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) 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. These vestiges of early 20th century colonialism can be quite charming, and before automobiles were introduced and highways were constructed between towns, many plantation owners would fly from one farm to the next due to the great distance. A good number of these large plantation now include bed and breakfasts built to house tourists interested in learning more about the coffee industry in Tanzania.
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 their own coffee at home so the dry parchment could be stored and delivered to the buyer at the next opportune time. Generally buyers prefer to buy cherry so they can have more control over the washing process, as the quality of washing and drying can vary widely between smallholder farmers.
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.
When Atlas buys Tanzania “Peaberry,” “AB” or “AA,” it’s generally a bulked or blended lot of coffee from many small producers whose lots were purchased by an exporter for the purposes of blending. For this reason, these types usually have little to know traceability to the individual farmer, unless there is an estate or coop name also in the description. As with many other coffees, traceability doesn’t always imply higher quality, but nearly always means higher prices. If you’re looking for terrific Tanzania quality for a blend component or Single Origin coffee and don’t necessarily need farmer info, bulk PB, AB or AA lots can be perfectly fine options. We also work with a number of fantastic estates and coops and usually carry a few fancy, traceable options as well if you’re in the market for something more unique.