The Coffee House at Gibb’s Farm

Upon approaching Gibb’s Farm, one cannot help but notice the endless rows of coffee plants that shape the landscape of this area.  Many visitors have never seen a coffee plant but often enjoy the fruits of this particular crop on a regular basis.  Colonization, politics, and the economics of coffee was a shaping force in the creation of today’s Gibb’s Farm. 

Coffee (or kahawa in Swahili) is the second largest legally exported commodity in the world, second only to oil, and provides a livelihood for over twenty million people.  This commodity has a long and complicated history dating back as far as one thousand or more years ago.  Because there is such a long history regarding coffee, its origins have been the subject of many legends.  One such legend explaining the discovery of coffee involves a goat herder in Ethiopia named Kaldi.  According to one version of the legend, Kaldi was out grazing his goats when he noticed that after they ate the red berries from a strange looking plant they became very energized and were “dancing” around.  Kaldi decided that he would try these berries as well to experience this effect and he noticed a rush of energy after he consumed them.  So began the association of the coffee plant as an edible stimulant.  Originally coffee berries were eaten by themselves or ground into a paste but when coffee migrated from Ethiopia to Yemen, where it was cultivated during the 15th century, people began to experiment with its preparation and eventually it turned into the beverage it is today.

After the First World War, Tanzania, (then called Tanganyika) became a British Protectorate.  In the late 1920s a German farmer, subsidized by the German Government, established the coffee farm known today as Gibb’s Farm.  During the Second World War, the British Custodian of Enemy Property took over the farm.  Neglected through the war years, the farm was bought in 1948 by James Gibb, a British war veteran, who returned it to production.

James Gibb was able to successfully grow and sell coffee as a livelihood until politics interfered.  In 1961, Tanzania became independent and President Julius Nyerere decided to nationalize industries including the coffee industry, creating a national coffee board that producers had to sell their coffee to at a set price.  The set price was not very reasonable and many coffee producers found it hard to sustain their farms and continue to make a living.  James Gibb and his wife Margaret, whom he married in 1959, were facing a similar struggle to make ends meet on the farm but fortunately an opportunity presented itself in the form of the neighboring Ngorongoro Conservation Area. 

In 1960, the Serengeti National Park was partitioned and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area was established along the northern boundary of Gibb’s Farm.  As more and more visitors became attracted to the Conservation Area and surrounding National Parks, James and Margaret built cottages in 1972, making Gibb’s Farm one of the first traveler houses in Northern Tanzania.  After her husband died, Margaret continued the traveler house tradition and it has slowly transitioned into the luxury lodge it is today.  Coffee is still grown today at Gibb’s Farm but only for traveler’s enjoyment as it is not exported.

The coffee harvesting, processing, and roasting process is an interesting one with several different stages beginning with the coffee plant itself. 

Riziki Kateya, a SANAA artist-in-residence, captured the coffee plant (1) as the bean begins to ripen.  Travelers are able to walk through the coffee plants on many of the guided walks offered by Gibb’s Farm.  Depending on the season they will notice both green and red “berries” on the tree, such as the ones pictured in Riziki’s painting.  The green berries are unripe coffee berries but when they turn red, they are ready to harvest. 

Coffee harvesting at Gibb’s Farm takes place from August through the beginning of December.  When the red berries are ready to harvest they are hand picked and taken to the coffee processing plant.  In the photo at right, the skin of the beans is removed after soaking at the coffee factory, an operation that can be witnessed daily during coffee harvest season.  The vegetable garden walk takes one to this area, located at the foot of the Mikahawani Village where some of our staff live.

When the berries are picked, they are placed in the hand-powered machine located on the right side of the processing plant.  Each berry has two beans inside of it and these beans are placed in the fermentation tanks where they ferment for three days before they are washed to remove the second layer.  The coffee is then laid out to dry on screens in preparation for the next stage.

After the coffee is dry, the bean are placed in a wooden mortar and a wooden pestle is used to pound the bean, eventually removing another layer.  A close-up of Charles Bies’s sculpture, ‘Coffee Farm’ (2), depicts the mortar and pestle step of the coffee process.  Charles is a SANAA artist-in-residence.  This sculpture is made from Mpingo wood, also known as ebony wood, and is naturally two-toned with a lighter wood in the middle and a darker wood on the outside.

After the skin is removed with the mortar and pestle, the coffee is then ready to roast.  The roasting process involves a hand-operated roaster sitting atop a coal burning fire.  The beans are rotated inside this roaster for 30-45 minutes depending on the size of the fire and the desired degree of roast, as in the photo below.  After te beans have been roasted, they are poured onto an elevated screen and shaken and pushed around to help remove the last layer, which falls through the screen to the ground.  After this last layer is removed, the beans are now ready for grinding and brewing.  This old fashioned grinder may have been used in the past but nowadays, Gibb’s Farm uses a more modern grinder and brewer to ensure the quality of the coffee that is enjoyed by our travelers. 

To learn more about the coffee process be sure to schedule a walk through our vegetable garden to view the processing plant and to schedule a coffee roasting demonstration which includes descriptions and examples of the various stages of the beans and a chance to view the actual hand powered coffee roaster and roasting process complete with the enticing aroma of roasted coffee in the Bush Baby Place at the Main Farmhouse.  If you would like to participate in these activities please visit Reception for more information. 

We hope that travelers will enjoy the fruits of the coffee farms labor at our coffee station located inside the farmhouse and if you like the taste please visit the gift shop where Gibb’s Farm coffee can purchase. 

Although coffee is not cultivated in Mali, the colors and art of its Mud Cloth (3) highlights the coffee theme of this cottage.  Bogolanfini (“Bo-ho-lahn-FEE-nee”), which translates as “mud cloth” is a long established tradition among the Bamana, a Mande speaking people who inhabit a large area to the east and north of Bamako in Mali. The origin of this cloth is believed to lie in the Beledougou region of central Mali. Hand woven and hand-dyed mudcloth uses a centuries old process using numerous applications of various plant juices/teas and mud to dye hand woven cotton cloth. (note 1)

Each mud cloth has a story to tell. The symbols and the way in which they are arranged, as well as the color and shape of the mud cloth reveal a variety of different secrets- social status, a person's character or occupation are all things which a piece of mud cloth can reveal.  The colors also have meaning. For example rust represents strength and supernatural powers and is therefore a favored color.

Cross: Wealth and luxury. Circle: love of family and community. X: bed of bamboo and millet leaves used by woman who wishes to show her superiority to a co-wife. Three lines: spindle used in weaving cloth fabrics, including mud cloths. A very old and traditional design.

A hand-held loom, typically operated by men crates a six feet long cotton textile 45” wide which are then sewn together.  Women hand paint who has learned her art over generations.  The mud pigments is set to ferment for about a year.  The textile is first died yellow with tea which acts as a fixative for the mud. Soda is used to bleach some areas white.


note 1: Source: Africana Library, Cornell University,  Afrodecor,


Farm life in the late 1930‘s as documented by Dr. Albert Freiherr von Poelnitz, a German Duke that purchased land and started the coffee plantation land that is today the Gibb’s Farm.

(3) Mud Cloth of Mali

(1) Riziki Kateya, Coffee, off-set lithography from water color original in the Sanaa Gallery collection.  A Commissioned Sanaa work.

(2) Charles Bies, Coffee Farm,  Mpingo wood carving.  A Commissioned Sanaa work.

Sanaa Art Gallery Collection installed in each cottage.  Select works have been commissioned to carry the theme and lesson of the house.

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