Africa is to coffee what France is to wine. For coffee lovers, the continente produces some of the most exquisite coffee beans with unparalleled flavor. While much of the coffee production in Africa focuses on bulk, the eastern portion of the continent shines when it comes to specialty coffees. On the continent, you’ll find a huge range of flavors, quality, and variety that are deeply rooted in history. Learn about the divine nature of African coffee with this guide highlighting the best kinds.
The Different Types of African Coffee
When it comes to the coffee industry, Africa plays a key role in specialty coffee production. It’s known for many of its high-altitude beans, which grow on the slopes of giants like Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya. African coffee is renowned for fruity and acidic tasting profiles owing to specialty African coffee beans that you can’t find on any other continent. While East Africa accounts for most of the production, there are some western nations that also shine when it comes to java creations.
From Kenya AA coffee to fruity and acidic Ethiopian styles, there is something for everyone. Light roasts, medium roasts, and dark roasts abound. Here, we’ll show you everything you need to know about the best African coffee varieties.
Ethiopia has cultivated coffee for centuries and is the fourth largest producer of coffee in the world. It’s regarded as the birthplace of coffee in the African region and production today consists of hundreds of varieties. Many Ethiopian coffees are labeled as “heirloom”, due to the unknown genetics of the plants used to make the coffee. This results in a huge range of flavors for coffee connoisseurs and beginners to explore.
In contrast to many other African coffee-producing nations, Ethiopian producers often use the dry-process method of production instead of wet-washing. In wet-washing, the skin of the coffee bean (called the chery) is removed before drying. For the natural dry-process, the whole cherry is dried. Since the beans interact more with sweet substances in the coffee cherry, these beans tend to have more fruity notes — a hallmark of African coffees.
The taste of Ethiopian coffees depends on where they are grown and how they are produced. Famous growing regions like Harrar and Sidamo have distinct notes while Ethiopian coffee as a whole tends to have fruity flavors and floral notes. Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee is one of the standouts. It offers a tea-like flavor with delicate floral notes and a crisp, light body.
Kenya coffee producers are younger than their neighbors to the north, but their products are no less tasty. Kenyan coffee is known for a bright acidity that comes from beans being grown at high elevations — between 1,400 and 2,000 meters above sea level. Most of the coffee production here occurs around Mt. Kenya and Mt. Elgon.
The country is largely made up of small farmers and co-ops though there are also larger coffee producers in the nation. There are five main varietals made using both robusta and Arabica coffee beans. Kenya AA coffee is among the highest grades featuring large beans that are packed with oils for a decadent cup of java.
Kenya’s high-elevation coffee is renowned for bright, acidic flavors with berry and floral undertones. These coffees typically have a full body and a wine-like aftertaste. You’ll also find some varieties with citrus notes. One of our favorites is Kenyan peaberry coffee from Volcanica Coffee, which is sharp and acidic with notes of black currant and hints of guava and strawberry.
Côte d’Ivoire Coffee
Also known as the Ivory Coast, the Côte d’Ivoire was once the largest coffee producer in western Africa. Since the early 2000s, coffee production in the country has declined significantly due to civil unrest. As a result, the country focuses mainly on cultivating hardier and faster-growing robusta beans. The beans are typically used in blends rather than as single origin coffees.
When it comes to flavor notes, Ivory Coast coffee tends to have nutty and chocolatey tastes. You’ll find hints of spice and a mild bitterness as well as a medium body.
Rwanda is relatively new to the coffee production game. Large-scale coffee growing has only really taken off over the last 20 to 30 years. After years of political instability and war, the country has emerged as one of the got-o producers of high-quality specialty coffee.
The country focuses on specialty grade coffee, with more than 80% of coffee production focused in this category. All the coffee here is high-elevation since the entire country is more than 1,000 meters above sea level. The main varieties include Haraar, Caturra, Catuai, and Bourbon (one of the highest quality arabica beans). Close to 95% of all coffees in Rwanda are made using the Bourbon varietal.
Rwanda coffee flavors vary depending on the varietal and how it’s grown. In general, Rwandan coffees tend to have strong orange blossom and lemon aromas. Tasting notes are floral and fruity with hints of berries. The body is rich and silky with creamy aftertastes.
Like Rwanda, Burundi’s coffee production history is relatively young. Civil war and political turmoil took a toll, but the last two decades have shown an increase in specialty coffee production. Here, coffee farmers focus largely on Bourbon beans and most producers ascribe to the wet-washing processing method.
Burundi whole bean coffee offers fig and berry tasting notes that lend a gentle sweetness to the brew. In this coffee, you’ll also find hints of honey and pineapple. It boasts a bright acidity, big body, and full mouthfeel.
While less known compared to kenyan and Ethiopian coffees, Uganda coffee is growing in popularity. Coffee is the largest export in the country and the industry employs around one-tenth of the population. The country largely produces robusta coffees since growing occurs at lower elevations. Robusta beans are also ahrdier so they aren’t as susceptible to disease.
In portions of eastern and western Uganda, specialty coffee producers have focused more on growing arabica varieties. The higher altitudes here and better soil quality are well-suited to crafting specialty coffees using arabica beans.
Coffee roasters wet-wash the beans to remove the mucilage and showcase the natural flavor of the beans. The result is Uganda coffee that features a satiny body with stone fruit hints. Each sip elicits berry and citrus flavors with a buttery finish and full mouthfeel.
Like other African countries and many in Latin America, Congo coffee production fell to the wayside as the nation dealt with political upheaval. In recent years, Congo coffee has made a resurgence, much to the delight of coffee lovers. As a result, Congo’s coffee industry is still in its infancy. That means much of the production is done by smaller growers.
Congo coffee is largely made from robusta beans, though there are arabica varieties. The Kivu and Ituri coffee growing regions are known for producing bright, acidic coffees with fruity and citrusy notes.
While Tanzania might be most famous for Mount Kilimanjaro, the coffee grown on its slopes is the true star. Coffee was brought here from Ethiopia by local tribes as well as by the German colonizers, who played a key role in commercial production of the crop. Today, Tanzania coffee is known for its bright and crisp flavors as well as a medium body.
Tanzanian peaberry coffee is particularly popular. Peaberry coffee is a type of coffee where there is only one seed instead of two in the cherry. These beans are smaller and more round compared to regular coffee cherries. The flavor profile includes fruity and citrus notes like lemon, peach, and bergamot. It has a lively finish and is often compared to fruity black teas.
Take a Trip Into the World of Coffee
When it comes to African coffee, there’s a flavor to delight any taste buds. Known for citrusy and berry notes, you’ll find options for crisp acidic finishes and a buttery smooth body. From espresso or a medium dark roast to a nuanced light roast, you’re sure to savor each sip of African coffee. From single origin to Fair Trade and everything in between, there’s a fresh roasted coffee from the African continent that you’re sure to love.
Continue browsing Cup & Bean to discover more ways to enjoy your favorite bean. You’ll find guides to high-quality beans using our country guides as well as tips on how to brew coffee at home — whether you want an espresso or to try the latest brewing methods and trends.