Kenyan Coffee: History, Taste, Plantation, Best Products
Kenya is famous for its numerous tourist destinations from the many national parks full of wildlife to some of the finest beaches in Africa. But, what you might not know is that it also produces some of the finest coffee in the world.
Kenyan AA coffee is up there with the best coffees from across the world. But, like with any other coffee-growing region, the best Kenyan coffee is not all about AA as there are also many other good grades of coffee from the country such as Kenya E and PB. Also, as a coffee enthusiast, there is still way much more to know about Kenyan coffee.
Here we highlight the key things that make Kenyan coffee special and also provide an overview of some of the best coffee brands from the country.
Flavor Profile – Coffee from different parts of Kenya will exhibit different nuanced flavors, and this is more so when being tasted by a trained coffee connoisseur. But, with most of this coffee, you will typically get hints of lemongrass, berries, and bergamot. Generally, the flavor profiles are bright and with deep acidity and will offer a unique tropical taste.
Aroma – Kenyan coffee is also known for its pleasant aroma that is often characterized by notes of chocolate. Also, with this coffee, you can expect to get fresh floral aromas that will always excite your scent glands.
Processing – Like with many other top coffee growing regions, most of the coffee in Kenya is wet-processed before the beans are sun-dried and sent off from the farm. With the wet-processing method, this coffee ends up producing a cup that is cleaner, brighter and a little fruitier when compared to other processing methods.
History of Planting Kenyan Coffee
Despite Kenya bordering Ethiopia which is believed to be where coffee originated from, coffee was not grown in the country until the early 1890s.
There are different accounts as to who actually brought coffee to Kenya. But, the most widely accepted account is that the first few plants were brought over and planted by missionaries which coincidentally is the same as with many other coffee-growing countries across the world.
Initially, coffee was only grown in the larger British-run farms around the capital Nairobi, but the plantations were later moved to the mountain. Also, in the early 1900s, a coffee auction for Kenyan coffee was set up in London.
And in 1933, a coffee act was enacted by the Kenyan legislature that led to the formation of the Coffee Board of Kenya that was tasked with organizing the industry from the plantation to processing and marketing the coffee.
In the following decades, the sector faced numerous challenges with minimal growth during the struggle for independence. And once Kenya got independence from the British in the early 1960s, more and more indigenous Kenyans got into coffee farming.
In the years that followed, Kenyan coffee farmers organized themselves into coffee farming cooperatives a model that is still widely used to date by small scale coffee farmers and is often credited with the growth of the sector.
How It Is Produced
Coffee in Kenya is mostly produced by small scale farmers under corporative societies. The corporative societies help the small farmers with milling, marketing and even auctioning off the coffee and also help to ensure only the highest coffee standards are maintained.
There are more than 150,000 small scale farmers that produce about 2/3 of Kenya's coffee with the remaining 1/3 being produced by larger estates across the country. And on average, the country produces around 60 million kilograms of coffee every year.
Given that most Kenyans are fond of drinking tea instead of coffee, about 95% of the coffee produced in the country is exported.
And while there are still many farmers in the country that grow Robusta, Arabica is the more prevalent coffee type produced in Kenya.
Kenya’s climate is perfectly suited for the growth of coffee. Coffee grows in fertile volcanic soils and at high elevations that are often between 1,400 and 2,000 meters above sea level.
The fertile deep volcanic soils that are also well-drained are perfect for the growth of Arabica coffee. These soils are also acidic with a pH that ranges between 5.3 and 6.0 which makes them even more ideal for coffee.
Arabica coffee also needs more rain to thrive and in Kenya, the 1,000 mm to 2,000 mm rainfall per annum in most coffee growing areas which is also well distributed across the year is perfect for this coffee type.
Main Coffee Growing Regions
While Kenya might be among the top 20 coffee producers in the world, coffee is only grown in a few areas in the country.
Central – The central region is one of the most fertile parts of Kenya, and it is where a majority of Kenyan coffee is grown. The main coffee growing areas in the central region are Nyeri, Kiambu, Murang’a, Kirinyaga and Thika. Besides the small scale farmers, the central region also has most of the large coffee estates.
Eastern – Eastern region has some high altitudes areas like Meru which are known for producing rich and highly flavorful Kenyan coffee. Other coffee-producing areas in the Eastern region are Embu, Machakos, and Tharaka.
Coast – While the Kenyan coastal region is mostly arid land that does not receive a lot of rain, there is still some good coffee growing regions like Taita Taveta. What the region lacks in rain it makes up with good sunshine that is handy for both coffee growth and drying.
Western – The Western region is one of Kenya’s food basket thanks to fertile soils and consistent rains every year, and it also produces some of the best Kenyan coffee beans. Here there are several coffee farmers in Bungoma, Kakamega, and Vihiga.
Nyanza – Nyanza region is the area around Lake Victoria and the high altitudes with elevations of at least 1, 130 meters above sea level make it ideal for the growth of coffee. Also, the region has rich loamy soils in areas like Nyamira, Kisii, and Oyugis that make it ideal for growing coffee.
How to Roast It
Kenyan coffee beans can take well to a variety of roasts, but in most instances, a light roast is preferred as it helps to emphasize the subtle fruity flavors of these Arabica beans. However, going for a slightly darker roast can also be a good idea as it will help enhance and promote the sweeter berry flavors in the beans.
But, it is worth noting that the different grades of coffee beans produced in the country will respond differently to heat, and so what you buy should help you determine the ideal roast to use.
