After exploring the birthplace of Arabica previously, in this article, we’ll be talking about the origin of Robusta: Uganda. This East African country is the leading producer of Robusta coffee in Africa and the second largest Arabica producer behind Ethiopia.
Uganda’s climate and soil is ideal for coffee production, and Robusta is native to the Kampala Forest area and the Lake Victoria Crescent. Sadly, armed conflict in the region hampered efforts at building a viable coffee industry. This has changed in the last few decades, and now we have the pleasure of enjoying some of the best coffee in Uganda in cafes and homes around the world.
The History of Uganda Coffee
The climate is largely to credit for producing the best coffee in Uganda- the rainfall is plentiful and the soil is enriched by volcanoes in the East of the country (Mount Elgon being the most prominent, but we’ll get to that later on).
As the birthplace of Robusta, 80% of the coffee grown here is Robusta while the rest is Arabica. A major boom in coffee production in the 70s was promising but rampant smuggling into Kenya and armed conflicts in the 90s led to stagnation in the market. The low value of Ugandan currency also meant that local coffee farmers couldn’t compete on a global scale. The 2000s saw the rise of many new initiatives to promote coffee cultivation while also generating awareness and funding for conservation efforts.
In recent decades, Ugandan coffee has risen to acclaim around the world, particularly specialty Arabica coffee grown on the slopes of Mt. Elgon. Robusta coffee grown in Uganda is also some of the best in the world, with remarkable cupping scores and a retention of flavor not seen in other Robusta harvests.
In Uganda, coffee is now the foremost export crop and a major pillar of the local economy. Coffee prices in Uganda have also improved, encouraging more small-scale farmers to invest the time and effort needed to grow Uganda coffee.
Major Coffee Growing Areas in Uganda
There are 5 major coffee growing areas in Uganda: Central, Northern, Eastern, South-Western, and Western. Most of the Arabica Uganda coffee is grown in the Western region which borders the Democratic Republic of Congo and has a higher elevation (some of the mountaintops even receive snowfall). The most prominent Arabica varietal in Uganda is called Bugisu, grown on Mt. Elgon in Eastern Uganda. Robusta is most widely grown in the Lake Victoria basin.
The best Uganda coffee has tasting notes of citrus and fruit, with a wine-like acidity, fragrant aroma, and a smooth body. Uganda coffee can be either wet or dry processed and each method brings out unique characteristics of Uganda coffee.
The harvest season for Robusta goes on all year round while Arabica is harvested from October to February. Most coffee farms practice intercropping, where other crops are grown alongside coffee to provide shade. Organic farming is commonplace but climate change and a push to increase production have seen some farmers switching to chemical fertilizers.
While most of the coffee in Uganda is Robusta, its most famous export is Bugisu, an Arabica varietal. What makes it so unique? It’s the only AA certified coffee in the country, it’s perfect for dark roasts thanks to its low acidity, and it has a pleasant flavor profile with notes of chocolate and a clean taste. Bugisu, or Bugishu, is grown on the slopes of Mt. Elgon near Sipi Falls.
Coffee Prices in Uganda
Coffee prices in Uganda reached a new high in 2021 with a reported 23% increase in earnings. This has been linked to crop failures in Brazil and coronavirus restrictions in Vietnam which threatened to cripple coffee supplies. In this scenario, smaller producers like Uganda have had their time to shine.
The Ugandan government has also been pushing for farmer education and encouraging more farmers to take up coffee cultivation. Various initiatives have been launched including seed distribution drives. This has helped coffee prices in Uganda to remain competitive while also allowing farmers to earn a fair living. The promotion of coffee farming has also been driving a conservation movement that aims to maintain the integrity of Uganda’s ideal climate and soil.
Whether it’s Robusta or Arabica, you can’t go wrong with Uganda coffee! This small country is full of surprises when it comes to coffee, and the world is only now awakening to the true potential of some of the best coffee in Uganda. Uganda coffee is great for espresso or simply for black coffee. If you want to explore Uganda coffee, you can start with Sipi Falls coffee on Era Of We! It’s too good to resist, so give it a try and expand your coffee horizons.