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History Of Coffee In Kenya

History Of Coffee In Kenya

Being that Kenya is in such close proximity to Ethiopia, it would seem that the history of coffee in Kenya is one in the same, in fact it is not. Coffee was first cultivated in 1893 by missionaries who were importing Bourbon coffee trees from Brazil. These trees were descendants from trees in brazil and were to be used as part of the development of the French Mission. Unfortunately this never came to fruition as the missionaries died while trying to import the trees.

As far as the first plantations in Kenya, there are two main theories.  Some say that the mission farms near the capital were the focal point from where Kenyan coffee got its beginnings. Another reference regarding the history of coffee in Kenya claims the British introduced coffee growing into Kenya about 1900. Coffee was grown primarily on large British-run farms that stank so they were moved to the mountains and auctions were held in London.

In 1933, Kenya enacted the Coffee Act which would establish the Coffee Board of Kenya and establish the Kenyan auction system. This was a result of Kenyans only controlling 5000 acres of coffee production as late as 1954. Beginning in 1952, the Mau Mau uprising saw the beginnings  where Kenyans would begin to control most coffee production in Kenya, which is a key turning point in the history of coffee in Kenya.


Kenyan Coffee Picker circa 1936

According to Coffee Wikia, the auction system allows for  samples of each lot to be made available to bidders prior to a weekly auction. This is a major turning point in the history of coffee in Kenya as it controls how and where the higher grades of coffee will go without any insider deals going on.  If a bidder (or the bidder’s customers) is interested in a lot of coffee, they enter the auction for that lot. In this transparent auction, the highest bidder wins. The result of this system is that generally the best lots of coffee command a higher price, and the farmers are justly paid for their crops.

Most of the coffee in Kenya is produced by a combination of the 150,000 small share farmers throughout the growing regions which employs nearly 6 million people. The region is a wide spread area that according to Wikipedia extend from the high points  Mt. Kenya, along Aberdare Range and include Kisii, Nyanza, Bungoma, Nakuru,[2] Kericho as well as smaller scale in Machakos and Taita hills in Eastern and coast provinces respectively.

Kenyan coffee cherries are combined at cooperatives to be hulled and processed. From there they are sorted by screen size which denotes the price of the coffee to be sold at auction. The idea that bean size identifies with quality is only one of the factors in determining what good quality coffee is made up of. AA is the most popular, with AB, C, and PB (peaberry). The most popular processors are Gikanda Cooperative Society — Gichathaini, Kangocho and Ndaroini Factories, Kirimiri (Thika), Tekangu Cooperative Society — Tegu, Karogoto and Ngunguru Factories (Mathira, Nyeri), and Thiriku Farmers Co-op.

Coffee from Kenya is known to be a  medium bodied coffee with a clean cup sometimes displaying a citrus tone. Additionally, many Kenyan coffees are considered to have an winey, intense flavor, and pleasant aroma with notes of cocoa and a crisp acidity.


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