Around 85 percent of all coffee grown in Uganda is of the Robusta variety. The specialty varieties of Arabica coffee are often associated with the higher elevation areas found on the slopes of Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda. However, certain areas in the western part of the country also produce excellent coffee profiles.
Unlike other areas of the world where coffee was introduced by western colonial powers looking for an export crop to be grown in the colonies they controlled, several Robusta varieties of coffee are actually indigenous to large areas of western Uganda. The wild Robusta coffee grows naturally in several parts of Uganda´s rain forests and is a unique example of naturally occurring coffee trees that have become an integral part of Ugandan life and agriculture.
While much of the lower lying regions in western Uganda exclusively grow relatively low-priced Robusta varieties, the higher elevation areas in the Rwenzori Mountains bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo allows for Arabica specialty coffees to also be grown. While this mountain range is located right at the equator, the mountains rise up to over 5,000 meters above sea level. The mountains are the ancestral home of the Bukonzo people, and around 1 million families in this region are coffee farmers that have found a niche growing Arabica coffee varieties. The volcanic soils and elevations of up to 2,000 meters allow for fantastic coffee to be grown, similar in quality to the Arabica varieties grown on the slopes of Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda.
Overall, smallholder coffee farmers in western Uganda suffer the negative effects of the broken coffee value chain. The sheer amount of middlemen and the lack of processing and transportation infrastructure has forced small coffee farmers to sell their harvests for a pittance. Recently, however, several non-profit organizations in the region have helped farmers understand the true value of their cherries and thus demand a higher percentage of profits.
Coffee growers in the region also suffer the negative effects of climate change, specifically unpredictable changes in rainfall patterns. Climate smart growing techniques which focus on prioritizing shade grown coffees and organic mulches are helping these farmers find ways to make decent profits from their high quality, specialty coffees.
Traditionally, coffee growers in the Rwenzori Mountains of western Uganda would sell their Arabica coffee for a pittance to “coyotes” and middlemen. It was customary for coffee to change hands up to eight times before being exported and inferior coffees were often mixed in somewhere along the supply lines. This contributed to foreign markets generally considering western Ugandan coffee to be of inferior quality. In recent years, however, individual farmers have begun to realize that their high quality soils and ideal climate can allow them to produce specialty coffees that can fetch a premium price at market.
Whereas coffee in western Uganda used to be strip harvested and sold as bean, today small coffee farmers in the region have begun to focus on careful and selective harvesting practices and meticulous processing methods to produce a much higher quality bean. Both washed Arabica coffees and their specialty natural processed beans are fetching much higher prices as Uganda´s coffee export market expands across Europe.
The specialty Arabica varieties grown at high elevations in the Rwenzori Mountains embody a unique satiny body along with a buttery finish. Peaches and other stone fruits offer delicate fruit tones while a touch of red berry also adds to the increasingly complex flavor profile. Nougat mid tones are complemented by a dark berry flavor.