Overview Of Kenyan Coffee From Africa: Kenya contains the most exciting and complex things in the history of conquering the world of coffee. Although sharing a border with Ethiopia – The cradle of all coffee varieties, it took nearly 300 years after coffee was widely traded worldwide for coffee to be present in Kenya. The coffee varieties brought to Kenya traveled around the globe before they found their way back to the African continent.
Initially, coffee was produced on large estates under British colonial rule, and as a result, coffee was sold only in London. In 1933, the Coffee Act was passed, Kenya established the Kenya Coffee Board and took over the coffee trade. In 1934, the auction system was established, and it is still maintained to this day; a year later – 1935, new protocols for grading coffee were created to help improve quality.
History of coffee cultivation
The first coffee trees were brought to Kenya by Scottish and French missionaries. The French first brought the Bourbon breed to Tanzania and Kenya from Bourbon Island. Then it was the turn of the British to bring in the Mocha variety; different varieties continued to be brought in and contribute to the quality of Kenya’s coffee to this day.
During the British colonial period, coffee was grown centrally on plantations. In the 1920s, coffee became Kenya’s main export due to increasing demand from the European market. During the 1930s, the auction system was developed to democratize the need for farmers.
From the 1950s, an agricultural law was passed that marked the beginning of the transfer of coffee production from the British to the Kenyans. This significantly increased smallholder production, with total income increasing from £5.2 million in 1955 to £14 million in 1964. Notably, coffee production accounted for 55% of this increase.
Coffee production in Kenya
Kenya gained its independence in 1963 and has consistently produced high-quality coffee ever since. Agricultural research and development in Kenya are considered excellent, and many farmers are highly trained in coffee production. At the same time the Kenyan auction system has pushed manufacturers to focus on quality at better prices, the following figures were compiled by CafeImports in 2017:
- The population engaged in the coffee industry: approx. 700,000 won
- Average farm size: 1-14 hectares for smallholders, 15-50 hectares for large farms
- Annual export volume: 700,000 to 1 million bags (60 kg)
Kenya coffee farming operations:
- Coffee growing areas: Bungoma, Embu, Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Kisii, Machakos, Mt. Elgon, Murang’a, Nakuru, Nyeri, Taita Taveta, Thika, Tran-Nzoia
- Popular coffee varieties: SL28, SL34, French Bourbon, Ruiru 11, Batian, K7…
- Processing method: Kenya Washed – a wet process with a soaking process lasting from 12 to 72 hours
- Classification of coffee: Sorted by bean size, in which Kenya AA is the largest (17/18 ss), next is AB (15/16 ss), PB (peaberry – 16 ss or 4.74 mm)
Kenya SL-28 & SL-34
Two varieties of Kenya’s specialty coffees attract significant interest from the specialty coffee industry. They are named SL28 and SL34 in the Bourbon breed group and are among forty experimental varieties produced as part of a study led by Guy Gibson at Scott Agronomist Laboratories.
SL28 and SL34 make up the bulk of high-quality coffee from Kenya, but they are very susceptible to rust. A lot of work has been done to create rust-resistant varieties in Kenya.
Ruiru 11 was the first product to be considered a success by the Kenyan coffee industry, although specialty coffee buyers did not receive it well.
More recently, they released one called Batian. There is still some skepticism about its taste after Ruiru’s disappointment, although the quality seems to be improving positively, with greater expectations for Batian’s potential in the future.
Wet processing method
In addition to the specificity of the variety backed by the ideal altitude, processing also contributes significantly to the flavor profile of coffees from Kenya. Although the farming scale is small, coffee processing stations ( washing stations ) are top-rated.
At these processing stations, farmers bring in the harvested coffee, weigh it, get a receipt, and then put it in a device called a “depulper.” After the skin is peeled, the coffee is fermented for 24-48 hours, then put in a washing tank to remove mucus, and dried for 7-10 days (coffee is usually dried until the moisture is 11-12%).
How to classify Kenyan coffee?
Kenya uses a grading system for all its coffee exports, regardless of whether the lot is traceable or not. As in many other countries, the grading system uses a combination of particle size and quality (shape, color, and uniformity).
Although no research confirms that coffee quality depends on bean size, coffee is still classified as a specialty of coffee in Kenya – The more significant the beans, the higher the value.
The Kenya coffee grades select the most beans from Kenya AA-rated Kenya. This is followed by Kenya E (Elephant Bean), Kenya PB (Peaberry), Kenya AB, Kenya C, Kenya TT, Kenya T, and Kenya MH/ML.
Kenya coffee trading market
Coffee is sold in Kenya through two central systems: by auction at the Nairobi Coffee Exchange (Kenya capital) or through direct sales, commonly known as “Second Window”. . Since the establishment of the auction system in the 1930s when it was a British colony, most coffees in Kenya have been traded in this way. Through this system, the price of high-quality coffees can increase, as dealers will try to bid for high-quality coffee each week.
Each Co-operative society will work with a Marketing Agent responsible for bringing the coffee to the auction to sell to the highest bidder. Agents will charge a fee of 1.5-3% of the coffee price and pay taxes to the government on the sale of coffee. Dealers will market, sell their coffee to interested bidders, and bid the highest; the auction takes place every Tuesday throughout the year in Nairobi.
Direct Selling – Second Window
It’s simply a joint agreement between farmers and traders. The introduction of the 2nd door created another avenue in which farmers and buyers (e.g., roasters or importers) could negotiate a price separate from the auction at auction, with no intermediary clearance.