After I told you which are the most popular and the most delicious foods to try in Tanzania, it’s time to talk about drinks as well. As there are many different Tanzanian drinks out there that deserve to be tried out, I thought to write a separate article about what to drink in Tanzania, and not include them in the what to eat in Tanzania one.
With this article I was to give you some suggestions on what to drink in Tanzania, from Tanzanian wine to the most popular beer in the country, from indigenous alcoholic beverages to soft drinks that I wish we had in Europe.
Tanzania is one of the quality coffee producers in the world, the crop being the country’s largest export. Over 70% of the coffee that Tanzania produces is Arabica, which originates from small farmers, providing employment to over 2.4 million citizens, directly. The Tanzanian coffee is sold the most to Japan, Italy and the US.
There are several ways you can experience the coffee in Tanzania. Firstly, you can go on a coffee tour on the slopes of the Kilimanjaro mountain, where you can learn how to prepare a cup of Joe using no modern equipment. The locals show tourists how to sort, roast, grind and boil the coffee using a tall mortar and pestle and a pot over a natural fire.
The smell of roasting coffee spreading through the air is so inviting, that if you close your eyes, you can imagine being in the fanciest coffee shop and not in the jungle of Tanzania. The coffee resulted is as good as the one you would have at your local cafe, if not even better. And it’s all natural. The locals do sell bags of grinded coffee from their own production, but you would need to haggle hard, as they start their prices at 30,000 shillings (£10) for a tiny bag, when in the shops you can buy 400 grams of Arabica for 11,000 shillings (£3.6).
If you don’t have time to go on a tour, Moshi has two excellent cafes where you can enjoy a good cup of coffee: Union Café (here I recommend the honey coffee) and the Kilimanjaro coffee lounge (here I recommend the cold coffee with ice cream on top).
Sparletta Soft Drink
Why don’t we have Sparletta in Europe is beyond my understanding, especially that it is made by Coca Cola. I don’t usually drink “yellow” sparkling drinks, but I gave Sparletta a try, in the absence of any other cold drink on a very hot day, and my mind was blown away.
Sparletta comes in more than one flavour, but the most popular one in Tanzania seems to be the pine-nut… which it is not what you imagine. This Tanzanian drink does not taste like pine nuts.
The yellow Sparletta pine-nut is a soft drink that tastes like pineapple with coconut. It is sweet and not as fizzy as Fanta for example. I can imagine it goes very well mixed with rum, for an easy Pina Colada.
Sparletta is a popular brand around the continent, especially in South Africa, where besides the pine nut flavour you can also buy cream soda, cherry plum, apple, blackcurrant and strawberry.
Most of the beers in Tanzania have names such as Safari, Serengeti, Ndovu (Elephant), but there is none like Kilimanjaro! There is something about having a cold Kili after a full day of exploring – and sweating in the high temperatures.
Kilimanjaro beer is a pale lager, very refreshing, with 4.5% alcohol. It is Tanzania’s most known and sold beer, loved by both locals and tourists. It is an easy beer to drink and costs around 2500 shillings (£0.80) for a large bottle, in the supermarket, or 3000 (£1) in the pub. In Zanzibar expect to pay around 6000 shillings (£2) for it in a bar.
I stumbled upon Konyagi during the 4 days safari I experienced in Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conversation Area. Our cook has bought a bottle at a tiny shop at the check point of Serengeti and brought it to us over dinner. It was Christmas Day after all.
It is hard to explain what Konyagi is. It is a hard spirit, with 35% alcohol, but it’s not vodka, it is not gin and it is not rum, but it can be a substitute for all. In Zanzibar most of the cocktails were made with Konyagi as it is very cheap.
Konyagi is a very strong drink, with an actual pleasant sweet aroma, with hints of cinnamon and vanilla. However, it tastes kind of citrusy. Drink too much of it and you will wake up with a headache to remember, the locals promised us.
I personally mixed the Konyagi with mango juice, which made it taste much more pleasant and less strong than on its own.
Konyagi’s tagline is “the spirit of the nation” so you must have it at least once during your trip to Tanzania. There is actually a ritual of opening a bottle of Konyagi, by slapping its bottom three times to release the “spirit within”. Once the glasses are filled, lay the bottle on the table horizontally, before you are ready to drink again. The bottle of Konyagi is actually flat, so it stands easily on its side, on the table.
Tanzanian Red Wine
As a wine lover, when I noticed in the supermarket bottles of Tanzanian wine, I just had to buy one and see how it tastes like.
Tanzanian red wine is made around Dodoma, the capital of the country. The Tanzanian native grape is the Makutupora, a red dry variety which grows in sandy soil with low humidity. Other grape varieties that grow in Tanzania are Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc – used for the white sweet wines.
I bought a bottle of Sharye, an organic blend of two different varieties of grapes, produced in the Dodoma Region. To get it to the room temperature whilst outside there were 30 degrees, I first chilled it in the fridge and then let it warm up for about 15-20 minutes before opening the bottle.
I didn’t have any expectations, so I was quite surprised on the taste of this Tanzanian wine: full bodied, intense, and very spicy. The after taste persisted for quite some time. I can see this wine as a perfect pair for barbecues or aged cheeses.
Tanzanian Sweet White Wine
If you didn’t know, Tanzania is the second largest producer of wine in the Sub-Saharan Africa, after, of course, South Africa. Many of the wines produced in Tanzania are “natural sweet” dessert wines, which can be white, red or rose. I am not really into sweet wines, so I didn’t go mad in trying them out. But they are an option, if you want to try something different.
Mbege, or Banana Beer
Banana beer is as strange as it sounds. You can find this Tanzanian indigenous alcoholic beverage in the areas populated by the Chagga Tribe, which originates from the foothills of the highest mountain in Africa, Kilimanjaro.
Banana beer is made from the red variety of the fruit and it is meant to be drank at social events in order to facilitate communication. The members of the tribe gather around in a circle, chat, and pass the beer from one another. Banana beer is drunk at weddings, funerals, birthdays and all sorts of other meetings.
Making banana beer is a long and complicated process involving red bananas and sprouted millet powder to which quinine bark is added once it ferments. Traditionally, only women are brewing the banana beer.
Banana beer tastes sweet and has a sour after taste. I wouldn’t say it’s good, but you get used to the taste after a few sips. The texture of the banana beer is quite grainy, with plenty of residue left from the fermentation process.
You can usually try banana beer when you take a waterfall and coffee tour from Moshi. The locals will bring out a large recipient with a long wooden handle, filled with banana beer. Everyone will sit down and chat, whilst the recipient will be passed around from one another, to drink from.
Different than the banana beer, the banana wine is made commercially in distilleries, bottled and sold in supermarkets and shops around Tanzania.
The banana wine is a clear sparkling drink with a slightly sweet taste and a long shelf life. It is not easily found everywhere, but it’s worth tasting is you stumble upon it. It is popular in the North of the country, around Moshi and Arusha.
How about you? Have you been to Tanzania before? Have you ever drunk any Tanzanian drinks? Would you like to try any of the Tanzanian drinks I wrote about in this article? I would love to read your opinions in the comment section below.
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