Coffee Origins: Kenya

Vietnamese Coffee Exporter
Coffee Origins: Kenya

Kenya? Despite the fact that Ethiopia is known as the birthplace of coffee, Kenya did not begin manufacturing until much later. Coffee was first imported to the United States in 1893 by French missionaries who carried coffee trees from Réunion. The majority of people agree that the coffee they brought was Bourbon. In 1896, it produced its first crop.

Coffee was first grown on enormous estates under British colonial authority, and the harvest was then sold in London. The Coffee Act of 1933 was passed, establishing a Kenyan Coffee Board and bringing coffee sales back to Kenya. The auction system was developed in 1934 and is still in use today; a year later, criteria for grading coffee were established to help enhance quality.

An agricultural act was created not long after the Mau Mau insurrection in the early 1950s to construct family estates that mixed subsistence farming with the production of cash crops for additional income. The Swynnerton Plan, named after a Department of Agriculture official, was the name given to this measure. This marked the beginning of the Kenyans taking over coffee production from the British. Smallholding revenue increased from £5.2 million in 1955 to £14 million in 1964, indicating a major impact on productivity. Coffee output, in particular, contributed to 55% of the rise.

Kenya got independence in 1963 and today produces consistently high-quality coffees from various sources. Kenya’s research and development are praised, and many farmers are well-versed in the art of coffee cultivation. The Kenyan auction system should assist to reward quality-focused growers with higher prices, but corruption inside the system may prevent those bonuses from reaching the farmers.

Regardless of whether the lot is traceable or not, Kenya uses a grading system for all of its exported coffee. The grading system, like in many other nations, is based on a mix of bean size and quality. The definitions clearly describe the size and, to a degree, they also presume that quality is related to bean size. While this is typically true — the AA lots are often the best – I’ve lately seen harvests where the AB lots were more complicated and of greater quality than many of the AA lots.

E — These are the elephant beans, which are the largest in size, hence lots are usually small.
AA — This is a more typical grade for screens larger than screen size 18, or 7.22mm (see Sizing and Grading). These usually command the greatest prices.

AB – This grade is a mix of A (screen size 16, or 6.80mm) and B (screen size 16, or 6.80mm) (screen size 15, or 6.20mm). This grade accounts for around a third of Kenya’s annual output.
PB — This is the grade for peaberries, which have only one bean instead of the normal two inside the coffee cherry.
C – This is the next grade size down from AB. This is a rare grade to find in a high-quality coffee.
TT – A smaller grade, usually made up of the smaller beans leftover from the AA, AB, and E grades. The lightest beans are normally TT grade in density sorting.
T – The lowest grade, which is frequently comprised of chips and shattered bits.

Mount Heavy and Mbuni Light are abbreviated as MH/ML. Naturally processed coffees are referred to as Muni. These are low-quality beans that often contain underripe or overripe beans and are sold for a low price. They contribute roughly 7% of the total annual output.

Kenyan coffee is farmed on big estates as well as by smallholders who deliver their crop to a nearby washing station. This implies that while single estate coffees can be incredibly traceable, higher-quality coffees are increasingly coming from smallholders in recent years. Typically, a specific lot from a washing station may still have a size grade (such as AA), despite the fact that that lot may have come from a group of several hundred farmers. These washing stations (also known as factories) contribute to the final product’s quality, thus these coffees are definitely worth checking out.

The specialty coffee market is particularly interested in two Kenyan types. These are SL-28 and SL-34, two of the forty experimental types developed as part of Guy Gibson’s study at Scott Laboratories. Although they make up the majority of Kenya’s high-quality coffee, they are prone to leaf rust.
In Kenya, a lot of effort has gone into developing rust-resistant cultivars. Although it was not well welcomed by specialty coffee consumers, Ruiru 11 was the first to be deemed a success by the Kenyan Coffee Board. They’ve lately released a new variety named Batian.

After the disappointment of Ruiru, there is still some skepticism about Batian’s cup quality, but quality appears to be increasing, and there is greater optimism about Batian’s future potential for exceptional cup quality.


Population: 48,460,000

Number of 60kg (132lb) bags in 2016: 783,000

Central Kenya produces most of the nation’s coffee, and the best Kenyan coffees come from this part of the country. There is growing interest in the coffees being produced in Western Kenya, in the Kisii, Trans-Nzoia, Keiyo, and Marakwet regions.


