Kenya may not be the world's top coffee producer, but the country's coffee is widely renowned worldwide for its unique flavor.
Ask any connoisseur, and you will hear praise about the fruity, delicious, and full-bodied taste of Kenyan coffee that is complex and certain to stay in your memory.
If you're eyeing a Kenyan AA blend for your next brew, then you might want to find out more about its origins and why you should consider adding it to your shopping list.
Is Coffee Grown in Kenya?
The crop is an essential source of livelihood for farmers in the country and contributes a large portion of Kenya's GDP to over 50 million Kenyans.
The most prolific coffee growing regions in Kenya are in Nairobi's central highlands, such as the high plateaus and elevations surrounding Mt Kenya and the Aberdare Range.
Beans grown and produced in Kenya draw a lot of interest among connoisseurs and export mainly to Germany, the US, and Belgium.
There are yet more areas growing coffee in Kenya, though on a smaller scale in
- Taita Hills
A lot of coffee from Kenya is for export, and only a little is available locally.
Kenya AA coffee is the most popular Kenya coffee, and it is the most common of Kenya coffees you can find near you. Coffee Kenya AA is not only famous, but also served at Starbucks.
What makes Kenyan coffee unique?
Although Kenya doesn't produce the most, it's favored by many experts for its unique flavor.
All Kenyan coffees of the arabica variety originate from Ethiopia. Robusta coffee, on the other hand, came from the forests of West Africa.Missionaries and colonialists in Kenya during the early 20th century had used French bourbon from Brazil and Reunion Islands.
In the 1950s, after the development of hybrids that were more flavorful and resistant to disease, the French bourbon stock was replaced.
Reviews often describe it as having a delightful aroma with fruity tones of cherry and an acidity like wine.
All these factors make the flavor-rich, complex, and memorable to even the most discerning taste buds.
What truly makes Kenyan beans stand out is the level of control the government has over its production.
The Kenyan government appreciates the value of coffee grown in the country and encourages farmers to pay extra attention to the coffee produced. Farmers may earn bonuses and free farm inputs from the government to entice farmers to keep growing the crop.
From this stage, the whole beans are sorted and graded by type and screen size. Kenya coffee beans are generally known as AA, but this is just one classification. However, it is considered to be the best Kenyan coffee and that of the highest quality.
The whole bean is then fermented, washed, and soaked before being packaged. One sisal bag weighs 50kg at the auction house, indicating the grade information about the beans inside.
This entire process is carefully monitored to ensure quality and is a testament to Kenya's efficient coffee industry.
What's the future of coffee growing in Kenya?
According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Kenya produced 650,000 bags of 60kg in 2019, a significant decline down from 750,000 60kg bags made in 2018. Moreover, the area planted with coffee is also decreasing, and every cooperative is not as effective as possible.
These problems trace back to the decrease in land dedicated to coffee production. Areas that grow the crop have enjoyed a property boom, so many farmers opt for developments that offer higher returns than agriculture.
Combined with the sub-division of land through inheritance, growing tea, and the fragmented cooperatives that control much of Kenya's coffee, it's no surprise available land.
It is decreasing, and current production is going down.The good news is that Kenyan coffee is still as celebrated as ever, and the demand has not waned. If anything, the decrease in production in Kenya could positively affect the crop in the future. Economics dictates that lower supply leads to higher prices.
As a result, Kenyan farmers may be encouraged to produce more and take advantage of higher prices.
What this could mean for you, unfortunately, is a higher price when you want to buy some Kenyan coffee.
However, keep in mind this is just speculation, but it wouldn't hurt to grab some of that excellent coffee today before it runs out or becomes pricier.
Kenyan Coffee History
You would think that neighboring coffee's birthplace would mean that coffee has been grown in Kenya for a long time, but you would be wrong.
Whereas Ethiopia has produced coffee for a millennium, Kenya, to its south, has a much shorter coffee history. The plant was first introduced in Kenya in 1893 by missionaries.
They probably got tired of waiting for imports of bourbon coffee from Brazil that took months by ship.
Besides, Ethiopia at the time was suffering a significant famine that had wiped out most of the country's crops, including coffee.
So, the missionaries started growing coffee in mission farms around Nairobi, though for consumption, sourced from Reunion Island. It was around 1900 that the British would increase Kenya's coffee production for commercial purposes.
Highland regions in central Kenya provided ideal weather conditions for coffee growing, such as adequate rainfall and the right amount of sunlight. Coincidentally, these areas also have acidic, volcanic soil that is perfect for coffee.
