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. 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 his or her 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.
Atlas has recently partnered with our sister company, Ibero (NKG East Africa) to source peaberry 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.
In January of 2018, the government made dramatic and sudden coffee regulation changes that threw the Tanzanian coffee industry into disarray. Instead of one weekly auction in Moshi, there would be four zonal auctions. Before the changes, private buyers and exporters could buy cherry and parchment, but the new regulations stipulated that only cooperatives (called AMCOS: Advertising Marketing Cooperative Societies) could buy cherry and parchment. 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
2018/2019 Tanzania Peaberry Lot Details
The Iyela peaberry comes from Iyela farmer group, which was founded in 2011 and in 2018 joined the Iloma AMCOS due to changing government regulations. The CPU (centralized processing unit/washing station) sits at 1,870 and services the groups 391 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 soaked for 8 hours, and dried on raised beds for 11-14 days. The chairman is a respected businessman in the village, and rents trucks to other groups and helps provide electricity to the village.
The Tunda peaberry comes from Umoja and Ululu AMCOS. The Umoja Ululu AMCOS (Umoja = “unity” in swahili) consist of several CPUs. They were formed by the Umoja Ilomba and Magwila farmer groups, and Ilomba CPU sits at 1,796masl. The 252 producers come from the nearby villages of Ululu, Idwili, Mafumbo, and Ilomba, and deliver their cherries from 2-6pm, pulp from 3pm-1am (depending on how busy the season is), are graded, fermented from 24-48 hours, soaked for 8-12 hours, then dried from 8-14 days depending on weather.
The Shilanga peaberry comes from Shilanga AMCOS, which was created in 1993 and services 193 producers. The CPU sits at 1,646 and, like Tunda and Iyela, Bourbon derivatives are the main varietals (90% N39, 10% KT 423). Farmers deliver cherries from 1-6pm, the cherry is pulped from 6pm up to 12am, and then graded, dry fermented from 24-36 hours, washed, soaked for 8 hours, and dried on raised beds from 7-14 days. In the upcoming season, Shilanga AMCOS wants to build new drying tables and purchase a new pulper.
The result of meticulous processing from these three AMCOS are peaberry lots with notes of mandarin orange, blackberry, apricot, and juicy sweetness and acidity. Additional details on all three peaberry lots can be found in the “High Res Asset Kit” on this page.