Kenyan Coffee: How to Buy, Brew And Enjoy It Like a True Coffee Connoisseur
When it comes to ranking the best coffees worldwide, there are only a handful of significant coffee growing regions that regularly come out on top. One of the most famous ones is certainly Kenya.
Coffee experts consider Kenyan beans to be the elite of the elite due to its full body and delicate, complex flavors. And this isn’t by chance. Kenyan farmers have a lot of different factors going in their favor. From ideal growing conditions to extensive research and commerce strategies, there is a lot behind the scenes to keep that supply of delicious Kenyan coffee beans flowing.
So, let’s dive deeper into the beauties of the Kenyan coffee culture.
Kenya Peaberry (Volcanica)
The #1 bean for light, fruity African flavours. Fair trade certified. Full bodied, strong acidity yet almost wine-like. Think Black currants and citrus. This is a rare Micro-lot batch, meaning only 5% or less of the crop make it to Kenyan Peaberry.
Interesting Facts About Kenyan Coffee
Not only are Kenyan beans one of the best coffee beans in our opinion, but it’s also a common coffee bean to hear when you ask someone about their favorite single origin.
Flavor Characteristics: How Does It Taste?
Kenyan coffee beans are known for their full body, balanced complexity and deep dimension. They typically offer a savory-sweet nuance that experts describe as wine-like acidity (1). Many beans grown at high elevations in volcanic soils are imbued with high acid content.
Kenyan beans are medium to full-bodied, while still imparting a bold flavor and juiciness that resonates on the palate.
Depending on the coffee bean varietal, tones range from black-currant berries to tart citrus. They are universally clean in the cup and offer a tropical taste unique to the area and prized by many connoisseurs.
The most popular and prized Kenyan coffee beans are SL-28 and SL-34. These robotic-sounding names come from the fact that both were promoted by Scott Labs decades ago. The lab was hired by the Kenyan government in the 1930s to determine the most economically viable coffee strains in the nation.
SL-34 is distinguished in the field by its bronze-tipped leaves, resistance to heavy rainfall, and lower elevation growth conditions. Yet, the SL-28 is the prima donna of the two. It offers a complex and dazzling tomato-like acidity, so unique, that many discuss terroir as a contributing factor.
Kenyan coffee beans are also graded by size, with the measurement process carried out prior to roasting. The largest are graded Kenya E (for elephant) and the second largest are designated Kenya AA.
Kenya AA beans are among the world’s most sought-after, and you can see why in this video:
What Type of Coffee is Kenyan?
There exist two types of coffee beans in the world: arabica and robusta. Arabica beans are known to offer a better flavor and higher-quality coffee (2). Differently, robusta beans, which suffer from an inherent bitterness, are prized for being easy to grow and producing large yields. In Africa, robusta coffees are grown in Madagascar and Uganda.
Kenya is a near perfect place to grow arabica beans which have been shown to thrive at high elevations and in deep, well-drained loamy soil .
Its near-exclusive production of these higher-end beans contributes to a worldwide reputation for quality coffees. In what is becoming a global trend, Kenya is increasingly under fire for introducing new hybrid varieties of arabica that successfully resist disease. Unfortunately, these beans do not offer the same subtly acidic nuances as the old classics, SL-28 and SL-34.
Coffee Growing Conditions Of Kenyan Coffee
In Kenya, coffee is grown in fertile volcanic soil at high elevations between 1400 and 2000 meters above sea level. This deep, loamy soil is perfect for the cultivation of arabica beans and is largely responsible for Kenya’s reputation for quality products.
At present, about 160,000 hectares of land is cultivated for coffee. This is divided between large plantations and small scale growers.
The major coffee growing area lies on the slopes of Mt. Kenya and stretches to the capital, Nairobi, while a smaller region is also in production around Mt. Elgon.
The characteristically bright flavors of Kenyan java are often credited to the nearly complete lack of shade in both these districts.
The Processing Method Of The Beans
A particular protocol has been established in the processing of Kenyan beans which produces a reliable high-quality product (3). All processing is carried out via the wet method which tends to yield, a cleaner, brighter and fruitier cup.
During picking, only perfectly ripe red cherries are selected with care taken to remove any damaged or diseased fruit.
The beans undergo a long fermentation process of up to 36 hours. This helps to remove the slimy, sugary coating, after which they are sun-dried and then sent onwards for milling.
The Current State Of The Kenyan Coffee Industry
The coffee industry in Kenya is often boasted to be one of the world’s most advanced. This is due to a cooperative system of production, processing, milling, and marketing.
