of Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda.

So we can easily see why Ugandan coffee is on the rise, and long may it continue because for us, we find Uganda a country of choice for sourcing coffee from. Here’s hoping that Uganda can achieve its 30 million bag target because we’d love more people to enjoy Bugisu and Drugar coffee beans in their coffee blends and to start to appreciate that while Uganda may have been late into the arabica coffee market, the wait has certainly been worth it!

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