Kenyan Coffee – Guide, Facts & Best Picks

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Kenya Coffee Guide

Kenya, a country known for sprawling wild landscapes you’ve probably spotted in movies like Born Free, The First Grader and Tomb Raider- The Cradle of Life.
Nestling in a tiny pocket in East Africa. Kenya is a treasure trove of history, culture, tradition and wildlife. What many may or may not know is that the country has also contributed some important steps towards creating the map of coffee the world knows today.

Kenyan Coffee – Facts & Guide

We’re here to walk you along the steps the little brown bean took through the lands of Kenya to reach the far corners of the world. Sooner, you might even feel how this particular origin tastes like!

History

Coffee Sorting Process Kenya

Legand has it that once upon a time there was a group of French missionaries who called themselves the Holy Ghost Fathers. They travelled from the island of Réunion in the Indian ocean towards the coast of Kenya in the year 1893. Though they were few, they did not arrive alone. They brought with them the fated brown bean to the land of Kenya. The missionaries are said to have set up a base close to the capital city; Nairobi. It was there that the first coffee pants were born in the country, in the face of Mission farms.

At the start of production, the country was under the rule of the British empire. They decreed that the highest grade of coffee produced in Kenya was to be exported out. As a result locals never got a chance to experience the quality of their produce. Even today a large chunk of the population leans more strongly towards tea than caffeine.

It took drastic efforts through the years to bring the Kenyan coffee industry to the standard of the global excellence that it sits at today. The country houses some path breaking research facilities and an auction extort to guarantee all transactions are taking place in a safe and legal manner. 

Characteristics

Coffee originating in Kenya is considered to be amongst the creme de la creme by many in the coffee community. The beans calling the country their home boast of holding in a bold intricate flavour combined with a powerful aroma that sets mouths watering. Kenyan and Ethiopian coffee have some similarities as both belong to the mainlands of Africa, but they taste totally different. Both of these have complex and balanced flavors, yet Kenyan is slightly more acidic and has a dry berry character as compared to the wet processed Ethiopian coffee.

Coffee plantations in Kenya cover the entire land expanse of the country. The soil, elevation and environment in the growing area all play a role in adding and subtracting flavour from the beans. A common profile carried through the country however includes a fruity overlay through the hints of bergamot orange, lemongrass and black currant berries.

The coffee brewed hits the right notes with a steady compromise between savoury and sweet profiles. You are guaranteed a crisp finish with a blend that will go down smoother than a glass of wine. 

Types Of Kenyan Coffee

The country of Kenya exports ninety five percent of the coffee they grow. There are close to 150,000 farmers employed in growing and nurturing the crop. A further six million inhabitants of Kenya have livelihoods that run on account of their contribution towards the country’s coffee industry. 

By Size

The coffee coming out of this country can be split into brackets, depending on their size.  
Some of categories are –

  • E – Standing for Elephant – The largest coffee beans offered up by the country. 
  • Kenya AA bean – Which stands as the biggest of the specialty beans in the country. 
  • PB  Standing for pea-berry – The result of a coffee cherry fruit known for a more intense flavour.

By Kind

Scott Laboratories, one of the first research bases in the country, at the government’s behest worked hard to develop and promote strains of coffee during the 1930s. The aim of the project was to find the beans to provide the biggest boost to the nation’s economy. 

The result was dubbed the SL-28 and SL-34. The SL naturally stands for Scott Laboratories in this instance. 
The SL-34 crop had leaves that would end with a bronze undertone. This variant could withstand and continue to flourish through all sorts of extreme weather conditions. 
The SL 28 was known for its broad leaves and  prominent coppery tips. The icing on this particular bean so to speak.  Was the quirky tang of tomato that set it apart from almost anything else ever offered up to the coffee community.

Growing Regions

The country of Kenya has a natural gift of perfect blank canvas for the coffee crop to thrive. The air, altitude and soil combine to form the perfect medley for coffee to grow and flourish. You will spot most of the coffee crops in Kenya growing at an altitude of something between 1,400 meters to 2,000 meters. While a majority of the coffee is grown on a small scale by local farmers, one third of the crops in the country thrive in large plantations. 

Take a stroll with us through some of the areas most densely populated by coffee plantations.

Mt. Kenya

This area lies slap-bang in the middle of the country. The tallest mountain in Kenya is home to one of the most popular coffee growing plateaus. Offering an altitude commencing at 4,5000 feet and rising to 17,000 feet it is the perfect setting for coffee to flourish naturally. Even the soil in the area which is rocky and rich in natural minerals is the perfect base for the coffee to take root. 

Nyanza Province 

Lower down and offering a slightly altered landscape is the Nyanza Province. Standing tall to the south west of the country with Lake Victoria as its Eastern neighbour. The various elements in the area band together to create the ideal environment for coffee plantations to thrive.

