The main coffee growing areas in Kenya stretch south from the slopes of the 17,000 foot Mt Kenya across to the capital Nairobi. Most coffee beans that you see on sale in the UK come from this region. You may also see it referred to as ‘Nairobi’. There is in addition a smaller area on the slopes of Mount Elgon, the border between Uganda and Kenya.
Altitude is the key to the Kenyan coffee bean. The high altitude means that the bean grows more slowly providing more nutrients, allowing them to mature and develop the flavours they are famous for. The elevation of the coffee farms here allow them to qualify for the grading SHG-Strictly Highly Grown or SHB Strictly Hard Bean, a real sign of quality.
The Coffee Industry In Kenya
Kenya prides itself on its cooperative system of milling and marketing. It is also well known for its high percentage of small farms. It is the 21st largest producer of coffee in the world, producing over 50 million kilograms of coffee each year. It has also been estimated that 6 million Kenyans are involved in some way in the country’s coffee industry.
Grading of Kenyan Coffee Beans
Grade designates the size of the bean. PB is Peaberry, about 10% of Kenyan coffee beans fall into this category. AA is the for beans with a screen size of 7.2 millimetres. This is the grade of coffee that usually gets the highest prices. The Kenya AA is often viewed as one of the world’s best coffee beans. If you can’t get AA then the next best is AB, about 30% of Kenyan coffee gets this grade.
Kenyan coffee beans are rarely used in blends, they are simply too good for this. Why is size important? Quite simply bigger beans mean more aroma and flavour, bigger coffee beans are perceived to produce better quality coffee.
You also won’t see organic coffee from Kenya on the market but this isn’t for any bad reason. The coffee from Kenya is so well regulated and the standards are so high that they don’t offer the Fairtrade or organic certifications.
The Auction System
Kenya is admired throughout the coffee world for its auction system which many see as the reason behind its success. Put simply the person who offers the highest price at the weekly government run auction gets the coffee. Samples are sent out prior to the auction so that dealers can sample the bean on offer. Essentially what this means is that traders are willing to pay for quality, so that in turn is rewarded with higher prices. This is why many feel that Kenyan growers focus on quality more than elsewhere.
Kenyan coffee has often been described as having the most complex of tastes as it combines both acidity with sweet fruit. The body tends to be medium but many of the coffees are dry, berry flavours, sometimes with citrus tones. What most buyers agree is that Kenyan coffee is always’ clean in the cup’. By this they mean that you rarely get an off taste with Kenyan beans.