Kenyan

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Kenyan Coffee is a pale green Arabica coffee bean with a rich liquor. Kenyan coffee has a bright taste with a natural sweetness and intense acidity.

Kenya and Tanzania are the only serious Arabica growers in Africa, where other countries grow Robusta, the wild coffee bush from the Congo. Ironically, it took about 600 years for Arabica, discovered in Yemen, to reach nearby Kenya and only then when French missionaries brought Bourbon coffee plants from Réunion in 1893, so yielding Kenya's first crop in 1896. At first, coffee was grown by the British under colonial rule, but during the 1950s coffee was transferred from the British to Kenyans, many on smallholdings. This has resulted in a good mix of smallholders and large estates, i.e. some fairness in the agricultural system.

Initially, all coffee was sold in London, but after 1933, coffee was sold in Kenya itself, as it continues to be today. This allowed a modern quality control system to be developed early, so ensuring a high standard of Kenyan coffee at premium prices. The superior reputation of Kenyan coffee depends on accurate grading and removal of any sour (overripe) beans. The high-quality Arabica beans are sold by grade and even Peaberry is graded out and sold separately; these have the flavour and body that is normally packed into two beans. Furthermore, research and development in Kenya is of a high standard, with farmers often very well educated in coffee production.

Grading and Varieties

In general, Kenyan coffees are rich and aromatic. Their strength lies in their acidity, which is very pronounced, but quite different from Ethiopian acidity. High-grown Kenyan coffees has a natural sweetness and a full flavour when only lightly roasted. Kenyan coffee should only be medium roasted. Kenyan coffee's natural acidity would turn to a bitter and sour taste, if high roasted.

As above, it is Kenya's strong grading system for export coffee that ensures the high quality tastes as above. The grading system uses a mix of quality and sizing standards to categorise the beans.

Grade Name or Size Description
E Elephant Beans Largest size of Kenyan coffee beans
AA Greater than 7.2 mm (screen 18) A more common grade of larger beans, which fetch high prices.
AB 6.2 - 6.8 mm (screen 15 - 16) A mix of A and B grades, accounting for 30% of Kenyan coffee
PB Peaberry Single beans that have grown as such in coffee cherry instead of two.
C Smaller than 6.2 mm (screen 15) This grade should not be found in high-quality coffees.
TT - Small beans usually sorted out from the E, AA and AB grades.
T Chips and broken pieces The smallest grade.
MH/ML Mbuni Heavy, Mbuni Light Low quality, including underripe or overripe beans, which sell for a low price. About 7% of annual production.

Kenya has developed many of its own experimental varieties at Scott Laboratories. The best are SL-28 and SL-34, but these get leaf rust. Newer varieties that are leaf rust-resistant, including Ruiru 11 and Batian, have been developed. However, their taste profiles are not great, particularly Ruiru 11, but Batian [1] is better. However, SL-28 and SL-34 [2] are the best if you can identify them.

Coffee Regions In Kenya

Embu

Named for Embu town, this region is located near Mount Kenya. About two-thirds of people are small-holders, who grow tea and coffee.

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

Kiambu

Large estates cover much of Kiambu. However, quite a number of estates have been sold, because urbanisation has resulted in land being highly valued for development. Many estates are owned by multinationals with much of production mechanised and grown for yield rather than quality.

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

Kirinyaga

Kiriyanyaga is east of Nyeri and its soils are volcanic. Coffee is grown mainly by smallholders, with the local washing stations producing some really good beans that are worth tasting.

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

Kisii

Kisii is a small coffee region, located in the south-west Kenya, near Lake Victoria. Most coffee is from co-operatives of smallholders.

Altitude: 1,450 - 1,800 m (4,750 - 5,900 ft) Harvest: October - December (main crop); June - August (fly crop) Varieties: SL-28, SL-34, Blue Mountain, K7

Machakos

Machakos is a small county, centrally located in Kenya. Large estates cover much of Kiambu. Coffee farms are mix of estates and smallholdings.

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

Meru

Meru is named for the Meru people. Coffee is grown on the north and eastern slopes of Mount Kenya and in the Nyambene Hills.

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

Murang'a

Murang'a is located in central province, benefiting from volcanic soils. Most coffee is grown on smallholdings rather than estates.

Altitude: 1,350 - 2,300 m (4,400 - 6,400 ft) Harvest: October - December (main crop); June - August (fly crop) Varieties: SL-28, SL-34, Ruiru 11, Batian

Nakura

Nakura is centrally located, with some of the highest grown coffees in Kenya. Coffee is grown on both smallholdings and larger estates.

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

Nyeri

Nyeri is where Mount Kenya is located, in central Kenya, and where farming is the key economic activity. Nyeri's red volcanic soils produce the best coffees in Kenya. Most of the coffee is grown on smallholdings, which are organised as co-operatives, with some large estates. The best coffees come from the main crop, but decent one's come from the fly crop.

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

Trans-Nzoia, Keio and Marakwet

Located in Western Kenya, this is a small region of coffee production. Most of Trans-Nzoia's farming is dairy and maize, with some coffee for diversification. Some of its best coffees comes from Mount Elgon, which gives some altitude.

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

References

  1. Coffee & Conservation (2011) New Kenyan Coffee Varietal [1]. Accessed 7 December 2015.
  2. Serious Eats (2013) Coffee Varieties: SL-28 [2]. Accessed 7 December 2015.

Further Reading

  • Dowell, P., Bailey, A. (1980) The Book of Ingredients, Dorling Kindersley. ISBN 0718119150.
  • Hoffmann, J. (2014) The World Atlas of Coffee, Mitchell Beazley. ISBN 9781845337872.