These highlands were close to the capital, Nairobi, also contributed to the allure of growing coffee in Kenya.
Production quickly grew in Kenya, as did the demand for Kenyan coffee that the country had to implement the 1933 Coffee Act. This law led to creating the Nairobi Coffee Exchange, where an open auction system ran weekly.
The system has been so successful in selecting the best beans through fair trade that it is considered the best in the world and even inspired the Cup of Excellence auctions held by Alliance for Coffee Excellence (ACE).
Despite Kenya's coffee auction system's success, it left out many of the natives from the process.
Back then, Kenya was a British colony, and coffee was grown by white settlers while the indigenous people provided cheap or free labor.
Therefore, Kenya's best coffee was selected for export at auction, leaving only the most inferior quality for sale within the country.
This changed after Kenya's independence in 1963 from the British when these farms turned over to Kenyans. Small-scale coffee farmers now organize into a cooperative while medium and large estates produce the rest.
The Nairobi Coffee Auction still runs weekly to this day, although a 2006 legislation allowed independent marketing agents to sell Kenyan coffee to foreign green coffee buyers.
Is Kenyan Coffee the best coffee in the world?
It's hard to say which coffee is the best. That is because drinking coffee is an experience, and everyone's preference is different. Besides, everyone tends to choose certain kinds of coffee based on its familiarity or unique characteristics.
For instance, kopi Luwak is one of the world's most expensive coffees
What do you think about drinking cat-poop coffee?
We're sure this will be a contentious issue, but what we can say for sure is that Kenyan coffee is among the best coffees in the world.
Kopi Luwak coffee comes from coffee beans that have been partially digested and pooped by a civet.
The digestive enzymes in the civet partially digest the coffee, reducing the acidity and making the coffee much smoother.
Many factors go into developing good coffee from the moment it's planted until it's finally in your cup. Initially, it's merely a matter of terroir, variety, and farming practices.
The Kenyan coffee already has a head start at this point because of the country's history of growing high-quality coffee variants and having favorable weather and environmental conditions.
The open auction system further motivated farmers to pick coffee berries at optimal ripeness. This coffee is then washed, which increases the wine like acidity and makes the flavors more evident.
From there, the coffee is roasted and blended, which comes down to your roaster. You are already well aware of the various roasting profiles, although mixing may be more complex.
Roasters will blend different varieties of coffee to create a consistent flavor experience throughout the year.
Blending also reduces the cost per pound of mixing high and low-quality components. The roaster's job is probably the most important because it can ruin a perfect green coffee beans batch.
Finally, you will have to brew the coffee yourself.
Tips for How to Get the Most out of Your Kenyan Coffee
Nobody likes to wake up to a bad cup of coffee… it's not how you want to start your day. To avoid this terrible situation, here are three tips to improve your coffee drinking experience:
1. Carefully Source Your Beans.
It is very tempting to order coffee from an online store or buy some from your local grocery store. Unfortunately, both sources lack freshly roasted coffee because it has to be kept on the shelf or in a warehouse for a long time.
Instead, you want to source single-origin coffee beans from a local roaster who only delivers freshly roasted coffee.
Not only do these local roasters cares about quality coffee, but their pride ensures you receive the best product.
Your coffee should also match the flavor of the coffee you're looking for. For example, if you like a full-bodied coffee (coffee that tastes like coffee), you should go for a dark roast.
On the other hand, light roast coffee would be ideal for you if you like fruity, citrus, and floral-y exotic flavors. Kenyan coffee is perfect for these flavors and could be great for pour-over coffee.
You may also consider low caffeine coffee varieties if you're sensitive to caffeine and quiet acid coffee if you want something easy on your stomach.
Note:To experience the full flavors, always choose single-origin best Kenyan coffee brands rather than blended coffee.
2. Use the right equipment.
Different coffee makers are suited for different coffee varieties, so you need to have the right equipment. For instance, if you have a French press, you should be looking for a medium roast like Kenya AA coffee beans or dark roast coffee.
Meanwhile, if you own an espresso machine should be great with some Italian coffees that also go well at a medium roast.
3. Try Cold Brew Kenyan Coffee.
Kenyan coffee is famed for its complex flavors, and a cold brew would extract most of the flavors. Unlike iced coffee, where the coffee is brewed and cooled, cold brew coffee does not use any heat.
Instead, the coffee is extracted between 2 and 21 degrees Celsius (35-70 F). The downside to cold brewing is that most of the acids responsible for the floral notes do not extract at low temperatures.
As a result, cold brew coffee from Kenyan coffee brands may lack some of these flavors, but the lower acidity might be useful for you.