Kenya is renowned for producing some of the world’s highest quality coffees. Its proximity to the equator, temperate climate, high altitudes and volcanic soils create ideal growing conditions for coffee. Kenya is one of twenty countries that make up East Africa. It is bordered by Ethiopia to the North, South Sudan to the northwest, Somalia to the east, Uganda to the west, Tanzania to the south, and the Indian Ocean to the southeast which is home to the port of Mombasa.
Coffee first arrived in Kenya in the form of the Bourbon variety which was introduced by missionaries at the end of the nineteenth century. Following its introduction, the coffee industry blossomed under colonial rule as British owned farms and coffee systems capitalised on increasing demand in Europe. The coffee system was relinquished by the colonial administration after Kenya regained its independence in 1963. Sixty percent of Kenya’s coffee is grown in the central region that runs from just north of Nairobi up to Mount Kenya. Kenya has two significant rainy seasons, which allows coffee to produce two crops per year. The long rains fall during March to June; these trigger flowering for the main crop that is picked between October and January. Light rains fall between October and December and trigger flowering for the “fly crop”, which harvested between June and August
|Annual production:||833,000 bags|
|Altitude range:||1200 - 2300 masl|
|No coffee farmers:||600,000|
|Harvest times:||June – August (fly), October – March (main)|
|Key growing regions:||Nyeri, Murang’a, Embu, Kirinyaga, Machakos, Kisii, Nakuru, Marsabit, Meru, & Kiambu|
|Typical varieties:||SL28, SL34, Ruiru 11, Kent, French Mission Bourbon, K7|
|Grading system:||Sorted by size with AA the largest at Screen Size 17/18, AB at Screen Size 15/16 and PB at Screen Size 16|
|Processing type:||Mainly Washed, with a small amount of Natural and Honey|
There are over 600,000 smallholder coffee producers which make up around 75% of total production in Kenya. These producers tend to small farms, growing an average of coffee 1500 trees on 1-5 acres of land. The Kenyan Coffee system is built on Cooperatives. Smallholder coffee growers (<5 hectares) deliver cherries to some 550 cooperative run washing stations scattered around the coffee growing regions. These co-ops, or ‘Coffee Factories’, accept deliveries of freshly picked coffee cherries, paying farmers initially on weight and quality.
Coffee is processed and dried by the Washing Stations before making its way to auction through marketing agents. The rest of Kenyan coffee is produced on estates, of which there are around 3300. The main and most recognised varieties grown throughout Kenya are those developed by Scott Laboratories, a research centre based in Kenya, during the 1950s. The lab’s SL28 and SL34 varieties were originally developed for their resistance and high yields, but have become known for their full-bodied, winey and berry-like cup profiles and have now replaced much of the original French Bourbon. Other notable varieties cultivated in Kenya are Batian and Ruiru 11, both of which are more commonly found in the Estate sector.