Kenyan Coffee: Learn About Coffee in Kenya

crazy by Editorial Staff | Updated on March 9th, 2023

Kenya is widely known for producing some of the world’s finest coffee, not just because of the country’s climatic conditions or the high altitude.


Kenyan coffee is distinctive because it has a bright, complex taste with grapefruit notes that are unmatched by any other type of coffee in the world. This blog will delve deeper into Kenyan coffee and explore what makes it unique and extraordinary.

Kenyan Coffee

From its history to its production process, we’ll take you on a journey of discovery that will make you appreciate Kenyan coffee even more. So sit back, grab your favorite mug, and explore the Kenyan coffee world.

Fun facts about Kenya

In Kenya, tea is more popular. Coffee is sparsely grown on farms alongside avocados and nut trees.

  • Region: Kenya
  • Growing Altitude: 1,700 – 1,800 meters
  • Variety: Arabica
  • Harvest Period: November – December
  • Milling Process: Fully Washed, Sun-Dried on Raised Beds
  • Aroma: Fresh, Floral
  • Flavor: Bergamot, Berries, Lemongrass
  • Body: Rich, Heavy
  • Acidity: Bright
  • Wet processing is the method used on green coffees.
  • Coffee was introduced in Kenya by the British in the 20th century. It is currently the 16th largest producer worldwide, with over 100 million tons of annual yields.
kenyan coffee

Summary: Kenyan Coffee is among the five best in the world

Kenyan Coffee has made its mark as one of the five best coffees in the world, and rightfully so. The conditions in Kenya offer the perfect habitat for coffee brewing. The hot climate with ample sunshine and plentiful water makes it an ideal location for growing coffee beans.

Additionally, Kenya is highly focused on producing quality Arabica, recognized as one of the finest coffees in the world. The result is a brew with a rich flavor profile, including plum, blackcurrant, and blueberry notes, and wine-like acidity with a pleasant aroma.

The coffee is a slim, blocky display typeface that offers a full body and balanced complexity with deep dimension, and its sweetness comes from being wet-processed. Most importantly, Kenyan coffee is a single-origin coffee, so each cup takes the drinker on a unique journey through the flavors and sensations that represent the country.

Overall, Kenyan coffee is highly regarded as one of the world’s top coffee varieties and is a must-have for any caffeine-lover’s pantry.

What does Kenyan coffee taste like?

Kenyan Coffee is rich and sweet with a powerful character of tasting notes. It exhibits intense flavors, distinct winery richness, and a dry, winey aftertaste. It is similar to the Ethiopian Harrar but has a full-bodied richness to Ethiopian Coffees.

Kenyan coffee is vibrant, clean, and crisp, not subtle or delicate, but typically well-balanced.

The coffee variety is known for its consistency in producing high-quality beans that have a distinctly bright taste, with complex tones of sweet fruit, lemony citrus or pepper alongside plum, blackcurrant, and blueberry, depending on the region it’s grown. The aftertaste may be dry with lemony zest or winey.

The coffee beans are also distinguished by their full body, balanced complexity, and deep dimension, mainly attributed to Kenya’s prime coffee-growing location with rich, red volcanic soil.

What type of coffee is Kenyan?

Kenya produces Arabica and Robusta coffees.

Arabica is known because it offers high-quality coffee beans, while Robusta beans are inherently bitter, easy to grow, and have higher yields.

Kenya has high elevations and deep, well-drained loamy soil, perfect for Arabica to thrive. Kenya has been on the global trend for introducing new disease-resistant arabica varieties. Buyers say these beans do not offer the same subtly acidic nuances as the old classics like SL-28 and SL-34.

Kenya coffee brands

Coffee from Kenya is sold on Starbucks and Amazon. The coffee is roasted weeks before being sold, but its taste does not change much. It is packaged in a valve bag, keeping it fresh for a long time. So you can as well get freshly roasted coffee.

Starbucks Kenya AA

The Kenyan Karatina AA was available under Starbucks reserve programs briefly in 2015.

Starbucks Kenya Kangunu. This had flavors including lemon, dark chocolate, and black currant.

Volcanica Kenya AA

Kenyan coffee is commonly described as having an almost sweet taste accompanied by wine-like or fruity overtones, described as sweet with bright acidity.

Flavor notes of raspberry, cranberry, fresh-cut redwood, and alyssum-like flowers in aroma and cup.

Kenya coffee review: Tasting Notes

The highest premium gourmet coffee is grown in the Kenya highlands. It is full-bodied with pleasant acidity, fragrant aroma, and rich flavors infused with floral tones. This has earned it the name “Connoisseurs Cup.” Even the black currant has quality flavor and aroma. Kenya coffee is among the top five coffee brands in the world because of its distinctive flavors.

