Kenya: A Coffee Powerhouse - Drink Day with Elizabetta Tekeste

Welcome back coffee drinkers everywhere! This week we're traveling to the Republic of Kenya, the "place with ostriches (1)" and great coffee. Although late to coffee (cultivation began around 17th century compared to Ethiopia's start in the 15th century), Kenya is a coffee powerhouse to be reckoned with. From production to processing, Kenya often sets the standard by paying attention to detail along the way to a great bean. Time to go cherry picking! The Bean:

The rich, acidic soil in the mountains of Kenya produces a version of the Arabica bean that is distinctly different from Ethiopia's. Grown 5000-7000 feet above sea level Kenyan coffee is laced with notes of varied and tropical fruits like watermelon, pineapple, kiwi and the sweetness of honey.  The moderate climate and regular rainfall contribute to an ideal location to grow coffee making it a significant export(2) and employing over 5 million people in the country. But Kenya doesn't just produce coffee, its produces some of the best in the world also known as the peaberry variety. So, what exactly is the peaberry? It is a product of nature, not demographic region. Simply put when coffee matures the beans splits in half this is what most people have come to know as the coffee bean. However, about 5% of the time the bean does not split and what you have are complete beans in the shape of a pea, hence the "peaberry".  Coffee connoisseurs agree the peaberry variety makes the best coffee, but why it tastes better is often a topic for discussion. Some believe it is because the nutrients are packed into the whole bean, others make the compelling argument that roasting is more evenly distributed on a whole bean. In any case, once you've tried a peaberry variety you'll agree the flavor is considerably more intense. Because it is rare and yields a superior coffee the peaberry demands the highest market price at the Nairobi Coffee Exchange.


Cultivation is part of what produces a great bean. Playing an equal part in the outcome is the processing. Kenya takes great pride in how they process their beans ensuring they create a high demand for the one million bags of coffee they produce each year. Approximately 95% of the beans are wet-processed a process that is both labor intensive and a labor of love.

The stages include:

1)    Selection/sorting- diseased, ripe/under ripe cherries are removed here (see image).

2)    Pulping- the outer skin of the cherries is removed.

3)    Grading- according to size, shape and weight of the bean.

4)    Soaking- in water tanks where natural fermentation removes the residual cherry from the beans (double fermentation is common to remove all mucilage for a better tasting bean). This can take up to 36 hours (see image).

5)    Final Wash- in fresh water to clean the beans.

6)    Skin Drying- sun drying on drying tables where beans are regularly turned. This can take up to 8 days (see image).

Their noted cooperative of small farms and mills finances one of the best research institutions in the world: The Coffee Research Foundation, known to offer national and international training on all aspects of coffee ranging from; research and dissemination of new technologies; development and sustainment of wealth and overall improved welfare, productivity and efficiency in the coffee industry. Worthwhile when you consider that coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world(3). When it's said and done Kenya proves to be vested in its coffee industry for the long haul!

Till our next cup of coffee!

Next week it's all about Rwanda! If you have images pertaining to your coffee experiences relevant to Rwanda email them to me by Monday, 1st Nov. 9:00AM EDT. Once again, I'll post the best images on my blog on Wednesday, 3rd November.

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(1) The name Kenya means "place of ostriches".

(2) Making up 5% of the country's total exports.

(3) The first is petroleum.