Take a Kilimanjaro Coffee Tour in Moshi: Marangu Coffee Plantations

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Most of the tourists come to Moshi because it is the starting point for climbing Kilimanjaro. With a few days to spare either before or after the trek, a visit to one of the coffee plantations around Moshi is a must. Spread along the slopes of the highest mountain in Africa, the Kilimanjaro coffee is grown on volcanic soil among banana trees, which give the beans a crisp flavour and a sweet aroma. Taking a coffee tour in Moshi is a great way to learn about the process of cultivating coffee and the way the Chagga tribe is using their farming in the highlands skills to grow high quality beans.

 

About the Tanzania Coffee

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Coffee has been introduced in Tanzania in the 16th century, from Ethiopia. It grew as an industry so much that today coffee is Tanzania’s second largest export to the world. The biggest buyers of Tanzanian coffee are Japan, Italy and United States. Because of the high quality, you could say that Tanzania produces some of the world’s best coffee, at high altitudes, in the Kilimanjaro area.

The growing of coffee is the main source of income for many families in Tanzania. 90% of the production of coffee in Tanzania comes from small farmers, employing directly 400,000 people and affecting in one way or another over 2.4 million citizens.

Whilst Tanzania grows both Arabica and Robusta coffee, over 70% of the beans are Arabica. If you don’t know much about coffee, let me tell you that Arabica is a higher quality product, with a softer taste and an intense flavour, whilst Robusta is a harsh, less refined bean, with a bitter taste. Arabica coffee is cultivated at high altitudes (1,400 -2,000 meters) and this is why the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro offer a perfect environment for it to flourish. Tanzania produces 1% of the world’s Arabica coffee.

60% of the Tanzania Kilimanjaro Coffee is Fair Trade. Over 150,000 farmers from 100 villages are providing around 5,300 tons of Arabica Coffee to the Kilimanjaro Native Co-Operative Union. This cooperative, the oldest in Africa, supports the organic coffee development whilst also helping the environment and paying farmers higher rates for their crops. If you like to go to Starbucks for your daily dose of caffeine, you have probably tasted Tanzanian coffee at some point, as the big coffee shop chain supplies some of its beans from here.

It is interesting to know that coffee is a premium product in Tanzania, and only 7% of the production is consumed locally. Coffee is much more expensive than tea and, when you visit Tanzania, it is normal for hotels to offer instant coffee instead of premium grounded one. A cup of coffee in a specialised coffee shop such as Union Café in Moshi, which belongs to the Kilimanjaro Native Cooperation Union, costs 4,000 shillings (£1.3). A tin of instant coffee which can be used for at least 30 cups will cost around 8,000 shillings (£2.6) in the supermarket. Also, coffee machines are too expensive for the ordinary Tanzanian household.

 

How to Get to Marangu

Getting to Marangu from Moshi is pretty straight forward. There are many dala dala going that way which leave from the main bus station. There is no schedule, they usually leave when full. A one-way ticket to Marangu costs 1,000 shillings (£0.3). You will also have to pay the village fee when you enter Marangu, which is another 1,000 shillings. The downside of traveling with a dala dala is that it can be very crowded. Think of it like this: if there are 5 seats on a row, 7 people will be sitting on them.

If you choose a Moshi coffee tour, then transport in a private car will be included, same as all the fees.

The drive from Moshi to Marangu takes around 40 minutes and, on a clear day, offers spectacular views over Mount Kilimanjaro.

 

On Your Own or Private Tour?

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The answer to this question depends solely on your budget and your skills of navigating a new place on your own. I chose to visit a coffee plantation in Moshi with a tour because I found it easier and also because I negotiated it as part of a personalised two days of activities package, which included the trip to Kikuletwa Hot Springs and the Maasai Village visit. I did find Moshi to be quite overwhelming at the beginning and going around on my own felt intimidating. After two weeks spent in this town things have changed, and I gained confidence to walk around Moshi, go to restaurants in Moshi and take a dala dala on my own. However, most of you won’t spend two weeks in Moshi and won’t have the time to learn to adapt to this busy city, so taking a private coffee tour in Moshi might be a better choice.

Besides the coffee plantation, a private tour will usually include a hike to one of the nearby waterfalls, a walk through the local market and a visit to a Chagga underground cave. However, the day tour will probably cost 30-40 dollars more than if you would go on your own. Remember that everything is negotiable in Tanzania. Also, if there is more of you, the price will always be significantly cheaper. If you are traveling on your own and stay in a hostel in Moshi, try to find other people who would be interested in going on the tour.

If you choose to go on your own, the price will be significantly cheaper, but you will need to get to Marangu with the public transport and then negotiate a price for a guide. On top of this, you will need to tip the coffee plantation owner for showing you how Kilimanjaro coffee is made. Usually the tip is around 10,000 Tanzanian shillings (£3).

