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 The History of Coffee in Africa

 

The history of coffee in Africa begins with the legend of the goat herder Kilda, when he observed his goats eating the red berries from certain bushes and soon after, becoming very active. Precisely when this occurred is unclear, however dates range from 800 BC to 500 AD and the location was Ethiopia.

While much is recorded about how coffee plants and subsequent cultivation of them spread throughout the world, there is very little documentary evidence available to record what happened in terms of coffee cultivation in Ethiopia, until Brazilian coffee was introduced to Kenya and Tanzania in 1893. By this time, coffee was well established as a beverage made from roasted beans, but it wasn't always used as a beverage in Ethiopia.

 

The red coffee berries were often eaten whole because the inner pulp of the coffee berry was sweet. The seeds, or beans as they came to be known, were bitter, however when combined with the pulp, made for pleasant eating. Another method of using the beans involved grinding the raw beans and then mixing with animal fat. The mixture was then molded into small pieces and stored for later use as food rations for nomadic tribes. A fermented brew of wine and coffee was also a favorite drink of early Ethiopians.

 

Arabica beans grew wild in the Kafka region and coffee has a history of having been used for various religious ceremonies in Ethiopia. The primary coffee growing regions of Ethiopia are Yirgacheffe, Sidamo, Harrar and Limmu. There are approximately 350,000 coffee farms in Ethiopia and an estimated twelve million people work in the Ethiopian coffee industry, which features the superior quality Arabica beans. Ethiopia's main source of foreign exchange is coffee and after Uganda and the Ivory Coast, is the third largest coffee producing nation in Africa.

 

Uganda produces primarily Robusta coffee and is the largest coffee producing country in Africa. The best Ugandan coffee is an Arabica grown at Bugishu at Mt. Elgon. Kenya also produces some high quality coffees, Arabica with a citrus and sometimes a black current flavor, high up on Mount Kenya. There are approximately six million Kenyans working in the coffee industry.

 

It's worth mentioning that there are some inequalities between third world coffee producers, such as the African countries which produce coffee and first world buyers who purchase it. It has been estimated that African coffee farmers only receive approximately six percent of the revenue from the sale of the coffee they produce. Producers are also required to be certified as organic producers – even though their production methods are traditionally organic.

 

As one of the most highly valued commodities in the world, it is thought that coffee producers and workers should be paid fairly and as a way of addressing the inequality, purchasing coffee which bears the label 'Fair Trade', and attempts to address the imbalance, as it indicates workers have been paid fairly. It isn't clear how successful this will be and there is no denying that African coffee is some of the best in the world, so it would be appropriate if the fortunes of coffee producers from the birthplace of coffee, improved significantly as part of the ongoing history of coffee in Africa.

 

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