The enjoyable aftertaste with citrus and berry notes is unique. Its potent sweetness comes after beans are wet-processed. The coffee is not subtle or delicate butt crisp and vibrant. It is compared with the Ethiopian Harrar, but its full body and richness are better than the Ethiopian Coffees.

Each country produces coffees with distinct twists. The best-rated coffees are graded Kenya AA. They have the biggest sides and more aromatic oils. Check out Kenya Coffee Grading.

Coffee grown in Kenya

kenyan coffee

Kenya has several coffee-growing regions, each with a distinct flavor profile. The main regions are Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Embu, Murang’a, Kiambu, and Meru. Nyeri and Kirinyaga produce the finest coffee beans with fruity and floral notes. Embu, Murang’a, and Kiambu produce coffee beans with a rich and heavy body, while Meru produces beans with a lively acidity.

Most green coffee in Kenya is grown at high elevations ranging between 1,400 meters to 2,000 meters above the sea. Large plantations are on plateaus with volcanic soils on the foothills of the Aberdare Ranges and Mt. Kenya. The elevation qualifies for the Strictly High Grown (SHG)/ Strictly Hard Bean (SHB) status. Coffee grows slowly at high altitudes, thus providing more nutrients to the coffee bean.

Areas from 17,000-foot Mt Kenya towards Nairobi are major coffee-growing regions, while small regions near Mt. Elgon. Other coffees growing regions in Kenya include Ruiru, Thika, Kirinyaga, Mt. Kenya West, Kiambu, Murang’a, and Nyeri.

Coffee growing in Kenya entrails many small farms, cooperatives, and large estates. An estimated 6 million people are involved in the coffee industry, most with small farms consisting of 50-500 trees. In South America, small farms have 5,000-10,000 trees planted on 1-2 hectares.

Small-Scale Holders produce about 70%

A significant portion of the coffee produced in Kenya comes from small-scale holders, who contribute about 70% of the country’s total coffee output. With over 600,000 smallholders farming fewer than 5 acres, the coffee farming population in Kenya is dominated by small-scale farmers.

The coffee industry in Kenya has a cooperative system of production, processing, milling, marketing, and auctioning, ensuring that small-scale farmers also benefit from the coffee value chain. Despite these farmers’ challenges, such as poor farming conditions, Kenya’s smallholders continue to contribute significantly to the country’s economy, directly and indirectly employing about 6 million people.

Cooperatives are useful in facilitating milling, marketing, and auctioning coffee on behalf of farmers. Auctions are held on Tuesdays during harvest season, which brings price wars for the finest Kenya coffee. The market is decades old and ensures all farmers sell their coffee at the best prices.

The complexity of the Kenya coffee market makes it difficult for coffee companies to buy directly from farmers. In addition, it requires a lot of time to trace the farmers, which is expensive for coffee companies.

Kenya coffee plant varietals

kenyan coffee

The loamy, red-orange volcanic soil and the moderate climate consisting of equatorial sunlight and well-chosen Kenya coffee plant varietals make growing very productive;

  • SL 28
  • SL 34
  • K7
  • Ruiru 11
  • Batian

The most popular and prized Kenyan coffee beans are SL-28 and SL-34. The SL initials stand for Scott Labs. The Kenyan government hired the Lab in the 1930s to determine the region’s most economically viable coffee trains.

These varietals make Kenya the most consistent producer of world-class premium gourmet coffee. Commercial coffee cultivars produced by Kenya’s Coffee Research Foundation include:

Ruiru 11, which thrives on high elevations, is resistant to Coffee berry disease and leaf rust.

SL 34: grows on higher elevations with plenty of rainfall. Has bronze-tipped leaves, resistant to high rainfall, and is suitable for lower elevations.

SL 28: grows on high to medium elevations where coffee leaf rust is not a problem. Has a dazzling tomato-like acidity and is the donna of the two.

Kent grows on lower elevations and is vulnerable to coffee leaf rust.

The varietal African K7, a French Mission Bourbon varietal (Coffea Arabica var bourbon), is grown in Muhoroni at the Lengetet Estate for trials. Robusta Coffee (Coffee canephora var. robusta) grows in the humid environments of Western Kenya.

Kenyan beans are graded by size, and the measurements are done before roasting. The largest beans are graded Kenya E, and the second-largest are graded Kenya AA.

Kenya coffee harvesting

kenyan coffee

Kenyan coffee flowers in March and April after the rains start. Ripening happens between September and October. The cherry fruit in most parts ripens from October to December.

Processing the coffee beans in Kenya

Bulk mechanical and electrical grading is used. The process separates the best coffee beans from the low-quality ones. Coffee beans are sorted by weight, size, shape, and color. In the class system devised by the Coffee Board of Kenya, the worse coffee beans are ten. A may be rated as AA because of its size, but it is a four or five on the class system. This means it is not the best quality coffee.

Kenyan coffee is one of the most consistent high-quality beans in the world. Among the top premium gourmet coffees, there are several Kenya coffees.

