Growing Altitude: 1,700 – 1,800 meters
Harvest Period: November – December
Milling Process: Fully Washed, Sun Dried on Raised Beds
Aroma: Fresh, Floral
Flavour: Bergamot, Berries, Lemongrass
Body: Rich, Heavy
Kenya Coffee has Resonant Cup Presence
Known for their potent sweetness and powerful character, Kenyan coffee tasting notes indicate it has a resonant cup presence, exhibiting intense flavors with a distinct winey richness and dry, winey aftertaste similar to Ethiopian Harrar yet with more of a full-bodied richness than Ethiopian coffees.
A good Kenya coffee is vibrant yet clean and crisp, not subtle or delicate, and typically very well-balanced. Notes of lemony citrus may be present, even pepper, along with tones of blackberry. The aftertaste of a Kenya coffee may be quite dry with a lemony zest to it, or perhaps winey.
Kenya Coffee – Tasting Notes
Pause to appreciate the sublime, even intoxicating black currant undertones in the flavor and aroma. One reason a mug of Kenya coffee is known as the Connoisseurs Cup is that they are typically well-balanced including their taste, acidity, and mouthfeel (body).
Coffee Growing in Kenya
Most of Kenya’s coffee is grown at elevations ranging from 1,400 meters to 2,000 meters above sea level in the volcanic soils on the high plateaus surrounding the snow-capped Mt. Kenya and the foothills of the Aberdare Range. This elevation qualifies it for Strictly High Grown (SHG) / Strictly Hard Bean (SHB) status. The nature of the high altitude means that Kenyan coffees grow slowly, allowing ample time to develop and providing lots of nutrients to the coffee bean.
The area that spans from 17,000-foot Mt. Kenya south toward the capital of Nairobi is a major coffee growing region, while a smaller growing region is found near the border with Uganda on the hills of Mt. Elgon.
Kenya’s Coffee-Growing Regions
Kenya coffee growing regions include Ruiri, Thika, Kirinyaga, Mt. Kenya West, Nyeri, Kiambu, and Muranga. These prime coffee-growing areas include a wide range of native forest ecosystems that support a variety of wildlife.
The coffee industry of Kenya involves many small farms and cooperatives as well as larger estates. In all about six million Kenyans are involved in the country’s coffee industry.
Kenya’s also has a cooperative system of milling the coffee as well as marketing, and auctions are held each Tuesday during the harvest season creating a situation of price wars over the finest Kenya coffees.
Kenya Coffee Plant Varietals
Kenya’s red-orange, loamy volcanic soils and the region’s moderate climate as well as the ideal equatorial sunlight and well-chosen and Kenya coffee plant varietals (e.g., most notably SL28 but also SL34, Kent, Ruiri 11, and African K7—all distinct to East Africa—as well as Blue Mountain) allow Kenya to be perhaps the planet’s most consistent producer of world-class premium gourmet coffees.
The commercial coffee cultivars produced by Kenya’s Coffee Research Foundation include: Ruiri 11, which grows well at all elevations and is resistant to coffee berry disease as well as coffee leaf rust; SL34, which grows well at higher elevations with ample rainfall; SL28, which grows well at high to medium elevations where coffee leaf rust is not a significant problem; and Kent, which grows well at lower elevation areas that are also vulnerable to coffee leaf rust.
The varietal African K7 is a French Mission Bourbon varietal (Coffea arabica var. bourbon) grown in Muhroni, Kenya at the Legetet Estate. It was chosen for cultivation based upon cupping trials. Robusta coffee (Coffea canephora var. robusta) grows in humid, lower elevation areas in Western Kenya.
Flowering of Kenya Coffee Plants
Kenya’s coffee crops in general flower after the rains commence—this occurs in March and April, with the coffee cherry (fruit) ripening from May to July, and then again in September and October, with most of Kenya’s coffee cherry coming to ripeness from October to December.
Acidic soils provide optimal growing conditions on the upper elevation high plateau regions surrounding Mt. Kenya including the Aberdare Range, Nyanza, Kisii, Bungoma, Kericho, and Nakuru. The botanical Arabica varietals that are grown in these areas were first introduced from Ethiopia.
Kenya Coffee Grading
As some of the world’s finest gourmet coffees, Kenyan coffees are carefully graded after harvest. The coffee beans are separated (sorted) and rated by bean size as well as shape, color, and density, with the general assumption being that bigger coffee beans are higher in quality. The largest and best coffee beans from Kenya are graded Kenya AA.
Other factors are also important in determining the beans’ quality, and cuppers (professional coffee tasters) debate whether bean size necessarily means a better quality of roasted, ground, brewed Kenyan coffee.
Nevertheless, sorting is done by size, and the screen size Kenya AA is the highest sorting beans just over one-fourth inch in diameter. A bit smaller is the Kenyan AB grade, which are regarded by some as a better bean than the AA.
Removing Defective Green Coffee Beans
Mechanical and electronic grading—by weight, size, shape, and color—takes place after milling and helps to isolate the best coffee beans while also removing defective beans that may add an off-taste to an otherwise premium gourmet coffees.
According the class system devised by the Coffee Board of Kenya, the worst coffee beans are classified as a one and the best are a ten. A bean may be rated as an AA according to its size, though only a four or five on the class system, which would mean that it wasn’t the highest quality coffee bean.
Of all of the premium gourmet coffees in the world—and there are relatively few at the top—Kenya coffee is perhaps the most consistently high quality coffee bean that is also consistently available.
Grades of Kenya Coffee
The grades of Kenya coffee beans include Kenya E (Elephant Bean), Kenya PB (Peaberry), Kenya AA, Kenya AB, Kenya C, Kenya TT, Kenya T, and Kenya MH/ML. See Kenya Coffee Grading for more information on each of these grades.