Our Coffee

Name: Mzuzu Coffee

Country of origin: Malawi

Grown by: 'Smallholder Coffee Framers Trust' made up of 3500 farmers in five growing regions across northern Malawi.

Growing Altitudes: 1000-2500m

Varieties: Catimor, Agaro, Geisha, Mundo Novo, Blue Mountain and Cattura.

Flavour: Very fine flavour with a balanced body and acidity.

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The green beans are imported into the UK, where they are roasted, by The Northern Tea Merchants of Chesterfield. The coffee beans are then air cooled before being ground and packed bags for sale. The coffee is then sold, with the profits made being used to assist specific projects in Malawi.

Brief History

Missionaries introduced the coffee in the north of the country in the 1930's. The missionaries produced seedlings for selling to farmers around them and in turn farmers sold their processed coffee parchment back to the missionaries.

Later on, coffee cooperatives were established with the help of the British colonial government. The cooperatives used to market coffee through MOSHI in Tanzania. After independence in 1964, cooperatives were dissolved and ADMARC (Agricultural Development Marketing Cooperation) took over the activities of the coffee cooperatives. Eventually in March 1999 this was replaced by the Smallholder Coffee Farmers Trust, through which farmers run their own affairs as a business venture via their own regional associations.

Description and location of coffee growing areas

Misuku Hills

Description of location: Close to the Songwe River, which forms the natural boundary between Malawi and Tanzania. It is made up of 4 parallel ridges and plateau (It is over 320Km away form Mzuzu City the Capital of Northern Malawi).
Growing Altitude: 1700-2000 meters
Climate: Temp between 21.9C and 9.9C since 1983 at 1600m Annual Rainfall range for 2000mm to 1500mm
As of June 2000, the area had 566 ha under coffee leading to a coffee holding size of 0.28ha/coffee grower.
Notes: The area produces the best coffee in the country. The area produces 50-60% of all the coffee marketed by the Smallholder Coffee Farmers Trust.

Phoka Hills

Description of location: This area is located to the eastern part of the Nyika National Park (eastern face of the Nyika escarpment). It is on the western part of Livingstonia plateau and 145Km from Mzuzu. The area is dominated by the high Nyika plateau, which rises to 2500m above sea level.
Growing Altitude: 1200-2500 metres
Temp between 19C and 7C Annual Rainfall 1800mm
Production: 125 ha under coffee leading to a coffee holding size of 0.27ha/coffee grower.
Notes: The area produces high quality coffee, especially growers from Chakak, Mphachi, Salawe, Junji and VunguVungu areas.

Viphya North Area

Description of location: Viphya North area encompasses the part of the North Vipypa Plateau separated from Nkhata Bay Highlands by the deep valley of the Lizunkhumi River.
Growing Altitude: 1200-1500 meters
Temp between 18C and 7C Annual Rainfall 1700mm
Production: 77 ha under coffee leading to a coffee holding size of 0.32ha/coffee grower.

South East Mzimba Area

Description of location: It is located on the southern part of the south Viphya plateau. It is 190Km away from Mzuzu city. It occupies the upper valley of the Luweledzi, Rukuru and Rupashe River Systems.
Growing Altitude: 1200-1700 metres
Climate: Annual rainfall 1400mm
Production: 78 ha under coffee leading to a coffee holding size of 0.20ha/coffee grower.

Nkhata Bay Highlands

Coffee growing country in the Nkhata Bay Highlands Description of location: The area includes localities to the south west and south east of Mzuzu city on the southern end of the north Viphya plateau.
Growing Altitude: 1000-2000 metres
Climate:Annual rainfall 2000mm. Temp between 0C and 32C at 1225m
Production: 33 ha under coffee leading to a coffee holding size of 0.10ha/coffee grower.

Cultivation Practices

Shaded Coffee PlantationOver 3,500 thousand coffee growers are scattered in the five coffee growing areas. There is a Coffee Framer Association for each of the coffee growing areas. The associations are responsible for the coffee seedlings production, farming input, mobilization, road maintenance and primary processing of the coffee. These are assisted by coffee association advisors, one allocated to each of the five coffee growers associations.

Due to the terrain of the coffee growing areas, almost 70-80% of all the coffee is grown on terraces. Most of the coffee is grown with organic fertilizer; disease and insect pest control is carried out using integrated pest management principles and most of farmers don't use any chemicals Coffee Farmerunless the situation becomes serious.

Coffee trees are not allowed to produce any crop untill they are three years old. At this stage the tress are allowed to carry half crop, and they will remain in production for 5-10 years. Flowering starts between September and November depending on location. Harvesting is carried out between May and October of every year.


Coffee Cherries on Coffee TreeThe farmers grow only Arabica coffee. Popular varieties grown are Agaro and Geisha, although Agaro is becoming unpopular with farmers due to problems with coffee berry disease and leaf rust. Catimor populations are becoming very popular amongst the farmers because of their ability to withstand Leaf Rust. There are more plantings of this variety now than any other variety. Some old varieties introduced by early missionaries still exist including Mundo Novo, Blue Mountian and Catura.

Coffee Processing

Coffee PulperyCherry harvesting by farmers starts as early as 6.00am. Red Cherries are individually picked by hand and placed in bamboo woven baskets our old jute bags, before transporting the cherries on the head to the nearest pulpery. These pulperies (machinery that separates coffee pulps from beans) are located centrally within a 5km radius of the farms. This enables farmers to deliver their coffee before fermentation starts in the harvesting baskets/bags. Farmers manage the primary process on their own with technical assistance provided by coffee association advisors and some extension workers.

Once the coffee cherries are pulped, the beans are let into washing channels where floaters, lights and sinkers are separated and led into separate fermentation tanks; floaters are discarded while light, medium light and sinkers are fermented as separate grade. After fermentation is completed within 48-72hrs, the wet parchment is placed on skin drying trays before being placed on raised drying tables. Throughout the process, gravity fed fresh water is used; this helps in producing beans which are clean without off flavours.

The coffee is dried in the sun on drying tables, a process which is completed when the bean becomes brittle. Dried parchment is placed in jute bags weighing 55Kgs and placed in grass thatched parchment sheds for 10-14 days. This helps in conditioning the coffee while waiting for lorries to collect the parchment and take it to the central hulling plant in Mzuzu.

Secondary Processing

Coffee Testing LabOn arrival of each delivery of coffee parchment in Mzuzu, the quality control department of the trust takes samples of parchment for quality checks, carried out in the trusts laboratory. The checks focus on the moisture content, parchment classification, roast assessment and cup tasting

Coffee Hulling PlantDepending on the result of the quality checks, the parchment coffee is hulled using the trusts hulling plant, which polishes and grades the beans. Sorting of the diseased, blacks and other bad beans is carried out manually by experienced workers who are employed seasonally.

Hand Coffee GradingFinally lots of 285 x 60Kgs bags of green beans are made after careful cup tasting.


Coffee marketing in Malawi is completely liberalized. Farmers are free to sell coffee to anyone, provided they make a profit. The trusts objective is to pay the farmers a fair price to help in poverty alleviation. The trust usually pays farmers between 60-80% of the export price realized.

The main bulk of the 200 tonnes plus annually exported by the trust goes mainly to Germany and South Africa, some also goes to Switzerland, Holland, USA and Japan. The trust also sells approximate 24 tonnes annually into the domestic market and if you visit any of the major hotels in Malawi or foreign embassies you are bound to be served a cup of Mzuzu coffee.

Last update 14th July 2018. Copyright © 2018 The Coffee Project reg charity No 1093447.