According to the Tanzania Coffee Board, coffee was first introduced the areas around Moshi in the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro in 1898. Today, the northern areas of Moshi and Arusha (at the base of Mt. Meru), and the southern area of Mbeye remain known for producing some of the best quality in the country. While the majority of Tanzania’s coffee is produced by smallholder farmers (90% according to Philippe Jobin’s Coffees Produced Throughout the World,) a number of large estates exist in the north which are owned and operated by European families and corporations.
Much more common than large estates are small coffee gardens owned by individuals and usually less than a hectare in size. Historically smallholder farmers would deliver unprocessed coffee cherry to private collectors, who would then sell to exporters to be processed at their wet mill usually located on an estate of their own. If the farming areas are very far from the nearest town, it would be more common for a small holder farmer to depulp, ferment, wash and his or her own coffee at home so the dry parchment could be stored and delivered to the buyer at the next opportune time.
Historically, generally buyers, exporters, and coffee processors preferred to buy cherry so they could have more control over the washing process, as the quality of washing and drying can vary widely between smallholder farmers, but in January of 2018, the government made dramatic and sudden coffee regulation changes that threw the Tanzanian coffee industry into disarray. Before the changes, private buyers and exporters could buy cherry and parchment, but the new regulations stipulated that only cooperatives (called AMCOS: Agricultural Marketing Cooperative Societies) could buy cherry and parchment. Instead of one weekly auction in Moshi, there would be four zonal auctions. . Farmers scrambled to organize into AMCOS, some with CPUs (central processing units/washing stations), some doing farm/home-processed coffee.
During this time, five local banks closed throughout Tanzania, many private companies pulled out their export operations, and farmers and exporters alike were forced to dramatically adapt their operations in a very short time and with little guidance. Things have settled down a bit, but time will tell if the new regional auction system is an improvement, since the regional auctions outside of Moshi are sporadic (the first Mbeya auction happened in August 2019, with few buyers and no coffee being sold).
Tanzania uses a system of bean size grading very much like the system used in Kenya. In Tanzania “AA” is the largest size grade, consisting of beans with screen sizes 17 and 18. Screen sizes globally refer to screen hole size in #/64ths of an inch wide. “AB” refers to 15/16 screen, “C” grade is 14/15 screen and “PB” is the small peaberry bean. Larger screen sizes fetch higher auction prices even today, with much of the international market preferring a large size bean. We’ve found that there’s no absolute correlation between bean size and cup quality, which is why many of our Tanzania offerings are AB and PB grade. For some reason over the years, Peaberry coffee from Tanzania became hugely popular, in the U.S. at least.
Atlas has recently partnered with our sister company, Ibero (NKG East Africa) to source traceable lots from three different AMCOS (agricultural and marketing cooperative societies) from the Mbeye area of Southern Tanzania, and they are some of the best Tanzania offerings we have had in nearly a decade. Since Ibero stayed in Tanzania when most other millers and exporters were pulling out, they have a great relationship with many AMCOS in the area, working with each AMCOS to build small-scale and affordable washing stations, working on quality and agronomy, and partnering with locals schools to start coffee clubs for the area’s youth.
The Tanzania specialty scene is not new, but in many ways is in a phase of rebuilding and revitalization, and we’re proud to be partering with Ibero to offer these lots. Starting in 2021/2022 we’ll be carrying natural-processed lots in addition to full-washed lots.
2021/2022 Tanzania Microlot Details
Iloma AMCOS: Iyela Farmer Group was founded in 2011. In 2016 they decided to set up a CPU, and in 2018 due to the changes in regulations they joined the Iloma AMCOS. The name Iloma results from the two main villages where the farmers live: Mufaumbo and Ilomba. The water comes from the Vidawa river, which is 5km away and fed by gravity pipes. The chairman, Rashid Shikombola, is a respected businessman in the village. With the AMCOS, he rents trucks to other nearby groups and helped to provide electricity in the village. City Mills, the dry mill owned by Neumann Kaffee Gruppe, has also started a coffee club at Msankwi, a local secondary school, where students receive seedlings and meet regularly to learn agricultural practices. The CPU (centralized processing unit/washing station) sits at 1,870 and services the group’s 450 members. Farmers deliver cherry from 2-6pm, and pulping runs from 3-8pm. After being pulped, the parchment is graded into 3 different washing channels, fermented for 24-48 hours, washed, and dried on raised beds for 11-14 days. This past year the addition of a Penagos Ecopulper reduced the number of members needed to manage the washing station from 46 to 16.
Idiwili AMCOS: Idiwili is a new AMCOS established in 2019, and the 2020 harvest is the 2nd year of processing fully-washed coffees at a CPU. After pulping every evening (using a hand pulper hooked up to a motor), they dry ferment 24-36 hours, wash, then soak for 8-12 hours before drying on raised beds for 11-14 days. Idiwili AMCOS sits at 1,741 MASL, services 142 members, and produces ~ 142 x 60kg bags annually.
Shinzingo AMCOS: 2020 will be the first year Atlas has purchased from Shinzingo AMCOS, which was founded in 2012 doing home-processed coffee with only 9 farmer members. As they grew, they switched to centralized washing in 2017, and now have 228 members. One of Shinzingo’s members is the town Bishop, and he offered up his own land for the central processing unit (CPU) until the group can buy their own land to set up a larger CPU. Farmers deliver cherries from 11am-6pm and cherries are pulped from around 3pm-11pm. After being pulped, the parchment is graded into P1, P2, P3, P lights, and pods in the washing channels. The parchment is fermented for 24-36 hours (depending on weather) before washing, then soaked for 8-12 hours before being dried on raised beds for 7-14 days.
The result of meticulous processing from these four AMCOS are lots with notes of mandarin orange, kiwi, lime, and juicy sweetness and acidity. Additional details on all three lots can be found in the “High Res Asset Kit” on this page and in the AMCOS’ individual traceable pages.