The Roasters Pack

Coffee Origin: Uganda (The Plants, History, Arabica vs Robusta & Processing)

07/22/2020

In the June 2020 issue, we featured a coffee from Pop Coffee Works out of Toronto, Ontario, sourced from the origin of Uganda. It's a relatively uncommon origin for specialty coffee.

"Uganda is an underrated coffee region that gets overshadowed by other African countries like Ethiopia and Kenya,” shared Rambert Sin, Head Barista at Pop Coffee Works in Toronto, Ontario.

With our feature of the (crazy delicious) coffee, we included this deep dive into the origin, to help you know more about where this tasty tasty coffee in your mugs came from.

The Plants:

For most of the country’s coffee-growing history, Uganda has largely been an exporter of Robusta coffee, the slightly more caffeinated but much more bitter cousin of the Arabica coffee plant, which is by far the most common plant grown for specialty coffee beans. Though Arabica coffee has finally begun to take hold in the region and even thrive in recent years, Robusta plants still dominate farms, outnumbering the more delicate plants four to one across the whole country.

The History:

Originally introduced in the early 20th century, Arabica coffee struggled to take hold as disease ravaged the crops early on. The native and undomesticated Robusta, heartier and more resistant to disease, slowly began to dominate the country as smallholder farmers realized its potential through the 1910s and into the 1920s.

Uganda saw its biggest economic coffee boom in the mid-1970s. When a massive frost destroyed a huge Brazillian crop, buyers had a much higher demand for coffee from the rest of the world—and Uganda had the supply to meet it. Coffee became the most valuable export and kept the country’s economy flowing for years after, only faltering when global coffee prices crashed in 1987.

The Rise of Arabica:

In the years just before the crash, Arabica plants were beginning to be re-introduced to the country on a larger scale, as modern agricultural techniques were able to better protect the delicate plant from harsher environments and stave off diseases. This was also the time when farmers began to realize the ideal climates on the east and west borders of the country, where Arabica could thrive at higher altitudes amongst other crops and under shady trees. Though still not grown nearly on the same scale as Robusta, Arabica production in Uganda has grown steadily for the past 40 years. As its production has improved, so too has its reputation, quality and appeal.

Processing:

In Uganda, the processing method most commonly used in Arabica coffee production is split fairly evenly in an east/west divide. Near the Mount Elgon volcano in the east, coffee largely undergoes a washed process, while coffee grown near the Rwenzori Mountains in the west is processed naturally. The distinction means that coffees grown in the east will usually be smoother, cleaner and have a more wine-like acidity, while coffees grown in the west lean towards heavy fruit notes, bigger bodies and chocolate flavours.

Uganda Coffee

In Uganda, the processing method most commonly used in Arabica coffee production is split fairly evenly in an east/west divide. Near the Mount Elgon volcano in the east, coffee largely undergoes a washed process, while coffee grown near the Rwenzori Mountains in the west is processed naturally. The distinction means that coffees grown in the east will usually be smoother, cleaner and have a more wine-like acidity, while coffees grown in the west lean towards heavy fruit notes, bigger bodies and chocolate flavours.

Nebbi Zombo by Pop Coffee Works (featured in June):

How did this coffee taste like? Well, Rambert Sin from Pop Coffee Works dove into it:

“Beyond the high scores, this was truly an amazing coffee for our roaster Abe to profile, where small adjustments would highlight different flavour notes. We ended up with this profile, as it highlighted the most intense grapey floral notes, along with intense cooked fruit and tropical sweetness, a creamy mouthfeel and a long-lasting finish.”

“As this coffee cools, it gets more interesting. The grape note becomes more like grape candy, the apple now like fresh pineapple, plenty of floral notes and a slight raw cacao tannin that is found in lots of experimental-lot coffees. The acidity grows but stays mellow, reminding me of slightly underripe dragon fruit. This incredible coffee is complex and dynamic, evolving as it cools, so definitely take your time when enjoying this coffee!”