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Beginner’s guide to Kenya Coffee

Article by The Editor
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Posted: January 06, 2021  
FYI

If you’re a coffee lover you’ve either tasted Kenyan coffee or you’ve heard so much about it that you want to get more of it. Kenyan Coffee is a big name in the coffee industry due to its wine-like acidity, potent sweetness, and pleasant aroma. Kenyan Coffee is well regarded in countries like the US, Canada, and Western Europe, where coffee consumption is high and consumers can pay rightfully. 

 

What makes Kenyan Coffee one of the best coffee in the world and how to find the right one is what we are going to discuss in this article. However, if you are looking for the best Kenya coffee beans and want to cut to the chase, our recommended choice is Bones Kenya Single-Origin Coffee.

 

Why is Kenyan coffee so rare and expensive?

Kenya produces only 49,980 metric tons of coffee. This number is sufficiently lower than its neighboring Uganda which produces 288,000 metric tons, and Ethiopia which produces 384,000 metric tons. These are quite small figures compared to the biggest producer of coffee in the world, Brazil which produces 2.6 million tons.

 

All in all, the point of mentioning all these numbers is to emphasize the scarcity of Kenyan Coffee. But another point worth noting is that none of these countries produces as good, aromatic, and flavor-rich coffee as Kenya’s. Therefore, the demand for Kenyan Coffee is high which raises its prices significantly. 

What Makes Kenyan Coffee So Special?

Kenyan Coffee belongs to the Arabica species of coffee which is the best family of coffee and accounts for 61% of coffee production in the world. However, it is more susceptible to disease as compared to robusta and other less viable varieties. There are numerous varieties of Arabica +coffee, depending on the plantation’s elevation from sea level, soil characteristics, and drying and brewing methods. 

 

Kenyan Coffee is planted in regions that have fertile and volcanic soil. These plantations are usually at a height of 1400-1700 meters above sea level and the total cultivated land for coffee is estimated to be 160,000 hectares. These conditions are almost impossible to find in other regions of the world with the same size of land. 

 

Kenya has devised a robust, advanced, and cooperative system of cultivation, harvesting, processing, milling, and marketing. Thus, their coffee is carefully graded, packaged unroasted, and exported to markets around the world. Hence, considered one of the most advanced producers of coffee, despite coffee arriving late to it just at the start of the 20th century. 

Varietals And Their Link To Different Regions

Kenya’s government was quick to identify its potential for export and employment. It hired Bell Labs back in the 1930s to find out the most economically viable coffee strains in the country. Thus, SL-28 and SL-34 emerged as the country’s most sought after beans around the world.  

 

Nonetheless, these varietals have their positives and negatives too. The SL34 is resistant to higher rainfalls but can only grow at higher elevations. Whereas SL28 can grow at medium to high elevation but it is more susceptible to coffee leaf rust. 

 

Besides these, Kent varietal can grow at lower elevation but it too can’t provide enough resistance to coffee leaf rust. Ruairi 11 is one varietal that has been found perfect for all elevations and resistant to coffee leaf rust as well as coffee berry disease. It is named after the region where it is grown. 

 

Other Kenyan regions where coffee is grown include Mt. Kenya West, Mt. Kenya south, Thika, Kirinyaga, hills of Mt. Elgon, Nyeri, Kiambu, and Muranga. If sourced directly, the nuances of each varietal can be observed but usually, they are mixed and the originality is lost. 

 

Like other coffee producers, Kenya has also been pushing for new hybrid varieties of arabica that can successfully withstand all kinds of diseases coffee plantations are susceptible to. However, these hybrids have not been able to replicate the taste of SL34 and SL28, and have, therefore garnered criticism.

Wet Processing And Harvesting

Kenya’s processing is different than other coffee producers in the world. It implies wet processing which yields a rich aromatic, winery richness, and full-body coffee beans. The fermentation process itself takes 36 hours to remove the slimy and sugary coating. After this, the beans are sun-dried and later sent for milling. 

 

The alternate method to this which is used in most parts of the world is dry processing, which is faster and cheaper but yields inferior quality. 

 

The harvesting is also a labor-intensive process, where beans are handpicked and only those that are fully ripe. Immature beans are left to ripe and this takes days. This is where child labor has been utilized for the better half of history and has thus garnered criticism.  

Buying Kenyan Coffee

Since a lot of Kenyan farms are small with some comprising only 50-500 trees, small farmers mostly sell off their coffee to large buyers during the harvesting season’s auction. Thereby losing their originality and making it difficult for outsiders to get a specific Kenyan Coffee varietal. 

