Kenya produces almost exclusively washed Arabica Coffee of the Bourbon type although there is a very small production of Robusta Coffee that is grown in the low altitude areas.
The major production of this Arabica is type SL28, SL34, K7 and Ruiru 11.
- SL 28 – Middle altitude areas, between 3500ft and 4500ft above sea level. This varietal is most common especially with the large estates. The quality is mostly FAQ (Fair Average Quality).
- SL 34 – Very high altitude areas, between 4500ft and 6000ft above sea level (slopes of Mt. Kenya and the Aberdares). This coffee is mostly acidic and has a very fine flavor. This is where the top quality Kenyan coffee comes from. The gourmet categories are from this variety, mainly grown by small cooperative societies.
- K 7 – This is what we call Blue Mountain and grows along the shores of Lake Victoria, Kisii district. The coffee is full bodied, has little acidity but medium flavor. This makes good coffee for blending with other grades.
- Ruiru 11 – A new variety introduced in Kenya about 20 years ago and is gaining popularity in the market.
Kenya Coffee is characterized by very sharp acidity, full body and very pointed fine flavor. This makes it acceptable to many coffee drinkers although there are those that will comment that the acidity is too sharp.
PRODUCTION ZONES OF KENYA COFFEE
Coffee in Kenya is grown in three zones
- Lower Zone: 2000ft – 3000ft above sea level
- Middle Zone: 3000ft – 4000ft above sea level
- High Altitude Zone: 4000ft – 6000ft above sea level
Production is in two sectors:
- Large Estates
- Small Cooperative Society Farmers
In terms of production, cooperatives come up with 55% of the crop while the large estates come up with the rest (45%). Cooperatives have better quality coffee that is exclusively grown along the mountains. They employ family labor on communal basis. Cooperatives are the backbone of the coffee industry but by having many farmers, some problems may arise now and then. About 400 farmers form a factory, 10 factories form a society and about 30 societies form a union. Large estates come up with most of the FAQ (Fair Average Quality) types of coffee.
HARVEST OF KENYA COFFEE
Kenya has two seasons in a year:
- The main season flowers in March/April and is harvested between September and December and offered for sale beginning January to July. This is what is referred to as the “Main Crop”. This coffee is generally of excellent quality.
- The second season flowers in October/December and harvested between April and June and offered for sale beginning September to December. This is what is referred to as the “Fly Crop”. This coffee is generally of lower quality than the Main Crop.
Once the coffee is picked, pulped, fermented, washed and dried, it is then delivered to the millers.
Incorrect harvesting and primary processing can spoil any coffee of good inherent quality. Quality controllers cannot rectify primary quality problems; they can only note these deficiencies and point out their effect on marketing and sale prices.
The most common errors that occur during processing that affect quality are:
- Harvesting green cherries develops black beans
- Harvesting over-ripe cherries develops fruity / sour taste
- Over-fermentation results in unclean or even foul liquors
- Storing cherries under unsanitary conditions produces tainted and unclean liquors
PRODUCTION OF KENYA COFFEE
Production varies from year to year depending on the weather and incomes generated. Annual production of Kenyan coffee is roughly about 880,000 bags; out of this 25% is the top quality, 45% FAQ (Fair Average Quality), 15% MH (Mbuni) and 15% poor quality.
There are two main methods of processing coffee:
- Unwashed (dry) process: Cherries are spread out evenly on trays in the sun and it may take 3 to 5 weeks depending on the thickness of the layers of cherries and the amount of daily sunshine. The cherries must be turned over at regular intervals to ensure even drying and to avoid fermentation. When temperatures drop or untimely rains occur, the coffee must be covered or placed under shelter. The outer shell turns dark brown and becomes brittle. The beans rattle inside the husk. The dried cherries are bagged for several weeks during which the green beans inside the dried shell continue to lose their moisture content.
