Kenya Coffee History

May 16, 2023 by
Kenya Coffee History
Solai Coffee LLC, Peter Kuria
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Kenya is one of the countries where you can get the best coffee beans in the world. Coffee lovers and drinkers globally have cherished Kenyan coffee beans. According to The Motley Fool statistics, an average coffee drinker in the US takes 2.7 cups per day. Ideally, if you ask anyone why they love Kenyan coffee beans, they will rightly respond; Because of their mouth-watering aroma and flavor.

Solai is a prosperous region in the Rift Valley where the climate is suitable for growing coffee.

Solai is a prosperous region in the Rift Valley where the climate is suitable for growing coffee. 

Ideally, if you ask anyone why they love Kenyan coffee beans, they will rightly respond; Because of their mouth-watering aroma and flavor.
Precisely, many coffee drinkers in the US will not understand the process Kenya’s top export undergoes from being a coffee bean to a cup. This article will delve deep to try and comprehend the fun facts about the Kenyan coffee industry and share everything you need to know about Kenyan Coffee beans.

Coffee farming started 

in the 19th century.

Scottish missionary John Paterson arrived in Kenya in the late 1800s. Upon arrival in Kenya, he influenced the cultivation of coffee. In the early years of the 20th century, European settlers started large-scale coffee farming in the Mt. Kenya region before spreading to other Kenya regions.

Coffee thrives well in tropical climates, and Kenya experiences this kind of climate where balanced temperatures and seasons do not exist. During October – November and April – June. There is heavy rainfall, with the rest of the months experiencing a dry climate. During the dry period, coffee bean harvesting is done.

Coffee farmers enjoy a conversation during the coffee harvest season.

Solai Coffee along with visitors sorting harvested coffee cherries and share wits.

The Production of Kenyan Coffee

Coffee in Kenya had grown for over a century, from 1893 when it was initiated. Coffee is estimated to be cultivated on around 160,000 hectares of Kenya. Total annual production has been wavering greatly due to climate change and other socio-economic factors. Each year, two well-defined flowerings occur soon after commencing rains in March/April or October. Most regions in Kenya see their coffee crops ripen from October to December. Production of coffee in Kenya is currently around one million bags per year.

Coffee Processing Methods in Kenya 

In Kenya, almost all its coffee is processed through a wet method to guarantee the best quality. Farmers pick the ripe red cherry only. They then transport it to the factory, where hand-sorting of cherries is done before processing, and the unwanted cherries(unripe, over-ripe, or diseased) are removed. Later, the cherries are pulped to extract the outer skin.

Next is the fermentation process, which aims to extract the slimy sugary coating on the beans, which remains after removing the outer skin. The fermentation process is completed after 36 hours. The beans are spread on a level, raised drying bed with constant regular turning. Once the coffee beans have dried completely, they are bagged and transported to the mills.

Drying coffee beans is done on a flat raised bed after the washing method.
Mr. Lameck, Solai Coffee, discussing coffee wits with Mr. Bob and Mrs. Michelle from OBIIS,

Quality of Kenyan Coffee

The quality of Kenyan coffee can be attributed to government regulations and policies. The government regulated coffee until the early 1990s, when the free coffee market was opened. However, government regulations are still intact

5 Different Coffee Variants.

There are five different coffee variants grown in Kenya. A single bean of coffee can be roasted to produce various coffee alternatives. The most popular coffee variant in Kenya is Arabica beans which have 5 different variants as outlined below:

  • SL 34
    SL 34 was chosen from French Mission Coffee at the former Scott’s Laboratories. Its features are similar to SL28, although it is highly vulnerable to Coffee Berry Disease. SL34’s cup quality is excellent, and its volume output is fine. The variety thrives in areas of high altitude with good rainfall.
  • SL 28
    It was developed at the Scott’s Laboratories( now called The National Agricultural Laboratories, located at Kabete) on a sole tree base from the Tanganyika Drought Resistant variety chosen in Northern Tanzania in 1931. SL28 thrives well in areas with medium to high altitudes. Although this variety is resistant to drought, it is highly vulnerable to Leaf Rust and Coffee Berry Disease. It remains the class that thrived amongst Scott’s Laboratories varieties in Kenya. One of the main reasons SL28 is successful is that the crop can stay unattended even for decades and start producing when easily revived. 
  • Ruiru 11
    The Ruiru 11 variety was unleashed in 1985. Before this time, the Kenyan market was saturated highly by the SLs and was fair until a coffee berry disease(CBD) erupted. About half of the production in Kenya dipped. This forced Kenya Research Institute in Ruiru to develop a variety that could endure severe conditions. The researchers produced an F1 hybrid and gave it the name ‘Ruiru 11’ from the site of the research base. 

