Zimbabwe, formerly known as lower Rhodesia until independence in 1980, has produced great coffee since production was introduced in the 1960s. Like Zambians, these coffees are often overshadowed by great East African coffee from Kenya. But they can also have great balance, complexity, body and finesse. But note that not all do! It sometimes takes some rigorous cupping to find truly great estate Zimbabwe as there is an abundance of lesser non-estate coffees in US warehouses. We have had difficulty finding Zimbabwe coffee that has a clean cup character, hence the drought in offering it at SM.
Coffee production is chiefly from the Manicaland and Mashonaland provinces along the border of Mozambique. Coffee production towns are Chipinge (also spelled Chapina) and Mutare. Top AA quality coffee is often marked "Code 53" on the bags, an enigmatic and perhaps arbitrary internal designation for best quality. Lately, the power-grabbing by Mugabe and suppression of democratic media in Zimbabwe is very troubling. Zimbabwe's future does not look as bright as it did 10 years ago, when it was a model of progress in East Africa.
The total area of the country is 150,873 square miles. Zimbabwe occupies part of the great plateau of southern Africa. The most prominent physical feature is a broad ridge that runs southwest to northeast across the country. It has an elevation of between 4000 and 5000 feet and is known as the High Veld.
The land of Zimbabwe is primarily covered with savanna; a particularly lush grass that grows during the moist summers. Forests are found only in limited areas along the eastern border and in the wettest areas of the High Veld. Wildlife includes elephants, hippopotamuses, lions, crocodiles, impalas, giraffes, and baboons.
The earliest known civilization in Zimbabwe was based on the exploitation of rich deposits of gold. Bantu invaders conquered the area perhaps as early as AD 800 and began the Great Zimbabwe complex, now in ruins. By about 1100 they had developed important trade in gold and ivory with ports in present-day Mozambique. The principal cash crop is tobacco, which is grown mainly in the northern and central regions. Other cash crops include cotton, maize, sugarcane, and coffee. Economic sanctions were responsible for curtailing the export of tobacco in the 1970s, and since then emphasis has shifted to the production of other food crops.
Originally brought to the country by members of the Moodle Trek in the 1890s, Arabica coffee is a comparatively new crop to Zimbabwe. It nearly died out again in the 1920s when disease destroyed most of the small plantations, making a resurgence again in 1958, and gaining establishment again in the 1960s. Zimbabwe established strict classification and grading standards in order to insure that fine quality coffees would be produced for export.
Although Zimbabwe lies in the Tropic Zone, its climate is moderated by high elevation. The average temperature is 60° F in July (winter) and 70° F in January (summer). The average annual rainfall is about 35 inches in the High Veld. Most rainfall occurs from November to March.
Zimbabwe farms over 9,500 hectares in coffee. The majority of the crop is grown in the Chipinge district at an altitude of 4500 feet and is harvested from June to November. The most popular method of drying the coffee is in the sun, followed by six to eight weeks of conditioning. This, coupled with the unique growing conditions and the care that the farmers take in cultivation, results in a coffee that has a rich aroma and slightly spicy flavor with medium body.