- Washed (wet) process: The washed process is much more sophisticated than the dry process producing superior products. Fresh ripe cherries are fed into a pulper that usually consists of rotating disks or rotating cylinders each fitted with adjustable knives. These knives separate the beans from the flesh of the fruit while leaving the bean intact in its parchment envelope. The pulp is eliminated with running water and the parchment is collected in washing channels or fermentation tanks. The beans are then dried on patios and drying tables.
Coffee prepared by the dry process is often known in the trade as naturals or unwashed coffee. Wet processed coffee is referred to as washed, fully washed or semi washed.
Arabica type of coffee is wet processed in most producing countries. Brazil and Ethiopia are important exceptions.
The choice of preparation depends on such factors as the availability of water, the pattern in which the crop matures, the weather at the time of harvest, type of farm, availability of pulping and drying equipment, labor and market prospects.
Kenyan coffee is wet processed and dried by sunlight that makes it develop a green bluish color.
There are various grades of coffee by size (screens):
- E, AA, AB, PB, TT, C and T (according to size of bean E being the largest and T being the smallest).
There are also some ungraded coffees’ called UG1 and UG2.
MARKETING OF KENYA COFFEE
Coffee is sold through the Nairobi Coffee Exchange which conducts weekly coffee auctions at Wakulima House every Tuesday. The auction runs for 45 weeks in a coffee year starting first week of October to last week of September the following year, with a three week break in August and four weeks in December.
The buyers are registered companies in Kenya and are voluntary members of the KCTA (Kenya Coffee Traders Association). They receive samples weekly for cupping and grading a week or two prior to the auction. Buyers are cupping hundreds of samples weekly.
The auction is a very competitive arm and the highest bidder gets the coffee. The auction takes place in a stadium seating auditorium were participates bid electronically – the last one with their finger on the button wins the lot. Payments of the coffee are made within a prompt date of seven days. The penalty of late payments is about 10% of the value per day. The coffee is traded in US Dollars (USD).
The high quality coffee is highly sought after by gourmet buyers in Europe and USA. Coffee is delivered to the buyers/dealers warehouses after payment has been made. The Marketing Agents pay the farmers two weeks after receiving payment from the dealers. The entire process in transparent insuring producers are paid correctly and promptly. This process is the world’s Gold Standard for coffee auctions even serving as the template for auctions such as the Cup of Excellence.
EXPORT PRESENTATION OF KENYA COFFEE
The principle determining factors of coffee bought is grade (size of bean) and quality (liquor of the bean).
- Grade: Coffee is graded by size and density to give an end product that is as uniform as possible. Coffee that has not been separated by size is commonly called ungraded. Reasonable uniformity in bean size is important because it is difficult to rast large beans tougher with very small, light or broken beans. The smaller beans tend to over roast then the large beans. Very small pieces of broken bean may even b urn up altogether. It is therefore an industrial requirement that coffee that coffee should be size and density graded. Larger and more solid beans usually have better liquors than small or light beans. Grading by size also meets the need to present a uniform product to consumers who buy whole roasted beans rather than pre-packed ground coffee. The exporter who wishes to offer a quality product must be flexible in regard to the grading and presentation of his coffee.
- Quality: The quality must be reliable and consistent. Individual roasters sell specific qualities that are achieved by blending different coffees’. Even if a roaster markets a coffee such as “Pure Kenyan” as coming from a single origin, he may have to blend certain disparate qualities from Kenya to arrive at the end product. Quality must suit the purpose for which coffee is bought.
International Coffee Imports is the exclusive importer to the US of Josra Coffee importing coffee for both roasters and trade houses. Josra liquor (tasting and cupping) and blend (also known as bulking) the coffee before shipment. In producing countries, the main objective of blending is to ensure that the export quality is consistent as possible throughout the year. Blending often enables an exporter to assure their shipments will conform to agreed quality standards. Our coffee is onsite here in the states and available now for your tasting. International Coffee Imports can provide any quantity from a single bag to multiple containers, any grade or quality, single origin blends or single origin lots… whatever your specialty coffee needs International Coffee Imports can help.