The Ultimate Guide To African Coffee
Africa is known for its rich history, biodiversity, and culture, but for coffee lovers, the continent is also known for producing some of the best coffee beans in the world.
With its world-renowned quality and unique flavors. African coffee should definitely be on the list to try for any coffee drinker. The question is which one should you pick?
Keep reading to find our choices for the Best African Coffee and find out why it deserves its revered reputation. Nonetheless, If you’re in a hurry, here’s our top pick:
Why is African Coffee good?
Much of Africa lies across the “bean belt” which has the perfect growing conditions for coffee. Coffee production is situated along the African Great Lakes, where fertile soil, cool climate, and numerous highlands makes it ideal for cultivating the Arabica coffee species.
This region is known for producing one of the fruitiest coffees in the world. African coffees are typically characterized by bright acidity with wine-like, floral, and fruity flavors. This can range from citrus, berries, bergamot, and even hints of jasmine.
Coffee experts have long since recognized Ethiopia and Kenya for their premium-quality, specialty grade coffee varieties such as Typica, SL-28, Kenya AA coffee, and the famed Gesha varietal.
Countries such as Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Burundi also produce uniquely flavored coffees and are steadily placing high for specialty coffee lovers. Other regions, including Côte d’Ivoire and Uganda produce mainly Robusta varieties.
Best African Coffee Beans
Volcanica is known for roasting coffee with distinct flavors, and their offering from the Yirgacheffe region in Ethiopia does not disappoint.
Delicate and sweet with a tart profile. Expect to get overtones of strawberry, pineapples, and guava with just a hint of dark chocolate and toasted coconut taste to balance out its acidity. It’s also organically certified and fair-trade to ensure you’ll be getting the best beans available.
Its medium-light profile is best brewed with a pour-over if you’re after a light cup or with a French Press if you prefer a fuller-bodied experience.
With that said, Volcanica Coffee’s Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee is a must-try whether you’re an experienced coffee drinker or for your first foray into more exotic beans. I recall this single-origin was my entry into for fruity coffees!
While Congo might not be as well-known for growing African coffee than others, they export good quality Arabica with unique and exciting flavors.
This African coffee from the Bourbon variety was grown along the mountainous region of Kivu at elevations between 1,500 – 1,800 MASL. It is then honey-processed resulting in a sweeter cup of coffee.
Once these roasters get their hands on the green beans, they’re lightly roasted giving it just a hint of brightness. You’d be surprised to find notes of blood orange zest, cinnamon, and even tobacco to give it just a touch of smokiness.
Available as whole bean or as coffee grounds, its unique taste notes are perfectly suited for a drip or pour-over, so make sure to use the correct grind size before you brew.
Fresh Roasted Coffee’s Congo Kivu coffee might be the one for you if you’re the adventurous type and want to explore a broader range of flavors for your caffeine fix.
African coffee tends to be subtle, but if you’re looking for a richer cup, you might be interested in Cooper Coffee Company’s Rwanda beans.
Cultivated between 1,800 – 2,000 meters above sea level, this Rwandan coffee has the perfect balance between acidity and sweetness. Flavors notes include brown sugar, black tea, lemon, and even ginger making for a different cup from your regular buy.
It’s farm gate priced and fair-trade certified, so you’ll get what you pay for, and your payment goes directly to the small farmers who grew this coffee. The coffee is also organic to boot, so you’ll be getting premium-quality coffee too.
If you’re after a rich and delicious coffee with sustainability in mind, then this Rwandan single-origin ticks all the boxes.
Why does Kenyan coffee have a reputation for being one of the best in the world? It’s because of beans like this.
Vibrant acidity with flavor notes of berry and citrus overtones. Also accompanied by notes of strawberry, lemon, guava, and hints of spice.
This African coffee is grown in rich volcanic soil and consists of peaberries, which only amounts to 5% off a total coffee cherry harvest.
