With its scenic beauty and abundant wildlife, Kenya is one of Africa’s major tourist destinations. Situated on the equator on Africa’s east coast, Kenya has been described as “the cradle of humanity”, due to the fact that in the Great Rift Valley, palaeontologists have discovered some of the earliest evidence of man’s ancestors.
Kenya’s topography is incredibly diverse. The country is a land of mountains, valleys, open plains, deserts, forests, lakes, savannahs and a golden sanded coastline.
Despite being close to Ethiopia (the birthplace of coffee), coffee wasn’t introduced to Kenya until around 1893. It was introduced by French Missionaries, with seeds from Reunion Island. It was initially grown on large estates run by British colonial settlers. It wasn’t until the Coffee Act of 1933 that things started to change. This paved the way for the Kenyan Coffee Board, which started to oversee the production, quality control and auctioning of coffee. The introduction of the Swynnerton Plan in the 1950s successfully implemented family smallholdings and the cultivation of both cash and subsistence crops side by side. This dramatically increased smallholder incomes in the following decade, of which coffee accounted for around 55% of this increase.
Today, around 70% of Kenya’s coffee is produced by smallholder farmers. Typically, a Kenyan smallholding or ‘shamba’ is comprised of shade-grown coffee, a house, the family cow and a variety of vegetables and fruit to sustain the family.
Kenya uses a grading system for all its coffee exports, based on the screen size of coffee beans. AA grades – above 18 screen size – reach the highest price at auction, followed by AB, PB, C and several under-grade qualities, respectively.
Kenya has benefitted from the development of hybrid varietals in the 1930’s. They grow the highly successful SL28 and SL34, that are now highly admired and world famous for their unique complexity in the cup and unrivalled lemon acidity.
Kenya’s best coffees are mainly grown in the Central Highlands on the southern slopes of Mt. Kenya to the north, and in the foothills of the Aberdare Mountains to the west. It is grown on farms with altitudes of up to 1800 masl. Along with the the fertile volcanic soils in this region, these conditions are key to the unbelievable flavours of the coffee.
Kenya’s best coffees are grown by cooperatives. There are around 300 in the country, comprised of around 600,000 smallholder members. While smaller in size than the large estates and plantations, cooperatives produce about 60% of Kenya’s coffee exports.