Despite sharing a land border with Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, production in Kenya is rooted in British colonial rule, rather than natural domestic evolution. With the first crops only bearing fruit around 1900, Kenyan coffee is a relatively new origin where coffee was first produced on massive plantations and prepared for export for consumers in London.
The rich, volcanic soil surrounding Mount Kenya, as well as the unique varietals and washing process, makes Kenyan coffees incredibly unique. Kenyan coffees are prized for their clean blackcurrant and berry sweetness with bright, sparkling acidity.
Throughout the 20th Century Kenya gained sovereignty which meant the country could exercise more control over its coffee industry. As agricultural planning shifted to encourage the growth of cash crops as well as subsistence farming, Kenyan smallholders massively increased their incomes with coffee exports.
As the industry in Kenya has grown, investment in coffee research has greatly helped the country become celebrated for its quality. Kenya is an origin with many highly educated farmers, agronomists, and scientists who are always experimenting with new varietals – perhaps most notably the SL-38 and SL-34, alongside Ruiru 11.
Kenya is also unique in the way that they sort their beans by size, which is generally regarded as a signifier of quality.
E – elephant beans, incredibly large. Quite rate, and with very small lots.
AA – Most common ‘largest’ Kenyan export. Fit a 7.22mm screen, and usually have the highest prices.
AB – A combination of A (6.8mm screen) and B (6.2mm screen). 30% of Kenya’s annual production fits this category
PB – peaberries, i.e. cherries where the fruit has mutated to hold a single large seed, rather than the usual two
C, TT, T – Grading sizes below AB. Unusual to see these in high end coffee. Lightweight, and can be chipped or broken.