Coffee in Sudan

Coffee cup and beans

The origins of coffee in Sudan

     Coffee has been a beloved drink the world over for centuries. And it's origins are in east Africa! Along with Ethiopia and Kenya, Sudan is one of the first countries where wild coffee plants were first enjoyed by humans. 

     According to legend, goats beat us to trying coffee first! But we humans certainly perfected the art of coffee, even if we didn't discover it first, and there are few places that do coffee better than its homeland of Sudan. Despite years of strife, and painful civil conflict, Sudan has been able to preserve its coffee tradition into the modern era where coffee and coffee culture has continued to evolve and grow.

 Coffee in Sudan

     Some of the first wild coffee plants to naturally develop in Sudan were Arabica plants that grew on the Boma plateau. The Boma plateau is one of the few places on the planet where wild Arabica plants grow, and it is a contiguous formation with Ethiopia’s highlands, too. 

     Over time, coffee cultivation waned before it was reintroduced by colonial settlers. Though, over time these crops also fell into disuse and eventually developed into a strain of wild Robusta plants. 

     Sudan’s geography is quite diverse with arid desserts in the north, and more tropical areas in the south and along its borders with Ethiopia and other African nations. Sudan has some impressive waterways, too, the White, Blue, and main Nile rivers all run through the country.

 Regions, geography, and production

     What this means for coffee is a diverse and wide range of growing conditions. Sudan’s more arid regions can host Robusta plants, which are more tolerant of hotter, drier, and flatter areas. Sudan’s southern regions, featuring tons of rainfall, and humidity is conducive to growing quality Arabica plants, which prefer cooler, moister areas with ample elevation. 

     In fact, the Yei region in particular has been seeing a resurgence in coffee production within recent years. Yei falls within Sudan’s southern area and so hosts an environment ideal for Arabica plants to thrive, though Robusta is usually the crop of choice. 

     Because of Sudan’s civil war and the partition between north and south, coffee production and cultivation had been put on a long hiatus. But, since 2011, coffee culture and production has once again been revived. 

     Sudan’s coffee production received a boost when actor George Clooney advised the company, Nestle, to invest in coffee production in Sudan’s Yei region. Nestle's subsidiary, Nespresso, which is famous for producing coffee pods along with NGO’s like Technoserve has invested in improving conditions, infrastructure, and training for farmers in Sudan. 

     Because of Sudan’s long and painful conflict, resources, and proper harvesting and processing techniques were lacking as was the availability of viable space for farming. But with the help of Nestle and various NGO’s, Sudan is now able to cultivate and export coffee, adding another mode of economic momentum to its roster aside from oil. By diversifying its exports, and improving coffee cultivation and production methods and know-how in the south of Sudan, the country can move forward to a brighter and more peaceful future. 

     The dry processing method was once the chosen method for processing beans in Sudan, but recently, wet processing plants have also been introduced, too. Sudan’s Robusta beans are known for being highly aromatic, and to possess a mild and balanced body and flavor with some hints and notes akin to woody flavors. 

     Befitting Sudan’s place as an original heartland of coffee, it also has its own unique cultural tradition of enjoying coffee, perfected, and mastered despite the adversity and struggles of the last century. 

Coffee cup with Hands

 

Coffee Sudan style

     In Sudan, a special coffee brew called Guhwah is prepared and served in a traditional red clay carafe called a jebena. And to prepare Guhwah, a special “coffee ceremony” comes before each and every brewing. 

      The ritual or ceremony is as follows; first, the coffee beans are freshly roasted over an open flame. And while the debate is still simmering elsewhere in the coffee world about whether burr or blade grinders are the superior grinders, in Sudan a mortar and pestle are used to grind beans. 

     Once ground to the proper gradation, the grinds are added to a red clay pot or jar where they are simmered along with other spices and herbs. Typically, cardamom, black pepper, and ginger are the spices of choice. When the mixture is ready, the coffee is served from the jebena. 

     The server pours the coffee in a particular sweeping motion while holding the jebena a few inches or so above the cups. The motion and height of the pour not only showcase the exquisitely brewed coffee, but it also disperses the coffee’s aroma and adds to the froth and strength of each individual cup of coffee. 

     As the cups are passed around, coffee drinkers are encouraged to drink their cups nice and loud with slurps to bring air into the mouth. This allows the full range of flavors and aromas to wash across the palette and properly fill the nostrils. Sudanese coffee and the enjoyment of Guhwah are social events that bring people together and create a space and atmosphere for conviviality and joy.

 Sudanese coffee; a brighter future 

     From ancient and wild origins to leading the way to a more sustainable economic future, Sudanese coffee is an exemplar of exceptional coffee crops. Coffee in Sudan is unique and has a storied history demonstrating a remarkable level of adaptability, resilience, and tenacity. And so too have the people of this amazing African nation. 

 Sources:

  • Foltyn, Simona. “South Sudan: Coffee in a Time of War?” South Sudan News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 6 Jan. 2016, www.aljazeera.com/features/2016/1/6/south-sudan-coffee-in-a-time-of-war.
  • “History of Coffee.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Oct. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_coffee.
  • “Reviving High Quality Coffee Production in South Sudan.” Reviving High Quality Coffee Production in South Sudan | Nestlé Nespresso, www.nestle-nespresso.com/news/reviving-high-quality-coffee-production-in-south-sudan. 

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