Many people immediately think of South America when it comes to where coffee is produced, although the truth is that the whole world is a diverse canvas for growing coffee. Africa in particular is a paradise for coffee with lots of surprises to be had. And the Democratic Republic of Congo often holds a special place in the hearts of lots of coffee lovers around the world.
History of Congolese Coffee
The Congo is a country with a rather volatile history, and the history of coffee here is no different. Congo gained independence in 1964, and over the years has experienced lots of civil wars, coups and dictatorships. Ebola outbreaks and violence has made it hard to continue any sustainable agriculture, including that of coffee, but the Congolese are a very resilient people who have made it work and come out the other side.
In the 1970s, the coffee industry in the Congo was nationalized and coffee was one of the top exports from the Congo throughout the 1980s. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, there was a sharp dip in the production of coffee in the country. Due to political turmoil during these decades, there was a shrink in output to less than ten per cent of what was normal in the booming coffee era just two decades previously. The good news is that in 2012, an initiative was started to put Congolese coffee back on the path to recovery.
These days, it’s difficult to know exactly how much coffee is produced in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s not uncommon for large amounts to be smuggled into neighbouring countries.
It’s not always easy to get a cup of coffee from the Congo due to this inconsistency in availability. Roasters that are able to order Congolese coffee will often experience delays in delivery. However, despite all this, there is an increase in private sector involvement in the industry, offering hope for better consistency in the years to come.
Congo Coffee Bean Types
With altitudes that are growing and reaching over two thousand meters above sea level, there are lots of Congo coffee varieties to be found here. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the main coffee bean type that is grown is the Robusta bean. This bean offers a harsher flavour compared to Arabica, and a real kick with higher caffeine levels in comparison. You will find this coffee bean grown mainly in the northeast area of the country, where there are lower elevations. In the Kivu region, where the altitudes are higher, Arabica coffee beans are grown and produced.
Congo’s Coffee Producing Regions
The Democratic Republic of the Congo offers a range of regions that provide the ideal conditions for coffee growing and production. Blue Mountain and Bourbon are two of the most popular coffee varieties in the Congo.
The region of Ituri is located in the northern area of the Congo, offering over five thousand square kilometres of mountain ranges, rugged terrain, and deep valley. It shares a border with Lake Albert and Uganda and is home to highly fertile, clay-sandy soils that provide the ideal environment for growing top-quality coffee.
In Ituri, the coffees are grown at altitudes between 1,600 and 1,900 meters above sea level. However, one of the major problems with the coffee grown in this region is that it is often smuggled into Uganda.
Located in north Kivu, Petit Nord is an area that covers ten thousand square kilometres. It is home to a range of coffee-growing areas including Walikale, Rutshuru, Nyiragongo and Masisi. It shares a border with Virunga National Park, which is home to a range of environmental sustainability initiatives including a coffee program that is funded by the European Union and operated by Farm Africa and the Virunga Alliance.
In this region, the coffees grow at an altitude of between 1,400 and 1,800 meters above sea level. The soil here is rich and clay-sandy. The coffees from Petit Nord often boast a citrusy acidity, a smooth body, and grape, blackberry, and lemon undertones.
Also located in North Kivu, the Grand Nord region is one of the most productive in the Congo when it comes to coffee. Covering almost twenty-five thousand square meters, the coffee here is grown at altitudes between 1,200 and 2,000 meters above sea level.
This region is quite unique in that it produces large volumes of both robusta and arabica beans. The area is home to the Rwenzori Mountains, which share a border with Uganda.
This region is located in the southeastern area of the Congo, sharing a border with Burundi and Rwanda. The bourbon variety is most commonly used here. The region is volcanic, which leads to coffees that have fruity and citrusy flavour notes.
The Ruzizi region covers around sixteen thousand square kilometres, and the coffee here is grown at altitudes ranging from 1,400 to 2,400 meters above sea level. The coffees grown in this region are known for their medium body, tropical, melon and lemon flavours, and fruity, citrusy undertones.
Bord du Lac
Located along the border of the Congo and Rwanda in the Albertine Rift, Bord du Lac has three main producing zones: Idjwi Island, Kalehe, and Kabare. It covers around seven thousand square kilometres and is the home of some reputable coffee co-operatives including Muungano and SOPACDI.
The coffee in this region is grown at altitudes of between 1,400-1800 meters above sea level. There are some excellent growing conditions here, leading to high-quality coffee that offers beautiful notes of jasmine, tropical fruit, chocolate, apple, orange, coffee blossom and blackberry.
Congolese Coffee Flavors
The coffee beans that are found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are unique thanks to a range of different factors. The final product when it comes to Congo coffee blends stands out from the coffee that is produced in other parts of the world, and even in other parts of the continent of Africa. There are lots of elements that contribute to this coffee's uniqueness including the elevation of the coffee fields along with fertile, volcanic soil that makes for special, distinctive crops.
In the Kivu region of the Congo, there is a wide range of coffee flavours produced. You can find coffee blends with a huge range of delicious undertones including plum, cherry, cantaloupe and liquorice. There are also varieties with hazelnut, vanilla, and chocolate undertones that are perfect for those who prefer a creamier coffee taste.
Blends that include Congolese coffee can bring a very distinctive and unique note to your final cup. However, if you want to try Congolese coffee, single-origin coffee is the way forward, as you can pick out the various elements and their aromas. The unique signature of this coffee is presented with spices, tropical fruit, toasted nuts, and sweet tobacco combined.
How to Brew Congolese Coffee
Since the majority of the coffee that you will get from the Congo is Robusta coffee, it’s important to know how to brew it properly for the best taste. With this coffee bean, it’s best to use less coffee and more water, to take the edge off the intense, bitter flavours that are characteristic of this bean.
It’s also a good idea to brew your Congolese coffee for a little longer than you would brew Arabica coffee to bring out the bitter flavours if you prefer them. Or, if you want a less bitter experience, keep the brewing time under four minutes to bring out the limited sweetness. Don’t be afraid to experiment – whatever brewing method you prefer to use, trial and error might be needed at the beginning to help you achieve the best ratio of coffee to water for your liking.
Pour-over is a good brewing method to opt for if you want to get the best results from your Congolese coffee. Not only does it give you more control over the brew, but it also slows the brew down enough to ensure that all the rich, unique flavours of this coffee are extracted.
What Does the Future Hold for Congolese Coffee?
Despite the many challenges that this country has faced when it comes to coffee production over the years, experts believe that coffee is the ticket to bringing the Congo the much-needed prosperity and peace that the locals have spent decades hoping for. Those who visit this country from abroad say that it’s easier right now than it has been for a long time, and the country’s leadership are working together with Congolese coffee growers to support the efforts to build the industry.
Coffee from the Congo has huge potential, having shown that it is of exceptional quality when it is cultivated correctly and processed with care. Many believe that when you keep in mind what has happened in the Congo over the years, coffee is a symbol of hope.
While it may not be as popular or as easily available as coffee from other regions around the world, Congolese coffee is certainly worth trying.