Beans are Wet Processed, making them sweeter

Kenyan coffee is known for its sweet taste, largely due to the wet-processing method used in its cultivation. Once the coffee beans are harvested, they are immediately removed from their outer shells, a process called wet processing.

The beans are soaked in water for about 12 hours or more to remove impurities. This method provides a cleaner taste and brighter appearance to the coffee beans. With the sweet and fruity flavors of plum, blackcurrant, and blueberry, Kenyan coffee is one of the top-rated coffees in the world.

Its unique characteristics result from the country’s prime coffee-growing conditions, vast experience cultivating beans, and honed wet-processing methods.

Kenya green coffee beans

Kenyan coffee is well-graded after harvesting to form some of the world’s finest gourmet coffees. Coffee beans are sorted and separated according to size, color, and density. It is used to assume that bigger coffee beans are of high quality because they have more oils for great taste and aroma. Therefore, the largest and best coffee beans are graded Kenya AA.

Coffee testers use different criteria for determining the best bean qualities. The roasted, ground and brewed Kenyan coffee determines the quality. Sorting is done by size, and the best qualities have a one-fourth-inch diameter. The smaller sizes are graded as Kenyan AB.

kenyan coffee

The current state of the Kenyan coffee industry

The joint production, processing, milling, and marketing system has made the coffee industry in Kenya one of the most advanced. In addition, advanced research facilities and an open auction export have contributed to its success.

However, the Kenyan coffee industry has been facing various challenges recently, with issues ranging from production and distribution to marketing. Here are some of the industry’s challenges and how you, as a consumer, can help address them through your purchasing choices.

1. Climate change

Climate change affects the Kenyan coffee industry by altering rainfall and temperatures, affecting flowering and fruiting patterns, pest infestations, and soil quality. Reduced rainfall and prolonged droughts affect the flowering and ability of the coffee plant to produce quality cherries.

Consumer impact: When purchasing coffee, choose brands that use sustainable farming practices committed to reducing environmental impact. Such companies use eco-friendly farming practices that minimize climate change effects on coffee production and support farmers adapting to climate change.

2. Poor payments to farmers

Most small-scale farmers in Kenya lack access to financing options or are exploited by middlemen and coffee brokers, leading to low incomes for their hard work. The farmers are then forced to sell to unscrupulous brokers at low prices.

Consumer impact: By purchasing coffee from companies that source it directly from small-scale farmers, you can help improve the livelihoods of vulnerable communities. These companies promote fair trade practices and transparency in their supply chain, ensuring farmers earn a fair price for their coffee.

3. Inadequate infrastructure and logistics

Poor infrastructure and logistics create challenges in transporting coffee from farms to the market. This affects the quality and freshness of coffee beans, leading to reduced demand for Kenyan coffee globally.

Consumer impact: Choose brands that value timely delivery of freshly roasted coffee, such as those that roast locally or partner with local suppliers. These companies ensure the coffee beans reach the consumer fresh, guaranteeing the full flavor of the Kenyan brew.

4. Lack of market diversification

Kenya’s coffee industry largely depends on the European and American markets for its sales, limiting the potential for growth and selling coffee at a premium price. The coffee industry must diversify its market base to increase sales and profits.

Consumer impact: Choose to support companies that promote and sell Kenyan coffee to alternative markets, including local consumers. These companies work in partnership with Kenyan-based specialty coffee roasters to diversify the market base, increase demand, and promote the unique flavor profiles of Kenyan coffee.

In conclusion, by making informed purchasing decisions, consumers can help address various challenges facing the Kenyan coffee industry. Choose brands committed to sustainable farming and fair trade practices, prioritize fresh and quality coffee delivery, and diversify coffee markets to support the industry’s growth. Together we can support the Kenyan coffee industry and positively impact the livelihoods of small-scale farmers.

kenyan coffee

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is vital to preserving Kenya’s coffee culture and traditions that have been passed down for generations. Kenyan coffee’s unique and robust flavor reflects the country’s rich soil, diverse climate, and meticulous cultivation methods. The industry plays a crucial role in the livelihoods of many Kenyan farmers and their families. Therefore, we must support this industry by buying and enjoying Kenyan coffee.

Every cup of Kenyan coffee we savor represents the hard work and dedication of numerous individuals involved in the production process. Investing in Kenyan coffee supports the country’s economy and celebrates the local communities’ customs and heritage.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase using these links. Remember to support us by purchasing through the Amazon/Walmart/Impact Radius links provided. Last update on 2024-03-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Disclosure: No compensation or free products were received in exchange for writing this review.

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Editorial Staff

The editorial staff at Crazy Coffee Crave is a team of coffee enthusiasts & Baristas who enjoy the one thing we all think about as soon as we get up in the morning. Trusted by thousands of readers worldwide.