A Brief History of Kenyan Coffee
Kenyan coffees today are some of the most prized and sought after coffees in the world, but this region's history will surprise many...
Coffee is thought to have been first cultivated by humans directly north of Kenya in Ethiopia some 1000 years ago. But despite Kenya’s close proximity to coffee’s birthplace, the coffee tree was not cultivated in Kenya until the late 19th century when French (and later English) colonists brought the plant to be harvested in Kenya’s rich, mountainous soil as cash-crop with intention of exporting it to Europe and North America.
England held Kenya as a coffee and tea producing powerhouse to supply the ever-increasing demand for caffeine in Europe until the mid 20th Century when Kenya won its independance.
Kenyan Coffee Economy
With Kenya’s independence won, control of their coffee production was ceded to private farmers, and facilitation of its sale and distribution was transferred, in large part, to the Kenyan government.
70% of coffee produced in Kenya is harvested by small, independent farmers with 150 trees or fewer growing on their lots. Because of these farms limited size, it is not economically viable for them or for their wholesale purchasers to trade directly. To account for these farm’s limited scale, the owners of multiple farms within the same municipality will pool their coffee together at cooperative mills to be washed, dried, bagged, and sold to coffee exporters.
Once the coffee is processed, responsibility for its sale will be hired out to a marketer. This marketer will take coffee from the mill it was processed at to the Nairobi Auction House where it is sampled by prospective wholesale customers and sold to the highest bidder.
In an average year, 6 million Kenyans will work, either directly or indirectly, in the production and exportation of over 150 million pounds of coffee, making it the 15th largest coffee exporting country in the world.
Because only the best strains of coffee were taken to Kenya to make effective use of their rich, mountainous soil and high growing elevation around the base of Mt. Kenya, Kenyan coffees today are widely considered to be the gold standard of balance and cup complexity.
These coffees are ideally suited to be served as pour-overs to accentuate the nuance and complexity of their flavor profiles, while simultaneously providing some subtlety and civility to an often-overpowering mouthfeel.
Kenyan coffee has a strong front end, featuring a pleasant acidity, tropical fruit notes, and a heavy mouthfeel.