Taste-wise, it shares similarities with a Kenyan AA coffee but often with a sweeter profile. Prominent notes of strawberry and lemon are mixed in with a hint of spice, which is common In Kenyan coffee.
Not only is it delicious, but it’s also sustainable! A large portion of the proceeds of this roasted coffee goes directly to the growers, thanks to its fair-trade certification.
Premium quality, sweet flavors, and a full body. It’s no wonder why Volcanica Coffee’s Kenya Peaberry regularly places high in our reviews.
Can’t get enough of peaberries? Maybe this light roast single-origin from Fresh Roasted Coffee might satisfy your cravings.
African coffees tend to be bright and flavorful, and this Peaberry coffee takes those elements up a notch. This batch of beans comes from the Mbeya region, where they produce the largest yields of peaberry in all of Tanzania.
Clean and bright. You’ll be reminded of peaches, lemons, and even black tea with every sip of this light-bodied coffee.
I’d suggest brewing it with Pour Over or light immersion methods like an AeroPress to extract all the flavors from this complex coffee.
However you brew it, Fresh Roasted Coffee’s Tanzanian Peaberry will have you wanting more than just a single cup!
I love a good Burundi. It’s a rich single-origin meant to be savored thanks to its complex flavors, and this entry from Mt. Whitney does not disappoint.
These beans are named after the Kavugangoma station, where the coffee is processed and shipped directly to the roasters. The medium roast profile brings out a bright and balanced flavor profile with notes of tamarind, black tea, and brown sugar.
Mt. Whitney is also a non-profit organization, and all proceeds, including this single-origin, go to the Father’s Heart International charity based in Zambia.
So if you want a delicious cup of coffee while helping out others at the same time, then this medium roast Burundi from Mt. Whitney Coffee Roasters might be the one for you.
The Buying Guide to African Coffee Brands
Coffee producing countries in Africa
With its reputation as the birthplace of coffee, Ethiopia produces premium coffee all throughout its history.
The Ethiopian coffee culture dates back to the 9th century when the ancient coffee trees were first harvested and consumed for their energizing effects. Legends say that a goat herder named Kaldi discovered coffee after observing his goats eating the famed coffee cherry.
Today, Ethiopia’s coffee production is booming. Placed 5th in the world and one of the most influential coffee-producing regions. The region is known for its heirloom varietals, namely Sidamo, Genika, Harar, and the most popular, Yirgacheffe.
Sidamo and Yirgacheffe coffee lean toward crisp acidity with winey and fruity flavor notes. An Ethiopian Harrar coffee can have a heavier body with notes of mocha, wine, and berries. While the rare Genika coffee variety has floral flavors with overtones of chocolate and spices.
Typical Ethiopian coffee is normally dry-processed to bring out its fruity flavor, but some are washed-processed for a sweeter cup of coffee.
While not as well-known as the other coffee-growing regions, the coffee industry in Tanzania plays a vital role in the nation’s economy. 90% of the coffee is grown by small farmers which are supported by local cooperatives, with Arabica amounting to 75% of the total production.
Most Tanzania coffees are the Bourbon varietal, and flavors can taste similar to Kenyan coffees due to the proximity to the nation. The country boasts numerous highlands that can grow high-quality Arabica.
The main growing areas in Tanzania are Ruvuma, Mbeya, Kigoma, Arusha, Mara, and most notably around Mount Kilimanjaro. Arabica coffees here are typically harvested between July – December and are washed-processed to preserve the coffee’s inherent sweetness.
While only being the 16th largest coffee bean producer in the world, Kenya’s coffee quality is on a whole other level. Some might say they’re the best, but one thing’s for sure, the flavors of Kenyan coffee are uniquely their own.
Full-bodied, bright acidity with complex flavors. Expect to find notes of tart citrus and black currant with white wine undertones with this African coffee.
Most of the country’s coffee producers are found around the foothills of Mt. Kenya, with some smaller farms near the Rift Valley at the western border.
