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
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?
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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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