Aberdare Range

Close by is another plateau range that extends for over one hundred miles. The location of this range on the map could put goldilocks to shame. This means the weather in the area is not too hot or too cold. The wind, rain and heat are all just right for coffee to grow. It’s not just coffee that thrives here. There are lush forests in the region that pump nutrients into the soil that work their way into the nourishment, and in turn flavour of the coffee beans emerging from the region. 

How to Make Kenyan Coffee – Best Methods

For a country so deeply invested in the cultivation, production and promotion of coffee. It might come as a bit of a shock to learn, the locals prefer to classify themselves as team tea. 

There is however a percentage of the population especially around the towns of Mombasa, Lamu and  Malindi that follow a local preparation of the beverage formed of the brown bean called Kahawa Chungu.

This traditional preparation is primarily in practice by men. The reason? The unique drink is considered by many to be an aphrodisiac

There are two variations to this drink – a concentrated, bitter and darker version called Kahawa Chungu. And a sweeter diluted offering called the Kahawa Tamu.

How Kahawa Chungu is Prepared

The beans are picked from the coffee fields once they turn red. They are then left to ferment by soaking in water for two days. After this, they are washed and dried in natural sunlight. 

The dried beans are then roasted over a coal fire in an open pot till they go medium brown. They are then freshly crushed in a traditional larger version of a mortar and pestle.

Once the grinds are ready, hot water is brought to a boil in a brass kettle. The freshly ground coffee is then added to the boiling water. It sits inside for three to five minutes. The mixture is then strained through a sieve into small cups and enjoyed piping hot.

How to Brew Kahawa Tamu

The base preparation is the same and so you would first have to make Kahawa Chungu. After that you need to increase the quantity of water and add in sugar for a Kahawa Tamu. It is a milder and sweeter variation for those who do not stand for the bitter punch. Nowadays you can also see people add cardamom pods, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon sticks into the boiling water to add more flavour variations.

If you like your coffee with a side of some snacks, you can usually spot locals enjoying their coffee with a side of kaimati; a sweet dumpling made of dough or at times some hot haluwa.  

Other Brewing Options

If you don’t have the apparatus, patience or simply do not prefer this style of coffee perorations, there are other methods that can bring out the best from your Kenyan coffee.

Cold Brew

cold brew

You might have judged by now but forest, fruity and fresh flavours are forever circling the flavour profile of beans originating in Kenya. It shouldn’t take a mad scientist to figure out where we’re headed with this train of thought. 

While it is true that coffee is often the favoured companion on a rainy or cold winters day. There is nothing more refreshing than a blast of chilled caffeine to wipe away the dreariness that at times comes with a particularly hot summer day. The coffee growing in Kenya holds a flavour profile that encompasses a range of fruits including tropical offerings, berries and certain citrus fruits too. It almost reads like a menu card tailored to be the best experience in a cold brew.

How you choose to create your cold blend is up to you. If you want to make it an elaborate experiment and experience out of it. Let your coffee grinds sit in a pitcher of cold water for anything between twelve to twenty- four hours. Once the time has eclipsed, strain it out into your favourite coffee cup and drink up to kick start your day. There’s no real hard and fast rule though. If you’d rather just brew your coffee into a cup full of ice cubes. That could do the job too. Desperate times might call for desperate measures like sticking your cup into the freezer for half an hour or so. Don’t be self conscious. This will work just as well. 

steeping

As you might have guessed by now. All the methods employed so far revolve around allowing the Kenyan coffee grinds to sit in the water for some time. While the amount of time varies depending on the method you use. What cannot be ignored is that, it is a smart idea to have all the grinds of a Kenyan blend to be submerged in water.

Naturally the best methods we advise to brew with next involves the act of steeping.

Steeping By French Press

French press

The soil, environment and elevation at which most of the beans in Kenya grow result in beans that are dense and bursting with flavour. The French Press works as the perfect medium through which you can best extract all the oils connecting flavour into your drink. Unlike other methods that might need you to use a filter. Or techniques where the water doesn’t permeate all the coffee grinds well and equally. A french press ensures you’re getting everything out of your coffee grinds.

If you’re going to give freshly grinding coffee at home a go, try to get your coffee to coarse size before you brew. If you find the coffee in your cup a little too acidic for your tastes. Check if you’re giving your coffee grinds enough time to bloom. Thirty to forty-five seconds should do the trick. Kenyan berries are a great French press coffee, if you really have love for this kinda brewing.

AeroPress Steeping

aeropress

The AeroPress stands as a more portable option that essentially does the same job as the French Press listed above. While you might usually opt for a coarse grind when brewing with this apparatus. Feel free to experiment a little with a few finer settings if that suits your tastes better. Like all other methods of brewing, a little trial and error goes a long way.

5 Best Kenyan Coffee Brands

You know where the beans come from, how they grow and what you need to do to get the most out of them. Its time now to take a peak at the top five brands contending for the title of best Kenyan coffee.