 

What to Expect from Visiting a Coffee Plantation in Marangu?

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A visit to an independent coffee plantation in Marangu lasts between half an hour to an hour. First, you will be taken around the property, to see the coffee plants, and then you will be shown how the coffee is made using the traditional roasting method, with no fancy equipment.

The entire process is educative and interesting. I have visited coffee plantations and coffee processing factories before, but I have never seen the rudimentary way of grinding and roasting coffee, without the use of any mechanical tool.

At the end, you will be offered a cup of coffee to drink and also the possibility to buy ground coffee for home. Now, whilst I do like to support local producers, I did not buy coffee from my visit to Marangu simply because I thought they were taking the Mikey with the prices. In town, you can buy 250 grams of high-quality coffee from the Kilimanjaro Native Cooperation Union for around 13,000 shillings (£4). In the village, the owner of the plantation I visited was trying to sell me a tiny bag of maybe 50 grams, for 20,000 shillings (£7). That’s a big difference for practically the same coffee.

 

The Traditional Tanzanian Way of Brewing Coffee

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I visited the small Moshi coffee plantation after hiking to Kilasia waterfall, and I was exhausting. It was the rainy season and the path wasn’t in its best shape, with a lot of slippery mud. The humidity in the air was at high levels as well, making it hard to breath. The hike up was very hard, especially that I was in the first week of recovery after a nasty pneumonia that made me question until the last minute if I would make my flight to Tanzania or not.

The guide I had for the day introduced me to the owner of the coffee farm, who immediately took me on a walk around the property. After seeing his small animal farm, where a few goats were roaming around the pig’s enclosure, we went into the plantation. The coffee shrubs were planted in the shade of big banana trees, which are protecting them from the powerful rays of sun. Coffee can’t grow in direct sunlight. The harvest season for coffee in Tanzania is between October and February. I was there in December, the perfect time to see the plants filled with fruits.

The coffee berries are collected from the plant when they turn red. Fun fact, did you know that the coffee berry actually tastes sweet?  After the berries are picked, they are spread evenly and let out in the sun to dry out. As this takes a bit of time, we started the process of making a cup of coffee with beans which have already been dried.

The farm owner put the dried berries inside a giant mortar and started crushing them with a heavy pestle. And it’s hard! The owner, half my size and probably triple my age, made it look so easy. But as soon as my turn arrived, my arms felt the effort after just a few smashes.

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Traditionally, to encourage the person who is smashing the beans to forget about how physically hard this job is, the men surrounding him are singing and dancing, and that’s what my two guides and the owner’s son were doing:

“Twanga Twanga Tunywe Kahawa” – Grinding, Grinding, Drinking Coffee

Once the beans separated from their husk in the mortar, we put them on a flat bamboo basket and then shacked and tossed them in the air, to throw away all the light particles. This process left us with pure coffee beans, which we put in an iron bowl, over an open fire, to roast.

The farmer made sure to mix in regularly with a wooden spoon, so that they don’t burn. The aroma spreading into the air from inside the pot was so luring, it was enough to close my eyes and imagine that I am in a busy Italian coffee bar, not in the forest, in Tanzania.

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After the beans roasted, they turned from their original sandy color to a beautiful dark brown. It was the time to put them back in the mortar and crush them into a fine powder – the ground coffee.  This process involved again a lot of singing and dancing, which was very entertaining. I even joined with a few lines of “Twanga” myself, even if my singing is absolutely terrible.

The fine coffee powder which resulted from the crushing of the roasted beans was sifted again, to make sure that all the impurities were eliminated. Then, the final step arrived: the farmer mixed the ground coffee with water in a metal pot, and brought it to boil, over a wood fire. A little bit like Turkish coffee is made. When a dark foam formed at the top and the dark liquid started to bubble, we knew the coffee was ready!

The exciting moment we were all waiting for arrived: the coffee was ready to be drank. The farmer’s son carefully poured the coffee into cups, through a sift, spreading a delightful aroma that has a few other passer-by tourists curiously pop their heads into the yard.

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The Tanzania Kilimanjaro Coffee is smooth, with a velvety texture and an acidic note of blackcurrant. It is strong, especially if it’s drank without any milk.

Overall, taking a coffee tour at a coffee plantation near Moshi was a great learning experience that I do recommend taking. We don’t really think where the coffee that we make every morning comes from, nor how much effort it takes to grow it. Think of how much you pay for a decent pack of coffee, and how much of that goes to the farmer, after excluding the processing, packaging, importing and supermarket costs. It makes you appreciate more that cup of coffee that wakes you up every morning and without which you can’t start your day.

 

How about you? How much do you know about coffee cultivation? Have you ever visited a coffee plantation before?

