Uganda is Africa’s second-largest coffee producer, after Ethiopia. While the Ethiopian highlands are the birthplace of Coffea arabica, the equatorial forests of Central and East Africa are home to Coffea canephora, better known as robusta.
Robusta is most commonly used in espresso blends, adding body, bitterness, and an extra dose of caffeine to the cup, and represents 85% of the coffee produced in Uganda. At the same time, another species, Coffea liberica, naturally grows in the country.
At an elevation of 1,200 meters, not far from the banks of Lake Victoria, two ancient varieties are cultivated under the shade of trees, in the “coffee-banana system”: the robusta variety Nganda, and Kisansa, a local strain of Coffea liberica var. dewevrei.
Kisansa plants can produce for several decades and grow up to 10 meters. This variety is resistant to all the major diseases. Nganda is smaller and less resistant. It does not give fruit all year round, but only at the end of the two rainy seasons, in October and June. Even though the government has pushed for the replacement of traditional varieties with more productive commercial hybrids, many growers have preferred to keep the indigenous range.
The processing of the beans involves a lengthy ritual.
The pulp from the cherries is removed using two stones. After this initial phase, the beans are pre-toasted in an iron pan. The resulting green coffee beans are then ready for the final roasting inside a terracotta pot that they move around continuously. The terracotta allows the heat to spread gradually, preventing the beans from burning. After grinding the roasted beans in a mortar, the coffee powder is infused with water, producing a beverage with an intense and balanced aroma, characterized by herbaceous notes.
In the local culture, coffee has a solid symbolic value:
At every traditional function, be it a housewarming or bridal giveaway ceremony, coffee is a must. The cherries are not just toasted, but also eaten fresh, in soups, or simply chewed for their stimulating properties.
In 2012, after a first visit to the Community, Slow Food was able to identify and involve thirty producers of Kisansa and Nganda to work together and improve the quality of the coffee.
The main goal of the Slow Food Coffee Coalition is to help the producers create a Good, Clean and Fair value chain and find buyers in countries with a strong demand for their coffee.