These farms all have the growing conditions for specialty Arabica beans to thrive. High elevations ranging 1,400 – 2,000 meters above sea level, adequate rainfall, and cool climate are some of the factors why Kenya coffee is world-renowned.
The region is also fertilized with volcanic soil, which increases the sugar and acid content within the whole bean coffee. Kenya’s commitment to producing high-quality coffee does not end with their production methods.
The country also has a unique grading system for their coffee beans. The system is based on size, with the largest and most prominent receiving the Kenya AA coffee grade. The bigger the bean’s size, the more oils it produces, often making for a more decadent coffee.
Compared to other African countries, the Rwandan coffee industry has been relatively slower to take off. However, within the past two decades, assistance from different coffee organizations has helped foster the production and improved quality of Rwandan coffee.
Today, it is the 9th largest Arabica coffee producer in the world. Most are grown in small scale lots located in the regions of Virunga, Kivu, Kizi Rift, Akagera, and Muhazi. Each area has bountiful highlands where coffee is cultivated, starting from 1,200 up to 2,000 meters above sea level.
The majority of Rwandan coffees are washed-processed. Similar to an Ethiopian Harrar coffee, notes of butter and caramel are prominent with undertones of chocolate, clove, cinnamon, and even plum in higher-quality coffees.
Like Rwanda, Congo has experienced political upheaval in recent history. In the 1980s, coffee exports were at a high, with 120,000 tons per year. The following years saw a massive decline in production, and it wasn’t until recently, when the government focused on quality did the numbers steadily climbed.
To that effect, Congolese coffee production is in its infancy, with different cooperatives and organizations lending their hand in improving the country’s crop quality and logistics. The majority of the Congo’s coffee is Robusta, with Arabica amounting to 25% of the country’s exports.
The Bourbon variety is a prominent crop, and most are grown around the regions of Kivu and Ituri. Bright and crisp acidity is pronounced with citrusy notes all wrapped up with a full body.
Uganda has the perfect climate with adequate rainfall, high elevations, and volcanic-rich soil for producing top-notch African coffee. Arabica coffee is grown in Muhavura and Mt. Elgon, which it shares with Kenya.
Like Côte d’Ivoire, Robusta is the main coffee crop. Only 20% off the total production is Arabica consisting of Typica, Kent, SL-21, and SL-28.
Unique to Uganda, the Arabica Bugisu is renowned for its taste and clean body. These Ugandan beans often have notes of dark chocolate with hints of spice and wine, making it suitable for dark roast profiles.
Last but not least, Burundi (which is a personal favorite of mine) is also known for producing coffee with layered complexities and clean acidity.
Majority of the coffee production centers around the north of the country, where the mountains provide the needed climate for growth. Burundi coffee thrives in regions including Muyinga, Kayanza, and Buyenzi, where most of Burundi’s specialty coffee comes from.
High-grown coffees show delicate notes of fruit with a sweet berry taste and hints of citrus, pineapples, and berries. Coffee grown at lower altitudes lean towards robust flavors like chocolate, caramel, and walnuts.
The Final Verdict
Our pick for the best African coffee is Volcanica Coffee’s Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee. Its delicate body, clean mouthfeel, and fruity flavor is a must-try for coffee lovers looking for a complex cup.
Looking for a more adventurous cup? Then Fresh Roasted Coffee’s Congo Kivu is perfect with its bright and smoky flavor profiles.
African coffee can differ from its origin, processing, roast, and even how it is brewed. So keep in mind to go with what you prefer and keep on trying out new coffees. You’ll never know what’s gonna be your new favorite!
A life long coffee drinker, Philip has been looking for new ways to enjoy coffee since he started in the coffee industry in 2017. His favorite coffee is a light roast Rwandan single origin. If he’s not binging on food shows or trying out new coffee recipes, you can catch him here at Sip Coffee!