Zimbabwe, close to the southern end of the great Arabica coffee belt stretching from East Africa down to southern Africa, is still another tragic coffee story to add to those of Zambia and Malawi, though the misfortune mainly has its roots in society and politics rather than in climate and weather.
Subtle but Distinctive
The broad, high savannahs characteristic of Zambia and Malawi extend to Zimbabwe, a compact landlocked country about the size of California. But coffee found better terroirs in the wetter highlands of the Chipinge region in eastern Zimbabwe, bordering Mozambique. Large to medium-sized coffee farms once dominated in this region, owned and operated by well-established white families. Out-growers, small-holding farmers, often native African, gained financial and technical support from the larger farms, through which they sold their coffees.
Through the 1980s and 1990s this system produced increasing quantities of a very attractive coffee, centrally and meticulously wet processed, often from trees of Bourbon-related varieties like Kenya’s SL28. These Zimbabwe coffees displaying impressive balance, graceful acidity and hints of the pungent, savory-sweet fruit notes characteristic of so many fine Africa coffees with Bourbon heritage.
The Mugabe Era and Signs of a Fresh Start
Those who followed international news at the time know roughly what happened next. President Robert Mugabe, who was fighting to retain control of the country, encouraged his followers to harass the white farmers out of business and out of the country. The coffee industry, including most of its infrastructure, was abandoned or destroyed. International sanctions aimed at applying pressure to the Mugabe regime further ravaged the economy.
As I write sanctions have been lifted and there is some sign that coffee production is rebuilding in Zimbabwe. Aid agencies have begun to support the restoring of coffee fields and facilities, although issues of land tenure and ownership remain. It is difficult to predict what shape a renewal of the once vibrant Zimbabwe coffee industry will take. As the Zimbabwe economy begins to recover, most likely coffee production will be more fragmented than it was before, perhaps encouraging the sort of diversity in production that the current high end of the specialty coffee values.
Zimbabwe Coffee Ratings and Reviews
Click here to view ratings and reviews of coffees from Zimbabwe.