 

However, Kenyan Coffee can be found easily around the world, although a bit expensive. The high price is justified by the manhours spent on the ground dealing with farmers and making sure the beans are pure. 

 

General practice is to select bigger beans with the understanding that their big size helps in retaining essential oils. Therefore, the bigger beans are graded AA and the ones second to them are graded AB. Some even consider the AB to be the better of the two beans. That is why we consider the shape, color, and density of equal importance. 

Why is Kenyan coffee so rare and expensive?

Kenya produces only 49,980 metric tons of coffee. This number is sufficiently lower than its neighboring Uganda which produces 288,000 metric tons, and Ethiopia which produces 384,000 metric tons. These are quite small figures compared to the biggest producer of coffee in the world, Brazil which produces 2.6 million tons.

 

All in all, the point of mentioning all these numbers is to emphasize the scarcity of Kenyan Coffee. But another point worth noting is that none of these countries produces as good, aromatic, and flavor-rich coffee as Kenya’s. Therefore, the demand for Kenyan Coffee is high which raises its prices significantly. 

What Makes Kenyan Coffee So Special?

Kenyan Coffee belongs to the Arabica species of coffee which is the best family of coffee and accounts for 61% of coffee production in the world. However, it is more susceptible to disease as compared to robusta and other less viable varieties. There are numerous varieties of Arabica +coffee, depending on the plantation’s elevation from sea level, soil characteristics, and drying and brewing methods. 

 

Kenyan Coffee is planted in regions that have fertile and volcanic soil. These plantations are usually at a height of 1400-1700 meters above sea level and the total cultivated land for coffee is estimated to be 160,000 hectares. These conditions are almost impossible to find in other regions of the world with the same size of land. 

 

Kenya has devised a robust, advanced, and cooperative system of cultivation, harvesting, processing, milling, and marketing. Thus, their coffee is carefully graded, packaged unroasted, and exported to markets around the world. Hence, considered one of the most advanced producers of coffee, despite coffee arriving late to it just at the start of the 20th century. 

Varietals And Their Link To Different Regions

Kenya’s government was quick to identify its potential for export and employment. It hired Bell Labs back in the 1930s to find out the most economically viable coffee strains in the country. Thus, SL-28 and SL-34 emerged as the country’s most sought after beans around the world.  

 

Nonetheless, these varietals have their positives and negatives too. The SL34 is resistant to higher rainfalls but can only grow at higher elevations. Whereas SL28 can grow at medium to high elevation but it is more susceptible to coffee leaf rust. 

 

Besides these, Kent varietal can grow at lower elevation but it too can’t provide enough resistance to coffee leaf rust. Ruairi 11 is one varietal that has been found perfect for all elevations and resistant to coffee leaf rust as well as coffee berry disease. It is named after the region where it is grown. 

 

Other Kenyan regions where coffee is grown include Mt. Kenya West, Mt. Kenya south, Thika, Kirinyaga, hills of Mt. Elgon, Nyeri, Kiambu, and Muranga. If sourced directly, the nuances of each varietal can be observed but usually, they are mixed and the originality is lost. 

 

Like other coffee producers, Kenya has also been pushing for new hybrid varieties of arabica that can successfully withstand all kinds of diseases coffee plantations are susceptible to. However, these hybrids have not been able to replicate the taste of SL34 and SL28, and have, therefore garnered criticism.

Wet Processing And Harvesting

Kenya’s processing is different than other coffee producers in the world. It implies wet processing which yields a rich aromatic, winery richness, and full-body coffee beans. The fermentation process itself takes 36 hours to remove the slimy and sugary coating. After this, the beans are sun-dried and later sent for milling. 

 

The alternate method to this which is used in most parts of the world is dry processing, which is faster and cheaper but yields inferior quality. 

 

The harvesting is also a labor-intensive process, where beans are handpicked and only those that are fully ripe. Immature beans are left to ripe and this takes days. This is where child labor has been utilized for the better half of history and has thus garnered criticism.  

Buying Kenyan Coffee

Since a lot of Kenyan farms are small with some comprising only 50-500 trees, small farmers mostly sell off their coffee to large buyers during the harvesting season’s auction. Thereby losing their originality and making it difficult for outsiders to get a specific Kenyan Coffee varietal. 

 

However, Kenyan Coffee can be found easily around the world, although a bit expensive. The high price is justified by the manhours spent on the ground dealing with farmers and making sure the beans are pure. 

 

General practice is to select bigger beans with the understanding that their big size helps in retaining essential oils. Therefore, the bigger beans are graded AA and the ones second to them are graded AB. Some even consider the AB to be the better of the two beans. That is why we consider the shape, color, and density of equal importance. 

 

About the author

The Editor

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