Zambian coffees offer a balanced flavor profile, with moderate complexity and body. It’s less “bright and acidic” than other East African coffees, providing a nice alternative. And the modes of production are quite different as well, with much of the production coming from larger, well-organized operations. Zambian coffee is something we offer infrequently, and only when new crop lots first arrive. But we remain dedicated to offering Zambia and other African origins, as the quality and range of coffees from this continent continues to impress and amaze us!
Coffee was introduced in the 1950’s with cultivar seedstock from Tanzania and Kenya. It is grown mainly in the Northern district of the Muchinga Mountains (regions of Nakonde, Kasama and Isoka) and in the vicinity of the capital city of Lusaka.
We started offering Zambian coffee in a different era: The 2000 crop ranged from unremarkable estate coffees to very poor quality generic stocklots of peaberry and flatbean. These were widely available, and I thought they were all very poor in the cup. It is sad to know that these low quality lots are ruining a good origin’s reputation, and that some “specialty” roaster somewhere is buying this stuff and selling it as “good” coffee.
The past few crops produced some mixed results, honestly. In fact, I think the logistics of shipping these coffees can result in a marked loss of flavor, or in the case of Tanzania, baggy flavors from being stored in shipping containers for long periods at port! If it is good coffee, it has to be handled properly and shipped quickly. When this isn’t done, the defective coffee is easily detected on our cupping table. Anyway, when we have a Zambian in stock you can bet it is good! Zambia seems to have cup quality issues stemming from basic agricultural and environmental challenges; with water and drought, soil management, relatively lower altitudes of coffee plantings, and some fairly non-stellar coffee varieties in production.
But in some ways the challenges in Zambia, in particular the water resources needed for coffee, are an advantage as well. The arid climate during harvest means that coffee dries effectively, without the damage that can occur in regions and climates where coffee dries too slow.
We have seen a steady rise in coffee quality offered generally from Zambia, and in particular with some farms that have greater investment in the crop. The addition of “honey” process and some naturals has created more flavor options, and also masked some of the detrimental flavors coming from the Catimor type varieties. Honey coffee is different from traditional wet-process coffee – the outer skin is pulped off using little or no water, and then the coffee is dried with the remaining fruit attached to the parchment layer. This provides a different drying dynamic as well as the interaction with the fruit layer, and this suits the base profile of this particular origin.