​In addition, the variety is resistant to CLR and CBD. It is compact, granting farmers a chance to increase production per unit of land, particularly in densely populated high-potential areas where coffee competes with other crops. Ruiru 11 arrives earlier into production, achieving gains for the farmers earlier. Ruiru 11 was established with quality features indistinguishable from the traditional varieties. Ruiru 11 can be identified easily by looking at its leaf tips, which are dark green.

  • K7
    This variety was chosen at Legenet Estate in Muhoroni from the French Mission Coffee. It was established at about the same time as the SLs and was made by Scott’s Laboratories. It is highly resistant to Leaf Rust and Coffee Berry Disease. K7 is mainly grown in areas of low altitude, where Leaf Rust is prevalent in Kenya. The output and quality of K7 are high.
  • Batian
    This variety is named after the highest peak of Mount Kenya. It is a tall plant with features equivalent to those of SL28. These features resist Coffee Berry Disease, Bacterial Blight of Coffee, and Leaf Rust. It was developed in 2010 by the Coffee Research Foundation. The distinction between Batian to Ruiru 11 is that Batian was established to have a greater taste form and still contain the same disease tolerance as Ruiru 11. Batian has an excellent yield at high altitudes, especially if competent farming practices are incorporated. It also has a high-speed maturation period; hence early benefits flow for the farmers.

SHB and SHG Status

Kenyan coffee has Strictly Hard Bean (SHB) and High Grown (SHG) coffee status. Coffee in Kenya is grown in areas with an altitude of 1400 to 2000 meters above sea level. The coffee beans take time to mature at this altitude, increasing the nutrients.

Coffee Grades.

Kenyan coffee is graded differently. Coffee is graded based on the bean’s size, shape, and weight. There are about 8 coffee bean grades in Kenya and are later classified on a numerical reference system on a scale of 1-10. 1 is the best and finest, and 10 is the least.

Kenya Coffee Grades types:

  1. PB: These are round beans, normally one in cherry.
  2. AB: This class is a combination of A and B(6.80mm screen)
  3. AA: They are large beans of 20mm screen size
  4. E: These are the largest beans (Elephants)
  5. C: These are beans smaller than B
  6. T: These beans are the smallest and thinnest, mostly faulty and broken
  7. TT: This class contains any light coffee blown away from all grades, mostly from elephants.
  8. ​MH/ML: MH/ML– Mbuni refers to coffee that has not undergone the wet process(unwashed). It entails around 10% of the total crop and is graded as MH (heavy mbuni) and ML (light mbuni). This grade fetches lower prices and has a sour taste.

Kenya is a Tea-Drinking Country

Ideally, Kenya only produces a little coffee as it has only 150 000 hectares of land covered by coffee, but many people in this country prefer tea to coffee. Most of the coffee produced in Kenya is mostly for export.
The main region where coffee is grown include: 

-Nyeri    - Murang’a    - Mt Kenya West    - Ruiru    - Kiambu    - Kirinyaga    -Thika

However, other coffee-growing regions exist in the Rift valley and the Western part around Mt. Elgon.

Kenyan coffee is grown by small-scale farmers who are over 500K. The farmers are organized into different co-operatives. As a major cash crop, coffee contributes about 0.2% of the Kenyan GDP. However, in recent years the coffee industry in Kenya has suffered a blow due to low pay and corruption within the co-operatives. This has made most Kenyan coffee farmers, especially in Ruiru and Kiambu, uproot the coffee shrubs and instead invest in the booming real estate business. In reality, Kenya produces one of the sweetest cups of coffee you could ever find in the world. If you haven’t tried Kenyan coffee, you should try it today!

You can’t have a decent food culture without a decent coffee culture, grab and enjoy a cup.

Kenya Coffee History
Solai Coffee LLC, Peter Kuria May 16, 2023
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