Kenya is one of the most desirable coffee origins. Coffee connoisseurs from around the world seek out Kenyan coffee for its lively, bright flavor. A sip of good Kenyan starts with a burst of lemon or citrus. The best coffees from Kenya also have balancing sweetness and richness for a smooth and satisfying cup of coffee.
Coffee was introduced to Kenya by the British colonizers around 1893, and prior to 1934, most coffee plantations in Kenya were owned by the British and were basically forced labor camps where Kenyans worked as slaves.
The coffee industry in Kenya began to change in the 1930s when indigenous Kenyans were allowed to grow coffee on their own land. The Coffee Board of Kenya was established in 1931 and had its first auction in 1935. Unfortunately, most of the Coffee Board’s members were estate owners, which made it hard for the small landowners and cooperatives to compete.
Things got better for small coffee growers in 1963. Kenya gained its independence from England, and plantation land was nationalized and redistributed. Cooperatives were provided with loans for the expansion of processing capacity and for building new washing stations (called factories in Kenya). While some growers struggled to pay back the loans, the cooperatives and cooperative unions that survived became an important part of the coffee supply chain in Kenya. By 1978, cooperative coffee growers produced more volume of coffee than the large estates. Today, approximately 75% of Kenya’s coffee lands are farmed by smallholders, though they still only account for half of its annual 50,000 metric ton production volume.
The Kenyan government recognized the importance of agriculture in general and coffee production in particular, and in the same year as its independence, it mandated weekly coffee auctions as a way to achieve economic growth through export. The auction is called the Nairobi Coffee Exchange (NCE)*.
The NCE helped stabilize coffee quality and prices for Kenya growers, but pressure from large coffee buyers and internal political corruption resulted in small coffee growers getting less and less for each pound of coffee they sold. Though Kenyan coffee's reputation was growing, the farmers were struggling. The auction also made it harder for roasters to trace Kenyan coffee back to its source.
In 2006, pressure to allow non-auction trading resulted in new legislation creating the “Second Window,” where private export companies were allowed to buy coffee directly from producers and to sell that coffee directly to roasters and importers. Though not always successful, when used properly, the Second Window can benefit both farmer and roaster.
One of our favorite importers has a program with Kenyan coffee cooperatives that takes advantage of the Second Window. The importer promises to meet or exceed top auction prices in exchange for a more traceable, higher quality coffee. That allows small roasters like us access to lovely coffee like our new Kenya AA Plus.
We like Kenya AA Plus roasted to a light, City, roast level. Lightly roasted, Kenya AA Plus has a tangy acidity that is balanced by lovely citrus sweetness and chocolate richness. Try the coffee a little darker, at a Full City or Vienna roast level, for an even sweeter, richer cup.
Do you enjoy very lively coffees like the coffees of Kenya? If so, we'd love to hear from you. You can share your thoughts on the Facebook thread or in a comment on this blog. Or, if you'd like to share your opinion with the wider world, leave us a coffee review on Google or on your favorite review site. Not only do we value your opinions, but reviews help more people find us. Help us connect coffee lovers to fresh, quality coffee!
~ Carrie, Paul and all of us at Coffee by the Roast
*for more information on the Nairobi Coffee Exchange and the Second Window, click here.