Coffee growing arrived to Kenya with the British in the early 20th century. It is now the 16th largest producer in the world with annual yields on the order of 100 million tons. Of that, approximately 95% is designated for export as Kenyans themselves have long favoured tea drinking. Estimates suggest there are 150,000 coffee farmers in Kenya, and up to six million Kenyans find direct or indirect employment through the coffee industry (4).
They maintain advanced research facilities and an open auction export that is thought to be the key to success.
Two-thirds of production stems from small scale farmers with the remaining third deriving from large plantations. Unfortunately, despite the profitability of the beans themselves, coffee farmers in Kenya are amongst the world’s poorest.
This is beginning to take a toll on production with yields falling in recent years as small-scale farmers give in to socio-economic factors. Coffee production is also currently in a state of decline due to a property boom in areas that were previously used for cultivation, as well as global coffee price instability.
Best Way To Brew Kenyan Joe
As with any other type of coffee, you can enjoy the Kenyan beans in several different ways. However, you’ll get the most of it with the Kahava chungu, steeping and cold brew methods.
Kenyans themselves prefer tea to coffee, and it is only in the past few decades that coffee-drinking has begun to take hold in the region. The exception to this is Kahawa Chunghu, also known as Kenyan Bitter Coffee, which has traditionally been sipped from miniature cups by elderly Swahili men.
The beverage is typically brewed over a charcoal stove in a tall brass kettle and it derives its bitterness through the inclusion of ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and/or other spices. It is often served with dates or other sweet treats to balance the palate.
Kahawa Chunghu is frequently touted as an aphrodisiaque as it helps with blood circulation and alertness. If you’d like to try making your own, there is a recipe here (5).
Steeping Methods Are The Best
If you’re interested in truly savouring the subtle nuances of a Kenyan brew, many experts recommend a steeping rather than a drip method.
A French Press or an Aeropress are both excellent tools for the job.
It is also suggested that Kenyan beans are brewed a little stronger and ground a little finer than is standard. This all serves to better highlight the bright and acidic nature of the beans.
A Cold Brew With A Bright Flavor
In a similar vein, Kenyan beans are often considered among the best for making cold brew. Cold brewing coffee preserves the more subtle floral and fruity notes of a bean, which is of particular interest with Kenyan beans renowned for the juicy flavors.
Cold brewing is as simple as steeping ground coffee in cold water for 18 to 24 hours before straining out the grounds. A French press is a reliable tool for the job, though tools as simple as a mason jar and a fine sieve can be employed.
Where To Buy Legitimate, Quality Kenyan Beans
Kenyan beans’ position near the top of the gourmet ladder means that they are readily available. Even your local Starbucks is likely to offer a bag.
For optimal freshness however, finding an online purveyor that ships beans soon after roasting is far superior.
|Coffee Bean Direct’s Kenyan Coffee||
|Nairobi Coffee and Tea Co.’s Kenyan Coffee||
|Sweet Maria’s Kenyan Beans||
|Kenya Peaberry (Volcanica)||
|Kenya AA (Volcanica)||
Single-origin Kenya coffee beans are among the most expensive in the world, but this is not without reason. The nation’s transparent auction system means that bags of beans are traceable to the source and ensures that top quality products fetch the highest prices.
This is a boon to small scale farmers and co-operatives who receive fair prices for their output and serves to encourage higher quality production.
1. Volcanica Coffee’s Kenya Peaberry – Top Pick
Peaberry coffee beans
- Micro-lot, just 5% of the entire crop
Fair trade certified
- Medium roast, available pre-ground or whole bean
2. Coffee Bean Direct’s Kenya AA
Company with a reliable reputation
- Aromatic, sweet, and strong with the right amount of acidity
- Slightly heavier light roast
- Can choose ground or whole bean
- Multiple bag sizes available
Coffee Bean Direct is an American seller with a reliable reputation. They offer bags of Kenyan AA beans in various sizes. The beans are given a slightly heavier light roast than standard, without becoming oily, to emphasize subtle flavor notes adequately.
3. Nairobi Coffee And Tea Co.’S Kenyan Beans
Beans are full-bodied with a distinctive aroma
- Company is known for being environmental stewards and ethical traders
The Nairobi Coffee and Tea Company was founded in London in 1925 by two men returning home from running coffee farms in East Africa. Their long history allows them the connections and expertise to source some of Kenya’s finest coffees and to roast them to perfection. They have also established a reputation as environmental stewards and ethical traders.
