Uganda is a country in East Africa that has only recently started to seriously complete in the arabica coffee market. While surrounded in the region by other better known coffee producers such as Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ethiopia, Uganda has struggled to get its arabica coffee growing to meet its potential. Of course, it is known as a producer of robusta coffee, which is easier to grow, more resistant to disease, and requires very little in the way of altitude or cooler climates to do well.
Its potential is huge though with the local coffee industry looking to increase production from around 7 million bags/annum to 20 million bags in 2030. If that can be achieved, Uganda will cement its place as one of the biggest exporters in Africa. This comes down to the development of sound policies by the government and the coffee development authority and interest from investors to invest in a well-supported industry. Giants like Nestle are getting involved and with sound farming support and policies that protect smallholder farmers from exploitation, these farmers are seeing the potential.
Uganda has two distinct coffee farming regions. The Rwenzori region to the West supplies a very good sun-dried green bean known as Drugar. This stands for dried Uganda arabica, and sun-drying of the coffee cherries is the norm in this region. The Mount Elgon region to the East supplies a coffee called Bugisu, which is named after the region and the local people. Here, investments in processing plants have allowed wet processing, where the coffee cherries are placed in water to have the outer layer of the fruit scrubbed off and removed.
There is a lot of debate about how the processing of the coffee cherry to remove the outer layer to leave the seed, or coffee bean, affects the flavour of the resulting coffee. Exposing the cherry to sun does increase the temperature of the bean, but whether it is enough to really alter the chemistry of the compounds in the bean is not really known.
More important are the growing conditions like the soils and the temperature changes that the beans are exposed to as they develop. So the Bugisu and Drugar coffee flavours differ because of this. In the Mount Elgon region, on higher slopes, the beans develop more slowly and are harder. This certainly impacts how the roasting process affects the taste profile and how easy and fast the caramelisation of sugars in the bean occurs.
That gives each region its own character, and so roasters such as The Famous Brands Coffee Company in South Africa, use the differences to blend new and exciting coffee blends. Taking the character of each bean into account, their roast master can delicately balance the flavours to perfect blends for body and acidity.
Look out for coffee that comes from Uganda because if the large coffee buyers in Italy and elsewhere are investing in Ugandan coffee, you can be sure that there is something special in the coffee. We can only hope that the 20 million bag target is met in a few years’ time because that will not only significantly transform the economy of Uganda, but also the flavour we get in each cup of that marvellous drink we call …coffee!