1. Volcanica Kenya AA Coffee Beans

Volcanica Kenya AA Coffee Beans

Starting off strong with this rich blend of pure Arabica beans from Volcanica.  As the name suggests, a bag of these AA beans contains the largest and densest variant of beans in Kenya. 

These sun dried beans, once brewed, present as a sharp drink that merges the sweet and sour of  berries with the delicate touch of fresh redwood and fresh forest flowers. The high altitude at which the plants flourish ensures a crop that has grown without any form of artificial interference in the shape of pesticides or herbicides.

The folks at Volcanica are so sure you’re going to love the medium roast, that they’ve guaranteed 100% customer satisfaction. They offer up bags in both the pre-ground or whole bean range. For those of you who think twice before approaching a cup of coffee afraid of the impact on your digestive tract. Stay free of fear. The blend is also available in a decaf offering. 

2. Starbucks Medium Roast Kenyan Coffee

Starbucks Medium Roast Kenyan Coffee

Next in, we have a brand name that can be used in place for coffee itself. That’s right. Starbucks has finally stepped its toes into the land of Kenya. Offering up a blend of premium quality beans. 

As is expected of the coffee grown in the region, the Starbucks Kenya African blend boasts of a flavour encompassing an array of tropical fruit, balanced out with a mild offering of brown sugar. 

The volcanic soil that is home to the beans of this blend ensures a good quality blend from a healthy crop.

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With an aim to provide the freshest produce possible the beans are bagged immediately after they are roasted. Since coffee tastes best when brewed with freshly ground beans, the blend is offered up in the whole bean option. In case you don’t have a grinder at home however, it is also available in a pre ground option.

3. Chiru Coffee Connection, Kenya AA

Chiru Coffee Connection, Kenya AA

The next competitor in the arena has a bit of a home field advantage. The Kenya AA blend offered up by the Chiru Coffee Connection is under the leadership and guidance of one Christine who hails from Christine. Kenya. Having spent most of her youth in the country the creator of this blend has a very real and clear understanding of the process and problems that come with coffee growing in the area. 

The blend offered up is a complex medley brought in by the mix of fruity flavours, pulled together with a mild hit of honey. Once brewed you can taste an overarching presence of berries and other citrus fruits. The beverage finishes off leaving your  palate pleased with a whisper of wine.

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It shouldn’t come as a surprise to know, the coffee used in this blend grows in the central highlands. Where the air,climate, elevation and atmosphere work together to create the perfect environment for coffee to not just grow, but flourish. 

4. Green Mountain: Kenyan Highlands K-Cups

With changing trends of coffee and coffee drinkers over the years. K-Cups have come to the forefront of everyones wish list. We thought it only fair to include a version of Kenyan coffee offered up in K-cups in our list today. The Kenyan Highland K-cups created and nurtured by Green Mountain hold a medium roast of hundred percent Kosher Arabica beans. The flavour of the blend is a flawless meld of  rich blackberry with winey undertones that goes down smooth. 

The best part. The beans in this blend have been sourced through fair trade practices. This means that the people involved at every step from growing the crop, to processing, packaging and selling the produce are treated and paid fairly. The company is also taking steps to improve the lives and livelihoods of the locals in Lake Victoria where the coffee grows. The K-Cups are guaranteed to work on all Keurig K-Cup coffee makers. 

5. Volcanica Kenyan Peaberry Coffee

 Volcanica Kenya Peaberry Coffee

That’s right. The Kenyan coffee offered up by Volcanica is good enough to start and close up our list. Since the Peaberry coffee beans are unique to only a few areas of the world. It’s only fair to shake things up a little with this entrant on our list. 

The medium roast blend balances out the classic citrus, berries and floral hints which is an expectation from beans blooming in Kenya. 

A treat for more than just your tastebuds. Enjoy the sweet fragrance that circles you when you brew this blend. Low on acidity, it is the perfect choice if you’re trying to go light on your tummy. 

FAQS

How much coffee does Kenya grow in a year?

The country manages to produce 100 million tons of coffee in a year. This places it 16th  on the list of the top twenty coffee producing countries in the world. 

Where does Kenya rank today on the global scale of coffee exporters?

Kenya stands twenty fifth on the list of the largest contributors of coffee to the world.

What kind of coffee beans grow in Kenya?

You will find primarily Arabica beans growing in the country. 

How are the coffee beans processed?

Almost all the coffee beans in Kenya are green processed using both the wet and washed methods.

To Wrap it All

So that’s it! We did it again and packed our virtual bags and flew over the imaginary ocean. We took a trip down the history. And peaked into the present of coffee in Kenya. 

 The truth is. Every country leaves a bit of an imprint on their offer to the coffee community of the world. Chances are you’ve brewed yourself a few cups of coffee from the country in the past without noting its origin. But the next time you brew a blend of coffee bursting with the flavour of berries and fruit. And finishing off better than a glass of wine. You’re going to be reminded of the colourful country of Kenya.