Coffee in Kenya
Though coffee growing had a relatively late start in Kenya, the industry has gained and maintained an impressive reputation. Since the start of production, Kenyan coffee has been recognized for its high-quality, meticulous preparation and exquisite flavors. Our in-country sister company, Sucafina Kenya, works with farmers across the country to ensure these exceptional coffees gain the accolades they deserve.
Today, more than 600,000 smallholders farming fewer than 5 acres compose 99% of the coffee farming population of Kenya. Their farms cover more than 75% of total coffee growing land and produce nearly 70% of the country’s coffee. These farmers are organized into hundreds of Farmer Cooperative Societies (FCS), all of which operate at least one factory. The remainder of annual production is grown and processed by small, medium and large land estates. Most of the larger estates have their own washing stations.
Most Kenyan coffees are fully washed and dried on raised beds. The country still upholds its reputation for high quality and attention to detail at its many washing stations. The best factories employ stringent sorting practices at cherry intake, and many of them have had the same management staff in place for years.
Farmers cultivate small coffee farms of approximately 250 to 350 trees at altitudes of 1,600 to 1,800+ meters above sea level and deliver their cherries to Kabingara factory. The high altitudes provide the warm days and cool nights that help nurture sweet, dense cherries. The washing station is owned and operated by Karithathi Farmers’ Cooperative Society (FCS).
About this Coffee
Farmers delivering to Karithathi washing station cultivate primarily SL28, SL34, Batian and Ruiru 11 in small coffee gardens that are, on average, smaller than 1 hectare. ‘SL’ varieties are cultivars originally released by Scott Agricultural Laboratories (SAL) in the 1930s and 1940s. They soon became the go-to trees for many growers in Kenya due to their deep root structure, which allows them to maximize scarce water resources and flourish even without irrigation. They are cultivated with a serious eye towards sustainability and Good Agricultural Practices, with minimal environmental impact where possible.
Batian is a relatively new variety introduced by the Kenya Coffee Research Institute (CRI) in 2010. Batian is named after the highest peak on Mt. Kenya and is resistant to both CBD and CLR. The variety has the added benefit of early maturity – cropping after only two years. Similar to Batian, Ruiru 11 is a new variety known for its disease resistance and high yields. It also starts yielding fruit after just 2 years.
Farmers receive technical agronomic support from Sucafina Kenya. They also receive soil sampling from Kahawa Bora. The soil sampling program addresses a key step in farmer profitability. Lower input costs mean lower overall production costs and higher profits. More targeted input application also translates into healthier trees and higher quality cherries.
Prior to Kahawa Bora’s soil sampling program, farmers had little access to soil analysis methods. Fertilizer, when applied, would be formulated according to a generalized recipe rather than one uniquely suited to the farm’s exact needs. Now, with better access to information through technology and agronomical assistance, farmers can apply the right fertilizer recipe at the right time, improving yields and cherry quality.
Kenyan coffees are classified by size. AB beans are those that are between screen size 15 and 18 meaning that beans are between 6 and 7 millimeters in size.
Smallholders selectively handpick ripe, red cherries and deliver them to Kabingara Factory. At intake, the Cherry Clerk oversees meticulous visual sorting and floating and accepts only dense, ripe cherries.
After intake, the cherry is pulped and fermented. Following fermentation, coffee is washed in clean water and laid to dry on raised beds. Workers rake parchment frequently to ensure even drying. They cover drying parchment during the hottest time of day, to maintain slow, even drying and at night, to shelter parchment from moisture. It takes an average of 7 to 14 days for parchment to dry.