 

 

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Traveler. Dreamer. Cat lover. Wondering around the world with my backpack and my camera. Contributing to make the world a better place.

43 Comments

  1. It is indeed a treat to visit a coffee plantation and witness the processing of coffee beans. Your photos are great. It allowed us to participate in your tour. I doubt if we would ever see coffee beans from Tanzania selling in canadian grocery stores. But I will be on the lookout.

  2. This looks and sounds like such an incredible experience, I would love the opportunity to visit a coffee plantation one day.

  3. This would be cool to see. I don’t drink coffee, but I always like to learn more about how people make things.

  4. I love the pictures you have with this post! I love coffee and would love to tour an actual coffee plantation. I don’t know that I will ever make to Tanzania but I get buy some coffee from there to get a feel for it from a distance! Thanks for creating a post for people like me who can travel there in their minds if not physically!

  5. I have always wanted to visit a coffee plantation as I grew up in Malaysia where tea plantations are common, but not coffee plantations. I would love to take this tour once we are able to travel again

  6. It’s a good experience to witness how coffee is been processed locally, on my own part reading reading this article, adds to my knowledge. Thank you for this post.

  7. Wow, what an amazing experience this looks like! I would love to do this someday! And even try the coffee at the end!

  8. I’m not a big coffee fan but this is interesting, my daughter loves coffee and I’m sure she’d love to visit something like this.

  9. I havent tried visiting a coffee plantation and I would love to one day. 🙂 It’s interesting to know how coffee is being processed straight from plantation. <3 what a great experience.

  10. I am a huge coffee lover and each of my trips, I visits some coffee shops and plantation. This will definitely included in my travel list!

  11. I am a coffee-lover! And I love the new things that I have learned from your post. I have never thought about doing a trip or tour to a coffee plantation. I might just find the closest coffee farm to me and pay them a visit.

  12. Wow, what an amazing experience. I would absolutely love to experience this. It’s a shame they were charging so much for the coffee there though but still, as a big coffee fan I would love to visit. Thank you for bringing it alive.

  13. This is the traditional way of making coffee. Looks interesting how coffee is prepared in the other parts of the world.

  14. I did a coffee tour when I was in Hawaii and even though I’m not a big coffee drinker it was really interesting. And as you said it’s likely you’ll have some time either side of your trek to do this x

  15. This was such a fascinating post. I love how you’ve captured this traditional way of making coffee.
    I love coffee so learning about how it’s prepared is amazing!
    Thank you for sharing.

  16. I live on coffee so I would love to visit a plantation and learn about it properly. I bet the coffee from there is immense

  17. This is fantastic! I’m a big Coffee fan and would find this experience fascinating and interesting, and would lovet o see the process at it origin stages, great review.

  18. I’m going to share this with my husband! Although he’s been to Mt Kilimanjaro for a climb, I don’t think he’s visited the coffee plantation.

  19. This would be such a cool experience. I adore coffee and love to learn more about the origins. Thanks so much for sharing this with all of us!

  20. I have never visited a coffee plantation but after reading your post I feel as if I have! I have been to Dar Es Salam in Tanzania but never Moshi. I am not a coffee lover but I love the smell of coffee.

  21. I love drinking coffee and this is sounds a great experience about visiting the coffee plantation and the origins. Lucky you! Nice post!

  22. So this is how coffee is made. It seems quite hard from plantation to extraction. Well, love to know everything! Thanks for sharing.

  23. I am not a coffee person but I love plantation and smelling the greens. I particularly love the smell of coffee beans.

  24. That looked like an amazing experience. I love learning about cultures. I don’t drink coffee but for coffee drinker, this is a gem!!!!

  25. OMG, this reminds me of my visit to Cuba and learning about the cultivation of cigars, but in this case coffee. Thank you for such rich insights. Question; Have you been to Jamaica 🇯🇲 and taken their blue mountain coffee tour?! I think you’ll love it!

  26. Your coffee tour sounds like such an amazing and immersive experience. I especially enjoyed your description of watching the traditional grinding of the beans.

  27. I think more places in the world should have coffee tours, what a great idea! I can’t drink wine and I swear all I hear about are wine tours, it’s about time coffee started it’s own tours ; )

    That sounds like an amazing tour in Moshi!

  28. I love coffee and I strongly support coffee farmers. Let’s help to promote their industry and grow more coffee. This is a very important industry that we can’t afford to lose.

  29. I love testing traditionally made coffee from different cultures. I have incorporated some of them in the coffee I make at home.

  30. Coffee grown in volcanic soil? Every single thing about this plantation sounds incredible. Your images are also gorgeous!! Thank you for bringing the world to me in Arizona!

  31. Visiting a coffee plantation sounds so incredibly exciting, I would love to this. I’ve always wondered about Kilimanjaro and where it is! Thanks for this post, it was very inspiring.

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