Overall with a very light roast (which is quite popular with Kenyan coffee), you get starchy coffee with banana and malty nuances while a darker roast will always bring out the caramel and cocoa tones and make them more prominent in the cup. But, you can also go for a light roast to strike a nice balance between the two extremes.
Note: With the Kenyan coffee beans, a key determinant of well-roasted beans lies in the drying stage in the roasting process because if it is done well it enhances the sweetness and also helps to give the beans a mouthfeel.
Best Brewing Methods
Kenyans are not known for being heavy coffee drinkers and very few communities in the country have a coffee drinking culture. Hence, there is no popular traditional method of brewing coffee in the country.
However, in the coastal region, Swahili men have embraced a coffee-drinking culture over the last few decades with "Kahawa Chungu” being their preferred brew.
Kahawa chungu loosely translates to bitter coffee which is brewed in a tall brass kettle over a charcoal stove and its bitterness comes from the addition of spices like ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom.
But, other good ways of brewing Kenyan coffee are French press, Aeropress and cold brew because these steeping methods will bring out maximum flavor from the coffee. Also, coffee experts recommend you make the coffee stronger and the grounds finer to highlight the brightness and acidic nature of the beans better.
Kenyan coffee beans are often considered some of the best for cold brewing. With cold brewing, you get to preserve the subtle floral and fruity notes in your coffee beans and because Kenyan coffee beans are known for their juicy flavors they will give you some great tasting cold brews.
Summary of Facts about Kenyan Coffee
1. Kenya produces over 50,000 tons of coffee every year and exports 95% of it
2. There are about 160,000 hectares planted in coffee in Kenya
3. The coffee sector in the country employs about 6 million people
4. 2/3 of the coffee in Kenya is grown by small scale farmers and 1/3 by large coffee estates
5. Most of the coffee grown in Kenya is high-quality Arabica
6. Coffee is the fourth largest foreign income earner for Kenya after tourism, tea, and horticulture
7. Most of the Kenyan coffee is wet-processed and sun-dried
8. The coffee industry in Kenya is in a decline due to price instability and property booms
9. Coffee farmers in Kenya are still among the poorest in the world
10. Most Kenyans prefer to drink tea over coffee
5 Best Kenyan Coffee Brands
1. Volcanica Coffee AA Kenyan Coffee Bean
If you are on the lookout for the best Kenyan AA coffee, here is a great option for you from Volcanica Coffee which is one of the most reputable coffee brands globally.
The beans are pure Kenyan AA coffee and with a rich body and vibrant acidity, and they are characterized by a pleasant aroma and a nice aftertaste with berries and citrus overtones. Also, these whole beans come in a medium roast that will allow the true flavor characteristics of the coffee to come out.
With these whole beans, you also get maximum freshness always as they are roasted as close to packaging as possible and in a state of the art facility. And like most other top-grade Kenyan coffee beans, they are wash-processed and sun-dried.
With single-origin Kenya coffee beans like these ones by Fresh roasted, you can be confident of consistency in every cup. The beans are from the rich soils of Nyeri in Kenya's central region, and so you can be sure of getting the finest quality and richest taste.
The whole beans are freshly roasted into a medium roast which besides preserving maximum flavor also ensure you get the best balance between acidity, aroma, and flavor.
These are also 100% Arabica coffee that will not contain any additives or preservative and despite being top-quality Kenyan AA coffee, they are quite affordable per ounce.
Here is yet another great option for anyone looking for that authentic Kenyan coffee taste. And because these are AA beans, they are as good as Kenyan coffee gets.
These AA coffee beans come in a light roast which is always perfect for Kenyan coffee as it enhances all the subtle fruity flavors that characterize this amazing coffee. And the light roast is slightly darker than regular light roast beans.
The body is also more balanced but not too heavy like coffee from other parts of the world, and the acidity is slightly above the medium mark which means this coffee should appeal to most lovers. And for 100% grade AA Kenyan coffee, it is still quite reasonably priced.
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With this single-origin pure Kenyan coffee, you can be sure that you will get that distinctive taste and flavor that makes coffee from Kenya one of the best. Single-origin means it is sourced from one place to ensure everything from the bean size to flavor is more consistent.
But, what truly makes these coffee beans amazing is the fact that they are full-bodied and deliver a bright coffee and a more distinctive aroma that will always fill up your house when making your morning caffeine fix.
For the little over a quarter of a kilo pack, this Kenyan coffee is also quite affordable, and it is also freshly roasted and properly packaged to preserve freshness for long.
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Peaberry coffee is always one of the best coffee you can get anywhere. Also, it is the rarest coffee in any plantation, and if you are looking for Kenyan Peaberry coffee look no further as you can be certain this one by Volcanica Coffee will be perfect for you.
These beans will always give you a bright cup characterized by low acidity which makes it bearable for any coffee drinker and also some nice floral tones and a hint of citrus. The beans are more full-bodied and they are incredibly complex and with some amazing fruit flavors.
Volcanica offers these coffee beans in a medium roast to ensure they preserve maximum flavor and aromas. Better yet, they are only roasted when you place your order, and this ensures you always get them as fresh as possible.
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The high elevations and loamy volcanic soils in most coffee growing regions in Kenya make it one of the best coffee growing regions in the world.
Kenya grows some of the best quality Arabica coffee, and it is one of the largest coffee producers in the world. And if you are a true coffee lover, you have to taste some Kenyan coffee.
Finding the best Kenyan coffee or at least something that appeals to your taste buds should now be super easy as we highlight everything you need to know about it above and also provide top 5 Kenyan coffee reviews to give you recommendations.