Uganda

While Arabica was introduced at the beginning of the 1900's, Robusta coffee is indigenous to the country, and has been a part of Ugandan life for centuries. The variety of wild Robusta coffee still growing today in Uganda's rain forests are thought to be some of the rarest examples of naturally occurring coffee trees anywhere in the world. The coffee trees are intercropped with traditional food crops and grown in the shade of banana trees and other shade trees. In these self-sustaining conditions, coffee is left to grow naturally, flowering on average twice a year.

Uganda has the unfortunate circumstance of being landlocked, and needing good relations with its neighbors to move its coffee crop to a port city. Transportation bottlenecks can result in containers full of steaming coffee beans stuck on the back of a truck or a dock somewhere ...not good for quality! But in recent years the problems of unstable East African politics and weak infrastructure seem to be improving, judging from the excellent quality coffee coming from the Northern Bugisu region along the Kenya border.

Decent commercial coffee marks are the Mbale Bugisu Coffee Factory and the Budadiri Coffee Factory - these are the names of mills where the coffee is prepared. Good Ugandan coffees are both unique among East African coffees and of intense character. Germany has been a strong buyer of Ugandas arabica crop but two years ago the outrageous jump in Java prices resulted in numerous containers appearing in the US as a Java substitute.

Coffees from politically unstable regions, especially East Africa, and the 10-year civil war in Uganda, bring up ethical issues. But the plain fact is this: coffee is a cash crop. It is grown by 300,000 small-holder farmers in Uganda. It is 95% of the Ugandan exports and 2,800,000 people rely on it for a living! Most production is Robusta, and the prices they get are low. Arabica coffee can get a better premium to the farmer, and of course quality also results in increased incentive.

I took my first trip to Uganda in late 2009, but our project did not pan out. Each year we look for new opportunities to find really high quality coffee in Uganda, and we have not given up yet.

No coffees are currently available from this origin. The review is our most recent offering, provided for reference.
Uganda Bugisu WP Decaf
Farmers in Bududa area near Mbale, from a trip a few years back.
Appearance.4 d/300gr, 16-18 screen
GradeA grade
Processing
RegionMt. Elgon region, Mbale
Varietal(s)
RoastI had good roasts in a wide range, from lighter City+ through Full City and Full City+, or a bit into Vienna roast levels. FC to FC+ is great for espresso.
I was just in Uganda last year, and learned quite a bit about the coffee growing and milling situation there. This decaf is from the area of Mbale, but not a specific lot. It reminded me of last year's nice Uganda offering we had for a bit. In fact, I passed the warehouse and mill this coffee comes from while in Mbale town, which is an ideal place to store coffee. An overview: Mount Elgon lies in the Eastern reaches of the country, straddling the Uganda/Kenya border, within the district of Bugisu peoples. Judging by its enormous base it is thought that Mt Elgon was once the tallest mountain in Africa. The coffee shambas (smallholder farms) extend up and down the cliff faces, making use of natural water gullies and forest cover to extract moisture from the soil. The Sipi Falls is one of the great natural features of the Elgon region, a landmark of where this coffee originates, with smallholder farms between 1,400 and 1,900 meters. It is a steep and difficult terrain to traverse in the rainy seasons; often there are no roads, only dirt tracks that are washed away by the rains. But the Bagisu tribesmen (who inhabit Bugisu district, a sub-group of the Bamasaaba) have become expert coffee farmers. This decaf cups a bit like an Indonesia coffee, and can take a bit more roast too. Anything from City to FC+ or darker worked quite well. The dry fragrance was a bit odd when I first evaluated it, not very sweet, with a chocolate biscuit quality in the dry grounds and plum-like dark fruit in the wet aroma. It's a fairly burly and substantial aroma character. Lighter roasts had a mild milk chocolate note, and the dense body really jumped out at me. Chocolate notes dominate at FC+ roast, which was actually my favorite here. With hints of dark fruit in the background and a definite rustic hint to the cup, the aftertaste has a very nice, intense bittersweet chocolate character. While not very sweet initially, it improves as it cools. It's a hefty, weighty coffee on the palate, something I don't find often in decafs from Africa. As I mentioned, it belongs more to an Indonesia taste family than other African coffees. This decaf works well for espresso too.