Kenya is situated in East-Africa. The country is one of the most important coffee producers in the world. The birthplace of coffee is relatively close to Kenya but getting it there was not an easy task and full of bloodshed. The Arabs who controlled coffee enslaved thousands of Kenyan’s where they worked on the coffee plantations in Kenya and Arabia. However, it is widely believed that coffee was not produced in Kenya until 1893 when the Holy Ghost Fathers started to plant some trees from the Reunion Island. Other sources claim that the British introduced coffee around 1900. Until then, like other parts of the World, Kenyans consumed mostly tea.
In the first part of the 20th century, the interior was settled by British and European farmers who became rich by farming coffee on the backs of the Kenyan workers. By the 1930’s the farmer’s power grew stronger. Even with over 1 million Kikuyu tribe members calling it their home they had now real land claims according to the Europeans. To protect their interests, the wealthy Europeans forbid them to grow coffee, introduced a hut tax and gave them less and less for their labor. The Kikuyu were forced to leave their land and go to the cities in order to survive. This legal slavery of the population continued during the century until the British relinquished control in 1960. Despite all this bloodshed and slavery, Kenya coffee has flourished and is among one of the finest cups in the world.
When the Kenyans achieved independence in 1963 they structured their coffee industry with what, in retrospect, seems admirable foresight. They maintained a technically sophisticated research establishment, made use of the most advanced techniques in fruit removal and drying, developed efficiently run cooperatives of small holders, and organized their export industry around an open auction.
The coffee industry of Kenya is noted for its cooperative system of production, processing, milling, marketing, and auction system. About 70% of Kenyan coffee is produced by small- scale holders. It was estimated in 2012 that there were about 150,000 coffee farmers in Kenya and other estimates are that six million Kenyans were employed directly or indirectly in the coffee industry. The major coffee-growing regions in Kenya are the high plateaus around Mt. Kenya, the Aberdare Range, Kisii, Nyanza, Bungoma, Nakuru, Kericho and to a smaller scale in Machakos and Taita.
The acidic soil in highlands of central Kenya, just the right amount of sunlight and rainfall provide excellent conditions for growing coffee plants. Coffee from Kenya is of the ‘Colombia mild’ type and is well known for its intense flavor, full body, and pleasant aroma with notes of cocoa and high-grade coffee from Kenya is one of the most sought-after coffees in the world. However, due to a property boom in areas that grew coffee and price instability production in this African Great Lakes country fell from about 130,000 metric tons in 1987/8 to 40,000 tons in 2011/12.
Today around 250,000 Kenyans are employed in the production of coffee. Most are produced by small landholders that are members of cooperatives that process their own coffee. Still, even with this Kenya coffee’s specialty status Kenya coffee farmers still remain among the poorest in the world. In 2001 a farmer producing 1,007 kg crop would only earn £20.14 for his labor, that same coffee is available at specialty stores for $10 + per pound.
While it may be widely known as a type of Kenya coffee, Kenya AA is actually a classification of coffee grown in Kenya. All Kenyan coffee is graded after it is milled. Grades are assigned based on the screen size of the bean. Beans with a screen size of 17 or 18 (17/64 or 18/64 of an inch) are assigned the grade AA, generally the largest bean. While the large bean size is considered by many to be a sign of quality, it is important to note that it is only one of many factors in determining high-quality coffee.
Kenya is both the most balanced and the most complex of coffee origins. A powerful, wine-toned acidity is wrapped in sweet fruit. Although the body is typically medium in weight, Kenya is almost always deeply dimensioned. Sensation tends to ring on, resonating like a bell clap rather than making its case to the palate and standing pat. Some Kenyans display dry, berryish nuances, others citrus tones. The berry-toned Kenyans are particularly admired by some coffee buyers. Finally, Kenya coffees are almost always clean in the cup. Few display the shadow defects and off-tastes that often mar coffees from other origins.
Coffee is produced by approximately 700,000 small-scale growers and 3,411 plantations. The small-scale growers are organized under a cooperative system with the co-operative societies numbering 600 nationally. The coffee industry has been an important contributor to the dominance of the agricultural sector in the Kenyan GDP. Since its introduction as a cash crop, it has remained one of the most important products of the country’s economy.
The industry, due to its forward and backward linkages, supports about 5 million Kenyans. It is a source of employment and livelihood to many Kenyans and plays a central role in the fight against poverty and food insecurity. It was a major foreign exchange earner until 1987/88 when it was overtaken by other sectors and is now ranked 4th after horticulture, tea, and tourism. The industry now contributes about 3.2% of Kenya’s foreign exchange earnings, a drop from the 40% contribution in the good years gone by. The current production levels stand at 55,000 metric tons.
The coffee industry contributes about 0.2% to national GDP and about 8% of the total agricultural export earnings. The acreage under coffee is currently at 113,500 Ha, with cooperatives accounting for 66 percent of this acreage and producing 70 percent of the total production.
Kenya coffee has a bright acidity and a wonderful sweetness with a dry winy aftertaste. A really good Kenya coffee will also have a black-current flavor and aroma. Some of the world’s finest coffees come from Kenya and as a single origin coffee, it wins praise at the cupping table. Kenya has this level of quality through a government-run system that offers rewards to farmers for producing better quality coffee. This policy has lead to steady improvements and consistent improvements in the cups quality. Each lot of Kenya coffee, if it is from a large farm or a small co-op has to undergo rigorous testing for quality by the Coffee Board of Kenya.