Coffee was ﬁrst grown in Kenya by Roman Catholic Fathers at St Austin’s near Nairobi in 1889. From then on it has proved to be quite popular and has over the years formed a major export commodity of Kenya. The species grown are Arabica and Robusta. The Arabica is a high quality, mild coffee much favoured for blending. The two coffee species are grown mainly by small scale farmers in the following regions:
- Central Region
Central Kenya comprises of Kiambu, Nyeri, Kirinyaga and Muranga Counties, the traditional coffee growing areas in Kenya which produce 60 per cent of the crop. In particular, Kiambu was once known as the ‘Brazil’ of Kenya due to the presence of large estates. This has since changed as urbanization cropped in.
The region has rich agricultural land with farmers also engaging in tea, dairy and horticultural farming. This is the traditional coffee growing area, where coffee is grown on small and large farms on the slopes of Mt. Kenya and the Aberdare Ranges. The region has fertile volcanic soils which are synonymous with a good cup of coffee.
The cup profile for Muran’ga, Kiambu and Thika has a well-rounded acidity with a grapefruit taste, while for Kirinyaga and Nyeri the cup has a sharp citrus acidity, a full body with blackcurrant and chocolate notes.
- Eastern Region.
Eastern Kenya comprises of Meru Central, Embu, Machakos, Tharaka-Nithi and Makueni Counties which have a range of agro ecological zones (from mountainous Mooreland to arid and semi-arid areas) and a variety of agricultural activities.
Machakos and Makueni Counties are predominantly arid and semi-arid. Coffee is grown on hilly areas such as the Iveti, Kangundo and Mbooni Hills. These counties are southeast of Nairobi and are the ancestral home of the Akamba people (known for their gift and talent in wood curving). Machakos is the major town in Ukambani and was established in 1887, ten years before Nairobi and was the first administrative centre for the British colony. However, they later moved the capital of Kenya to Nairobi in 1899 since Machakos by-passed the Uganda Railway that was under construction. The town and the district were named after Masaku, an Akamba chief.
Coffee is a very important crop in the economies of these counties. Being largely semi-arid, coffee is one of the most important sources of income and employment for many families both directly and indirectly.
- The Rift-Valley Region.
The Rift Valley is one of the wonders of the world, stretching from the Middle East, down through Africa, reaching as far as Mozambique. The staggering view as you approach from Nairobi, Kenya is quite unbelievable. The ground suddenly disappears from under you to show the huge expanse of the great rift, stretching for thousands of miles in either direction.
The local communities are generally livestock keepers and maize farmers. They are gradually transitioning into coffee farming with the youth and women leading the pack. Some societies in the region like Kapngetuny Farmers’ Co-operative Society have embraced Women in Coffee.
Coffee is grown on the highlands west of Rift Valley in Nakuru, Nandi, Kipkelion, Trans Nzoia and Baringo .The soils in the Rift Valley are young volcanic soils and very fertile. In many places the lava is not yet covered by vegetation and is still visible. The temperatures are also mild and do not go above 28 °C (82 °F).
The areas produce a cup with medium acidity, full body with some fruity overtones and a rich chocolate taste.
- Western Region.
Western Region comprises of Bungoma, Vihiga and Kakamega Counties. Agriculture is the backbone of Bungoma County and most families rely on crop production and animal rearing. The main crops include maize, beans, finger millet, sweet potatoes, bananas, Irish potatoes, and assorted vegetables. On the other hand, the main cash crops include sugar cane, cotton, palm oil, coffee, sunflower, and tobacco. Coffee is grown on the slopes of Mt. Elgon. The coffee cup has a bright acidity with fruity overtones typical of high altitudes.
Vihiga County is one of the counties in Kenya that has favourable ecological conditions for growing coffee which includes acidic soils, sunlight, right temperature and rainfall.
Trans-Nzoia is the ‘corn belt ‘of Kenya. Coffee is grown on small and medium estates. This area produces a cup with sharp citrus acidity and a full body.
- Nyanza Region.
The main coffee growing area in Nyanza includes, Kisii, Nyamira, Migori and Kisumu Counties. Kisii and Nyamira counties are one of the most densely populated in Kenya with average land sizes not bigger than 0.25 acres. The Kisii Highlands are agriculturally rich with high and reliable rainfall. Migori and Kisumu Counties have potential for coffee production.
The cup profile comes with medium acidity, medium body that is smooth and creamy. The flavour is sweet, nutty and toasty notes with some fruity hints.