The central region of Nyeri is home to the extinct volcano of Mount Kenya. The red soils here produce some of the best coffee in Kenya. Agriculture is hugely important to the area and coffee is one of the main crops. Cooperatives of smallholder producers are common, rather than large estates. The coffee trees in Nyeri produce two crops a year and the main crop tends to produce higher-quality lots.

Altitude: 1,200–2,300m (3,900–7,500ft)
Harvest: October–December (maincrop), June–August ( y crop)
Varieties: SL-28, SL-34, Ruiru 11, Batian


Around 100,000 farmers produce coffee in the Murang’a region, within the Central Province. This inland region was one of the rst to be settled by missionaries, who were prevented from settling around the coast by the Portuguese. This is another region that bene ts from the volcanic soil, and also has more smallholders than estates.

Altitude: 1,350–1,950m (4,400–6,400ft)
Harvest: October–December (maincrop), June–August ( y crop)
Varieties: SL-28, SL-34, Ruiru 11, Batian


The eastern neighbor of Nyeri, this county also bene ts from volcanic soils. The coffee tends to be produced by smallholders and the washing stations have been producing some very high-quality lots that are well worth trying.

Altitude: 1,300–1,900m (4,300–6,200ft)
Harvest: October–December (maincrop), June–August ( y crop)
Varieties: SL-28, SL-34, Ruiru 11, Batian


Near Mount Kenya, this region is named after the town of Embu. Approximately seventy percent of the population are small-scale farmers, and the most popular cash crops are tea and coffee. Almost all of the coffee comes from smallholders and the region is a relatively small producer.

Altitude: 1,300–1,900m (4,300–6,200ft)
Harvest: October–December (maincrop), June–August ( y crop)
Varieties: SL-28, SL-34, Ruiru 11, Batian, K7


Coffee is grown on the slopes of Mount Kenya and in the Nyambene Hills, mostly by smallholders. The name refers to both the region and the Meru people who inhabit it. In the 1930s, these people were among the first Kenyans to produce coffee, as a result of the Devonshire White Paper of 1923, which asserted the importance of African interests in the country.

Altitude: 1,300–1,950m (4,300–6,400ft)
Harvest: October–December (maincrop), June–August ( y crop)
Varieties: SL-28, SL-34, Ruiru 11, Batian, K7


This central region’s production is dominated by large estates. However, the spread of urbanization has seen the number of estates decline as owners have found it more pro table to sell their land for development. Coffees from the region are often named for places within it, such as Thika, Ruiru, and Limuru. Many of the estates are owned by multinational companies, which means that farming practices are often mechanized with an eye towards higher yields rather than quality. There are a reasonable number of smallholders in the region, too.

Altitude: 1,500–2,200m (4,900–7,200ft)
Harvest: October–December (maincrop), June–August ( y crop)
Varieties: SL-28, SL-34, Ruiru 11, Batian


This is a relatively small county in the center of the country, named after the town of Machakos. Coffee production here is a mixture of estates and smallholders.

Altitude: 1,400–1,850m (4,600–6,050ft)
Harvest: October–December (maincrop), June–August ( y crop)
Varieties: SL-28, SL-34


This region, in the center of the country, has some of the highest-growing coffee in Kenya. However, some trees suffer from ‘dieback’ at high altitudes and stop producing. The region is named after the town of Nakuru. Coffee is produced by a mixture of estates and smallholders, although production is relatively low.

Altitude: 1,850–2,200m (6,050–7,200ft)
Harvest: October–December (maincrop), June–August ( y crop)
Varieties: SL-28, SL-34, Ruiru 11, Batian


This region is in the southwest of the country, not far from Lake Victoria. It is a relatively small region and most of the coffee comes from cooperatives of small producers.

Altitude:                                 1,450–1,800m (4,750–5,900ft)

Harvest:              October–December (maincrop), June–August ( y crop) Varieties:               SL-28, SL-34, Blue Mountain, K7


This relatively small area of production in Western Kenya has seen some growth in recent years. The slopes of Mount Elgon provide some altitude, and most of the coffee comes from estates. Coffee is often planted to diversify farms that once focused on maize or dairy.

Altitude: 1,500–1,900m (4,900–6,200ft)
Harvest: October–December (maincrop), June–August ( y crop)
Varieties: Ruiru 11, Batian, SL-28, SL-34



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