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Uganda’s Coffee History and Growth

Posted by Meera Nair on

Ranking 8th in the world for its coffee production, Uganda is a country in East Africa that is primarily known for its robusta exports.

The robusta plant is native to Ugandan soils, something that you wouldn’t find in many coffee-growing nations across the globe. Therefore, it has a longstanding history of being one of the most intensively farmed crops. In fact, it is a source of livelihood for as many as 1.7 million smallholder farmers.

Two prominent varieties of robusta coffee that are produced in Uganda are Nganda and Erecta. 

Get yourself a bag of Nganda if you enjoy coffees with high acidity and bitterness. The Nganda beans tend to have a flavour profile that is earthy and nutty, especially when compared to a typical cup of arabica coffee. 

While in the past several decades, arabica has also begun to be grown at full steam in Uganda, it still doesn’t compare to the volume of robusta plants that are grown in the country. 


With robusta coffee already growing wild in the rainforests of Uganda, the country’s coffee journey began without external involvement.

uganda coffee beans

Foreign settlers who made their way to this East African country brought arabica with them, and these arabica coffee plantations were established in 1914. 

As the coffee boom took the world by storm, Ugandan coffee farmers realised how fruitful a coffee business could be.

When the frost of the 1970s wreaked havoc on Brazil’s coffee supplies, the coffee farmers found an opportunity to rise to the occasion. They had the ability to meet the global demand and consequently began to gain more attention from other corners of the world.

Despite this, there were several deterrents to the growth of Uganda’s coffee industry.

For starters, the farmers had limited knowledge and resources to produce great quality coffee. As a result, coffee traders purchased beans for a paltry sum, allowing the farmers to make little profit.

Then, the global coffee price crisis affected Uganda much like it did other coffee-growing regions, further crippling the development of the coffee trade. 

Lastly, up until the 90s, it was the Coffee Marketing Board that had control over Uganda’s coffee production. With government involvement, farmers couldn’t exercise much freedom. Now, the ownership has shifted and rests with private farms.

It was the liberalisation of the coffee industry that ushered in better times for Uganda’s coffee farmers.

In recent years, there’s been a shift from just producing the heartier robusta to producing specialty arabica that is of significantly better quality. As such, even Uganda has entered the specialty coffee market.


coffee from Uganda
  • Even to date, some Ugandan coffee producers use age-old traditions and techniques for coffee production.

    One example of this is a pulper made out of hollow tree trunks and metal sheets. You’ll also hear about other unique coffee processing methods where hand pulpers are used to remove the skin and mucilage on the coffee bean before it is dried and sent for roasting.

  • It is interesting to note that, unlike in the case of India, where the boost of coffee culture transformed a nation of tea drinkers into avid coffee enthusiasts, the people of Uganda actually consume very little of the coffee they produce.

    Based on a report, only around 4-5% of Ugandan coffee is used by the natives, with more than 80% of it being exported.


Having a light body and a smooth flavour profile, coffees from Uganda are known for their palate-pleasing tastes. You will find hints of berries and stone fruit in many Ugandan coffees.

Overall, they are not as layered or complex. Some also have a buttery aftertaste that would appeal to people who enjoy a satiny feel in their coffees. 

Eastern regions of Uganda produce coffee that tends to be washed processed, giving it a much cleaner flavour profile compared to the coffees coming out of the west of the country.

You’ll find fruitier notes and chocolate flavours in coffees from the west of Uganda, where beans tend to be dry processed, giving the final brew a more bubbly profile. 

When it comes to coffee from the African continent, Uganda is usually not the first to be spoken of. You’d probably be more familiar with Ethiopian coffee or maybe even Kenyan coffee. 

However, Ugandan coffees are appealing in their own right, and have some diverse flavours that are worth having at home.

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