An African legend holds that the coffee bean was discovered by a goat shepherd named Kaldi while wandering the Ethiopian region of Kaffa around 850 AD.
True or not, African coffee beans once dominated the world market, before output was cut dramatically over the last 30 years due to stronger global competition. But a renewed interest in the flavor profiles of beans grown on the continent could be driving a surge in production, according to a Bloomberg report.
At the peak of its coffee craze in 1975, four of the 10 top coffee-producing countries were African, according to Bloomberg. Since then, production has declined steadily as other countries began producing the same robusta beans Africa is known for, at a lower cost.
Amid global competition to provide beans to supermarkets, coffee conglomerates, and other internationally operating businesses, relatively low-yielding African bean varieties were passed up in favor of varieties grown in Brazil, Vietnam, and other countries who could produce more coffee at a cheaper price.
As a result, farming coffee became less and less profitable in African nations, where the farmland itself grows more valuable in the face of rapid urbanization.
Now, the once giant industry is responsible for only 12% of the world’s coffee production.
This is good news for African coffee producers, whose beans are harder to produce in massive quantities, and often price higher on the market as a result of the complex taste they develop in Africa’s unique climate.
Coffee importer Karl Weyrauch told Bloomberg that the newfound interest doesn’t stop with African countries traditionally known for their coffees, but also newer countries to the game whose beans offer different tastes.
“Ethiopian beans have been known in the West for a long time, but now we are seeing more Rwandan, Kenyan and even beans coming from Burundi, Uganda and Congo,” Weyrauch said, “African beans may also seem exotic to some coffee drinkers and that piques their curiosity.”
Satisfying this curiosity certainly comes at a higher price for consumers. Monmouth Coffee, a UK based coffee importer specializing in fine and rare beans, offers beans from Karimikui roasting station in Kenya at a price that is double the price the average supermarket price.
Higher prices means more money flowing into the country, however, and more local jobs. The distributors’ newsletter claims the roasting station employs over 3500 Kenyans.
An added benefit of Africa’s smaller production numbers is that distributors doing business with them can engage in direct-trade practices, which establish direct relationships between the buyer and seller in order to ensure ethical standards of labor are met.
Expensive African coffee might just be worth it, considering that its deliciousness is matched by its positive impact on its country of origin.
Many can’t imagine life without it, including five-year customer of Monmouth Coffee Company, Julien Ochala.
"I love it because of the relatively higher acidity level. It keeps me active in the afternoons,” he told Bloomberg. “I take Kenyan coffee every morning.”