Ivory Coast Coffee: Past, Present, and Future
There’s a good chance you’ve already tried Ivory Coast coffee. But you may not have known it then. Ivory Coast produces almost exclusively Robusta coffee beans. The beans are exported worldwide for blends and instant coffee. So, that creamy, earthy note in your last espresso could just be Ivorian.
This guide covers the impressive early history of the Ivory Coast coffee industry. You’ll see where it all went wrong and how they’re rebuilding it. Learn all about Ivory’s unique and potentially game-changing varietal!
A Complete Guide to Coffee Production in Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast, or Cote d’Ivoire, is a small nation on Africa’s west coast. It was once the third-largest coffee producer globally but has since fallen to 14th place. Read on to learn what happened and how the industry is bouncing back.
A Brief History of Cote d’Ivoire Coffee
French colonists introduced coffee to Ivory Coast around the turn of the 20th century. Initially, farmers grew the rare Liberica varietal, but it lacked commercial potential. The coffee industry didn’t begin to flourish until the Robusta varietal arrived 30 years later.
Coffee production tripled between 1945 and 1959. The production increased further when Cote d’Ivoire obtained independence from France in 1960.
By the 1970s, Ivory Coast was the largest coffee producer in Africa and the third largest in the world!
Coffee production peaked in 2000, reaching 380,000 tonnes of coffee beans, almost all of it Robusta. Sadly, the following decade of civil war decimated the industry, and it is only now beginning to recover. Ivory Coast is currently the 14th largest coffee producer worldwide.
Growing and Processing
Coffee in Ivory Coast is grown in three main regions: Abboisso, Abengourou, and Divo. All three lie at elevations 300 and 400 meters above sea level, too low for fine Arabica but ideal for Robusta coffee.
Most coffee in the country is hand-harvested between August and January. As is common in many African countries, beans are naturally processed, which puts less strain on water resources than washed processing.
Natural processing requires more care and attention to remove rotten or defective beans. If this quality control is lacking, as is often the case in Ivory Coast, the coffee is inconsistent, dissuading serious buyers.
Flavours and Varietals
Almost all of the coffee grown in Cote d’Ivoire is the Robusta variety. It grows better at lower elevations and warmer climates and is more resistant to pests and diseases than Arabica coffee. But Robusta also has poorer cup quality, often having earthy, rubbery, or bitter flavours.
Arabusta is a fascinating varietal developed in Ivory Coast in the 1960s. It’s a hybrid of Arabica and Robusta. It holds tremendous potential, as it’s easier to grow than Arabica but offers sweeter flavours than Robusta. So far, few farmers have adopted Arabusta because it is slow-growing, but advocates argue its longer lifespan offsets this (1).
Challenges Facing the Industry
The coffee sector has several challenges to overcome if production is to reach pre-war levels. The first is the need for education for coffee farmers and processors. Recently, the government has shifted focus from coffee to cocoa, taking financial and educational resources with it, explains Hadi Beydoun, owner of Cote d’Ivoire’s first specialty coffee shop.
I think coffee quality has dropped over the past few years. This is partly because the government mainly focuses on cocoa production.
Ivory Coast is not currently at war, but political unrest continues to hamper the return of the coffee industry. Farmers won’t commit to planting coffee, which has slower returns than other crops. And established coffee farmers don’t want to invest in modernizing harvesting or processing equipment under the looming threat of conflict.
Ivory Coast Coffee Culture
Ivory Coast has historically had little coffee culture, which remains true outside large urban centres. Poorer families typically drink instant coffee, while those with more means drink capsule coffee like Nespresso.
There is a growing coffee culture in Ivory Coast’s largest city, Abidjan. A few specialty cafes, like Cafés Bondin, are roasting and serving Arabusta to showcase the quality of local coffee to residents and visitors.
We’re here to promote Ivorian coffee and make the Ivorian people understand the quality of their coffee
The success of these cafes could lay the groundwork for Ivory Coast to emerge on the global specialty coffee scene.
Where Can I Buy Ivory Coast Coffee?
The major importers of Ivory Coast coffee are the Netherlands, USA, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Canada, and the United Kingdom. However, it is difficult to sample a single-origin Ivory Coast coffee. Because the country exports Robusta beans exclusively, they mostly find their way into blends or cheap instant coffee, similar to coffees from Madagascar.
If you’re determined to try single-origin Ivory Coast coffee, you’ll likely need to source green coffee beans and roast them yourself (2).
A more manageable option is to sample some of the best African coffee beans from better-established coffee-growing regions like Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania.
The history of the Ivory Coast coffee industry demonstrates that it has the potential to be a significant player in the global market, at least for Robusta coffee. However, increased education and political stability are needed. Though Ivory Coast has never had a specialty coffee sector, the Arabusta varietal offers an exciting opportunity should the next generation of farmers adopt it.
The best coffee in the world is a matter of personal taste, but certain countries are known for producing the best of the best. These include Colombia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kenya, and Costa Rica. There are also outstanding regional specialty varietals like Hawaiian Kona or Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.
Ivory Coast is famous for cocoa and is the world’s largest exporter of cocoa beans. Though you cannot buy Ivory Coast coffee on Amazon, you can buy dark-roasted cocoa beans to brew and drink like coffee!
The Ivory Coast Coffee & Cocoa Board is an institutional body in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. The Board regulates coffee and cocoa industries by setting prices, managing exports, and modernizing production – among other things. Current talks with wealthy nations in the Middle East and Asia offer great promise for the coffee industry (3).
- Wood, R. (2018, November 19). How a rare bean is revolutionizing coffee tastes in the Ivory Coast. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2018/11/19/africa/ivory-coast-rare-arabusta-coffee-in-africa
- Selina Wamucii. (2022). Buy Ivory Coast Coffee Beans Directly From Exporters & Suppliers. Retrieved from https://www.selinawamucii.com/produce/processed/ivory-coast-coffee-beans/
- Richard, F. (2022, May 12). Côte d’Ivoire: Yves Brahima Koné, head of the Coffee & Cocoa Council, sets his sights on the East. Retrieved from https://www.theafricareport.com/202828/cote-divoire-yves-brahima-kone-head-of-the-coffee-cocoa-council-sets-his-sights-on-the-east/