Kenya was one of the last places to plant coffee, nearly 300 years after the plant was first cultivated for sale. Interesting due to the fact that their neighbour, Ethiopia, was the first. The varieties that were brought to Kenya had circumnavigated the globe before they found their way back to the African continent, mutating in various climates to create a profile that, once adapted to the rich soil around Mt. Kenya, resulted in the singular profiles that this country has to offer.
The first plants were brought to the country by Scottish and French missionaries, the latter contributing what would be known as French Mission Bourbon, transplanted from the island of Bourbon (now called Reunion) to Tanzania and Kenya in an attempt to finance their efforts on the ground. The Scottish, meanwhile, brought strains from Mocha, the different varieties contributing to the dynamic quality of the coffees in the country even to this day.
Established as a British colony specifically for its moneymaking potential, Kenya became a coffee powerhouse as a way for the empire to control both the tea (already a Kenyan staple crop) and coffee markets worldwide. By the 1920s, as Europe demanded more and more coffee, the cash crop became a major Kenyan export, and in the 1930s the auction system was developed, ostensibly to democratize the market for farmers. After Kenya achieved independence from Britain in the 1960s, coffee took on a greater importance to small landholders, many of whom were given coffee farms in the redistribution of private property from large colonial and government-owned plantations.
In the 2000s, approximately 85% of the coffee farms in Kenya are owned by natives to the country, though European influence is still evident in larger estates. Today, the majority of Kenyan farmers tend small plots, growing as few as 150 coffee trees trees: They bring cherry to centrally located mills, where their coffees are weighed, sorted, and combined to create lots large enough to process and export. There are also privately owned estates, with the average estate growing around 10,000 coffee trees.
Most Kenyans prefer to drink tea in their homes, and cafe culture largely exists for tourists and in the major cities.
Size: 580,367 sq km
Capital City: Nairobi
Population: 46.7 million
Languages: Swahili (official), English and various indigenous languages
Average farm size: 1–14 hectares for smallholders; 15–50 hectares for estates
Annual production: 800,000 – 1 million
Bags exported annually: 700,000 –1 million
Growing regions: Bungoma, Embu, Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Kisii, Machakos, Mt. Elgon, Murang’a, Nakuru, Nyeri, Taita Taveta, Thika, Tran-Nzoia
Varieties: SL-28, SL-34, French Mission Bourbon, Ruiru 11, Batian, K7
Processing Methods: “Kenya Washed,” typically a washed process with an additional soak lasting from 12–72 hours
Bag Size: 60 kg
Harvest Period: October–December (main crop); March–June (fly crop)
Shipment Period: February – May/ August – September