Malawi is a narrow, landlocked country that zigzags from north to south between Zambia and Mozambique, bordering the shores of Lake Malawi, the southernmost of the African Great Lakes. Malawi is a potentially productive and distinctive coffee-growing origin suffering from a recent convergence of destructive climate events, particularly drought. Coffee is a mere bit player in a larger tragedy.
Beginning with the great southern Africa drought of 2005–06, Malawi’s modest but growing production of interesting, potentially valuable coffees plummeted. Worse, other crops suffered as well, including maize, which is the primary food crop for Malawi’s dense population of small-holding farmers. Since then, drought seems to follow drought, punctuated by devastating floods, and Malawi has been in the throes of an almost continuous state of food emergency and incipient famine. And yes, global warming again is the main suspect in the acceleration of these weather-related disasters.
The Malawi Geisha
The main reason for including Malawi in a book about coffee, despite its current tiny production, is its modest but continuing promise as a specialty origin, particularly given apparently substantial plantings of a local strain of the Geisha/Gesha variety, perhaps a strain of the celebrated superstar variety of Arabica that was rediscovered in Panama in 2004 and is now transforming the high-end coffee world.
The Malawi versions of Geisha appear to display considerably smaller and more conventionally shaped beans than its Central American counterparts, but those familiar with its cup report a shared Ethiopia heritage displayed in the Malawi Geisha’s tendency to flowers, citrus and cacao. If we come to know it better, it may turn out be Geisha lite, or perhaps a more savory Geisha. One way or the other it remains a potentially valuable asset for both Malawi and the world of specialty coffee. At this writing small shipments of Malawi Geisha are appearing in consuming countries, all or most produced by the Mzuzu Coffee Planters Cooperative Union of several thousand small-holding farmers in northern and central Malawi. These lots of Malawi Geisha are conventionally wet processed and are often certified fair trade.
Overall, however, the range of Malawi tree varieties remains as schizophrenic as in neighboring Zambia. The Geisha and Kenya’s SL28 compete with plantings of the lowly Catimor, the earliest developed and most suspect and neutral-tending of the various Robusta-incorporating, disease-resistant hybrids.
Malawi Coffee Ratings and Reviews
Click here to view ratings and reviews of coffees from Malawi.