Kenyan coffees are renowned for their bright, often intense acidity, complex fruit flavours, and high premiums. The country is a relatively late entrant to the coffee growing world, with the first crop being recorded in 1896. Colonial British interests in the farming of coffee meant that large estates near Nairobi were the first to spring up, but by the 1950’s, much of this land had passed to Kenyan smallholders, along with the production
The Kenya auction system was set up in 1934, and still operates to this day, allowing marketing agents to taste the auction lots a week before they can bid on them, which is still how it operates to this day. Co-operatives now dominate the sourcing landscape, with each co-op generally having several wet mills, or processing stations, after which the coffee is generally names. Estates still exist, some smaller, some much bigger, but most big estates near Nairobi have now been subdivided and sold, as the land prices and demand have increased.
Chris & Ed have both visited Kenya, going to mills we’ve sourced from in the past, including Ichamama, Ichuga and Maganjo. Building long-term relationship sin Kenya is not as easy in other countries, as the inter-connected relationships between co-operative boards, marketing agents, export agents and importers is an ever-shifting picture. We also roast relatively small amounts of Kenyan coffee compared to other origins.
Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Embu and Meru are situated around the extinct volcano, Mount Kenya, and the Aberdare mountains. Rich red volcanic soils, high altitudes, plentiful rainfall and good processing result in some of the most distinctive, bright, coffees with high acidity. Smallholders are by far the most common, although a few estates exist. Murang’a and Kiambu are more central areas, centred around the towns of Thika, Ruiru and Limuru, where the altitude is slightly lower, and lager estates are more prevalent.
This coffee is grown by the smallholders who make up the New Ngariama farmers co-operative Society, and processed at the Kamwangi “factory” (wet mill) which was established in 1983. All coffee cherries are handpicked and are delivered to the mill the same day, where they undergo meticulous sorting. Factory employees oversee the process and any underripe or damaged cherries will not be accepted by the ‘Cherry Clerk’ – one of the most important harvest-period staff, who keeps meticulous records of how much coffee each producer delivers on any given day (and thus how much payment is due once the coffee has sold).
Kenya coffees tend to be bright and fruity, so expect: