A guide to roasting Tanzanian coffee beans

Pavel Corena
December 9, 2022
Exploring the history of Tanzanian coffee

Before coffee was brewed, the Haya tribe in the Kagera region of northwest Tanzania had been chewing on the beans for centuries.

During the 16th century, it is believed tribe members boiled coffee beans, steamed them with various herbs, and then chewed on the mixture as a daily stimulant. Additionally, there is evidence that coffee beans were used as a form of currency, and the growing and cultivation of crops was strictly controlled by tribal leaders.

Today, Tanzania is the fourth-largest coffee in Africa, behind Ethiopia, Uganda, and Cote D’Ivoire. Coffee is the key driver of the Tanzanian economy and is the country’s largest export crop. 

In general, East African coffees tend to have a unique quality due to high growing attitudes and climate. As a result, Tanzanian coffee is usually bright, rich in flavour, and has a wine-like acidity – which is one of the reasons it is so sought after within the specialty sector. 

By understanding more about the roots of Tanzanian coffee, its journey, and the main characteristics of the cup profile, roasters can provide a unique experience to their customers.

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An image of ripe Tanzania coffee cherries on the tree in an article on how to roast Tanzanian coffee

A brief history of Tanzanian coffee

Before it was known as Tanzania, the country was called Tanganyika, and it is located close to the birthplace of arabica coffee – Ethiopia. 

It is well known that East Africa, and particularly Tanzania, has a long history with coffee. That said, the product was only produced for commercial purposes and integrated into global trade during the early 1900s.  

Notably, Tanzania’s coffee production and international integration began when the Germans colonised the region. They promoted the cultivation of arabica coffee in different regions, and from 1905 to 1912, the country’s coffee exports soared. 

At the end of the first World War, the British Empire replaced the German colonies across East Africa. While their attempts to expand the coffee industry to increase productivity were unsuccessful, they did not disrupt the stability of the sector. 

Then, during the 1960s, the region of Tanganyika gained independence from the British, and the modern Republic of Tanzania was born.

Tanzania began again with a socialist government, and part of the economic strategy was to strengthen the coffee sector by increasing production.

It is important to note these years of independence were a challenge for the country’s coffee industry, as it was plagued by political struggles, high inflation, and slow economic growth.

In time, the coffee industry was privatised, and producers were able to sell their products directly to roasters and other buyers, helping shape the industry seen in the region today.

An image of a Tanzanian coffee farmer processing Tanzania coffee at a Tanzania coffee farm, wet processing Tanzanian coffee  an article on how to roast Tanzanian coffee

Coffee production in Tanzania 

Over the last few years, coffee production in Tanzania has increased, with the country becoming the fourth-largest producer in Africa.

The majority of Tanzania’s coffee regions are located in the highlands on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru in the Northern areas of the country. These regions have nutrient-rich volcanic soil, making them ideal for coffee cultivation. 

More so, the majority of coffee crops in Tanzania are shade-grown, planted alongside banana trees. 

Generally, robusta varieties represent 30% of the crops harvested between 700 and 900 meters above sea level. Overall, arabica varieties make up the majority of the country’s crops, representing 70% of the total production.

Arabica varieties are often grown at higher altitudes, allowing the coffee cherries to mature at a slower rate and develop more sugars. When roasting Tanzanian coffee, roasters should keep this variable in mind and develop a profile that highlights the sweetness of the beans. 

An image of a coffee farmer comparing arabica coffee beans with tanzania peaberry coffee beans  an article on how to roast Tanzanian coffee

Tanzania Peaberry coffee is a rare African coffee varietal grown in the Mbeya Region of Southwestern Tanzania and is often highly sought after within the specialty sector. 

Usually, coffee cherries contain two seeds or beans that grow opposite each other, creating an elliptical shape with a flat surface. However, in around 5-10% of cases, a defect or natural mutation means that only one of the seeds fertilises.

These are known as peaberry coffee beans and are often in high demand as they tend to develop unique flavour notes. 

That said, peaberry beans often have a higher density and can be a challenge to roast. Therefore, it is recommended roasters use a high charge temperature in order to reach first crack faster to avoid baking the coffee.

It is important for roasters to understand how the roasting curve behaves and allow for enough time in the developing phase to achieve an optimal outcome.

One of the most important characteristics that define coffee production in Tanzania is that most of the coffee is wet processed, allowing the coffee to develop a clean and balanced profile.

These are production conditions roasters should take into account when they want to develop a roast profile.

The level of sugars contained in the coffee beans, or the type of process used, can alter the outcome of the roasting process.

An image of Tanzania coffee bags with custom-print coffee bag sleeves in an article on how to roast Tanzanian coffee

A profile of Tanzanian coffee 

A cup of Tanzanian coffee is likely to contain many of the characteristics found in East African coffees: a bright and vibrant acidity with a sharp and strong taste.

That said, Tanzanian coffees are widely recognised for their particular fruity tasting notes and distinctive acidity, which is slightly muted compared to many East African coffees.

The various altitudes and volcanic soil help Tanzanian coffees grown in the northern regions develop pleasant aromas, a sweet taste, and a well-balanced flavour profile. 

Alternatively, southern Tanzanian coffees tend to have a rich acidity with a fruity and floral profile.

It is common to find in Tanzanian coffees with subtle notes of cedar and a characteristic sweetness of brown bread. More so, the brew tends to have a medium body without losing the wild acidity of many East African coffees.

By understanding these characteristics, coffee roasters can develop some particular roasting profiles.

It is recommended to develop a longer roasting curve to be able to develop more of the sugars in the coffee beans. Then, roasters will be able to balance the wild acidity with some fruity notes. 

An image of multilayer LDPE coffee bags of Tanzanian coffee, roasted, kraft paper coffee bags in an article on how to roast Tanzanian coffee

Additionally, roasters working with Tanzanian coffees will want to share these unique flavour notes with customers. 

Choosing to custom-print tasting notes, flavour profiles, and brewing instructions can ensure customers enjoy the coffee as the roaster intended. 

That is why MTPak Coffee offers roasters and coffee shops a range of 100% recyclable coffee packaging options that can be custom-printed to highlight the unique characteristics of Tanzanian coffee. 

Choose from renewable materials such as kraft paper, rice paper, or multilayer LDPE packaging with an environmentally friendly PLA lining, all of which minimise waste and contribute to a circular economy.

More so, we give you complete control over the design process. Our design team is available to help you create the ideal coffee packaging. 

Plus, we are able to custom-print coffee bags using innovative digital printing technology, with a quick turnaround time of 40-hours and 24-hour shipping time. 

For more information on custom-printed sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team

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