4. Sweet Maria’s Kenyan Coffee Beans
Has selection of green beans in peaberry, AA and AB grades
- Perfect for home roasting
- Beans are sourced from small farmers
For home roasters, Sweet Maria’s offers an extensive selection of green beans in peaberry, AA and AB grades. They also offer everything else the aspiring home roaster might want, from instructions and information to equipment.
Right now, Volcanica Coffee is at the top of our list. They dominate the Third Wave scene, keeping incredible, quality coffees available all the time and at some pretty incredible prices, too. Their family focus and ethical approach to business make them a truly dependable source for your morning cuppa! Case in point: This amazing medium roast Kenya Peaberry Coffee.
Peaberry coffee is already something special for a lot of coffee drinkers, with many thinking it brings a “noticeably sweeter and more flavorful” taste to their java. So you can imagine how heavenly things get when the peaberries are from one of the best coffee-growing regions in the world.
The beans are complex and full-bodied with a winy, blackcurrant flavor and a “sharp acidity.” They’re part of a micro-lot that consists of just 5% of the entire crop, truly making them the best of the best.
5. Volcanica Coffee’s Kenya AA Coffee
Kenya AA are specially selected and are some of the largest, densest, most flavor-filled coffee beans
- Medium roast, available pre-ground or whole bean
- Volcanica roasts beans after you place your order, ensuring optimum freshness on delivery
Not only is this Kenyan AA Coffee from a region that is widely considered to be among the best in the world, it has also been carefully harvested and selected from some of the largest, best-shaped, and densest coffee beans in all of East Africa.
Kenya AA beans are incredibly high-quality beans that are sun-dried and wet-processed, delivering an absolute smorgasbord of flavors. Both sweet and savory with a cranberry, raspberry tartness and a delicately profound resonance, these beans are some of the best you’ll find on the market.
With a commitment to the best quality from farm to cup, you’ll know Volcanica’s Kenya AA coffee beans will be top of the heap. They even wait until after you’ve ordered to roast them, guaranteeing peak flavor upon arrival on your doorstep.
What Is The Most Suitable Roast?
Kenyans take well to a variety of roasts, but most opt for a light roast to medium roast to better emphasize the subtle fruity flavors of the bean.
Though different classifications (Kenya AA, AB, peaberry) respond differently to the application of heat, the relative density of all these beans means that all grades are quite forgiving. The key is to highlight the fruity acidity of the beans along with the creamy mouthfeel. A very light roast is often favoured, but venturing slightly darker can help promote the sweeter berry flavors of the bean.
Very light roasts are often starchy with malty and banana nuances whereas slightly darker Full City roasts bring cocoa and caramel tones to the forefront.
The drying stage of the roast is particularly important with Kenyans.
Slower drying helps push the sweetness and develop the prized weighty mouthfeel. The reaching of the first crack (when the beans first emit an audible cracking sound during roasting) must be done slowly.
It is also suggested that Kenyan beans be allowed to rest for at least two days following the roasting process to truly optimize their inherent sweetness.
Furahia Kahawa Yako (Enjoy Your Coffee)
Kenyan beans are a globally renowned product thanks to high-elevation and loamy volcanic soils that are ideal for rearing arabica beans. By pairing these fortuitous natural resources with a sophisticated growth, production and distribution system, Kenya has taken full advantage of its coffee potential.
As external factors begin to negatively influence production in the region, be sure to sample some of this luxury product before it’s too late.
Kenyan coffee is so good because of its citrusy tones. With proper slow roasting, their bold flavor is what makes it stand out from the rest of the popular beans.
Kenyan coffee is Arabica.
The best coffee in Africa is thought to be from Kenya. They have the best land for growing coffee, which is something their government recognized as a priority.
- Coffees from Africa and Arabia: Kenya | CoffeeReview.com Retrieved from https://www.coffeereview.com/coffee-origins/kenya/
- How Does Altitude Affect Coffee and Its Taste in the Cup? | Perfect Daily Grind Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2015/06/how-does-altitude-affect-coffee-and-its-taste-in-the-cup/
- The Farm to Cup Coffee Process | KENCAFFEE | KENCAFFEE Retrieved from https://www.kencaffee.coop/
- Kenya’s coffee wars | The Independent Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/kenya-s-coffee-wars-6666206.html
- Kahawa (coffee) | Recipes Wiki | FANDOM powered by Wikia Retrieved From https://recipes.fandom.com/wiki/Kahawa_(coffee)