Zimbabwe

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.

No coffees are currently available from this origin. The review is our most recent offering, provided for reference.
Zimbabwe AA -Dandoni Estate
Appearance0 d/300gr, 18 Screen
GradeAA
Processing
RegionChipinge
Varietal(s)
RoastCity to Full City+: (wide range, depending on your taste). Note the above comments about FC+ roast level.
The best estate Zimbabwe coffees are prized for their balance in the cup ...which might sound like it is mild, but that is not the case. Balanced coffees are a "complete cup." They have all the desirable qualities. A really good Zimbabwe has moderate acidity, rich flavors, good body and aftertaste. The problem is, there are many coffee lots sold as generic Zimbabwe which theoretically can be good but in reality are often not. (part of this is the difficulty with shipping coffee from this land-locked nation. Coffee steaming in 100 degree weather in a metal shipping container for 6 weeks while waiting for pickup is not good for cup quality!) So simply being a Zimbabwe coffee is by no means enough. That said, there are the uncertain political environment affecting agriculture and commerce now, and so good coffee from Zimbabwe is hard to come by. To be honest, I don't know much about the Dandoni Estate, except that it has been owned by the Fennell family for some time. This is from a green coffee broker who (like me) has had trouble finding a really good reliable source from a single Estate. But without the "provenance" I found the sample to have an exemplary Zimbabwe flavor profile - balanced, complex, with that East African "gamey" hint in the cup. This can come across a bit vegetal in nature, but (and I can't believe I am writing this) it is a good vegetal flavor, not bad. It leans toward herby, sagey, not ...uh ...cabbage, broccolli and the like; definitely not flavors you want in a coffee. It also has a zest of Daikon (white) radish. Oh lord, is anyone going to buy this coffee! Well, who cares - it's a great cup with a few flavors from the garden itn it. Is that so bad? Okay, moving along ... It has a low-toned, mildly citric quality (not a biting grapefruit-like acidity), and rooty/spicey interjections that, for me, come off like sasparilla. I did my usual City, City+ and Full City roasts but I really found a cup with deep flavors reverberating throught it at the Full City + stage, with just a hint of 2nd crack. This cup is sweetly tarry, still has ripe citrus notes, and spicey suggestions - a very good balance between body and overall cup intensity at this level of roast. The situation in Zimbabwe is very difficult, but I understand (from a relative's email) that the Dandoni Farm owners are staying, and will not be forced to cede their property. We wish them luck. So rumors of their departure were incorrect, and we hope to see this coffee offered again next season!