The History of Coffee in Kenya

Types of Coffee

Coffee has been used as a beverage since the fifteenth century. It consists of 60 species found all over the world. Out of the 60 total species, there are four species that are grown and sold commercially, and all of those originated on the continent of Africa. They are Coffea arabica, Coffea canephora (Coffea robusta), Coffea liberica and Coffea excelsa. Coffea arabica is by far the leader and accounts for 75-80% of the world’s coffee production.

Coffea arabica originated from the Ethiopian mountains, while Coffea robusta originated  in West African forests. Both C. arabica and C. robusta are important in the international coffee trade. Coffea liberica originated from forests in West Africa and Coffea excelsa originated in the area around Lake Chad. These last two species are of little commercial value, but are useful in hybridization to produce more suitable and disease resistant types for particular localities.

How Coffee Came to Kenya

The history of coffee in Kenya is a complicated one and reflective of the country’s broader history as a British colony and the struggle for independence. Despite being a neighbor to Ethiopia, where C. arabica originated, coffee was not introduced to Kenya until 1893, when Missionaries tried to import Bourbon Coffee from Brazil.

After the British colonized Kenya, they declared certain crops to be grown by the white settlers and the Africans were to provide free or cheap labor. Coffee was one of these crops. It was not until after the Mau Mau war, which lasted from 1952-1960, that some Africans were allowed to grow coffee, but with strict control on how many plants one could grow, and never to use the coffee beans as a beverage directly.

All the coffee had to be centrally processed and marketed. The country’s best coffee was exported and only the poorest quality coffee was sold locally. This resulted in generations of native born Kenyans never knowing their country produced the world’s best coffee, including Kikwetu founder Leecox.

Coffee in Kenya Today

Government restrictions on the growing and selling of coffee were in place until less than 15 years ago. Today, thanks to sweeping reforms, coffee growers can do whatever they want with their coffee without attracting penalties. They can process and consume whatever amount and whatever quality of coffee they wish. They can contract directly or through Cooperative Societies to sell their coffee and, perhaps most importantly, they can determine the price of their product.

Kenya grows Coffea arabica exclusively. The Kenyan highlands, volcanic soils and good rainfall offer the best environment for production of high quality Kenya’s famous Arabica coffee. In addition to ideal growing conditions, coffee from Kenya stands above the rest because of the care coffee producers take throughout the growing and processing of their coffee. Diseases and insect pests control are given special attention. Coffee plant management involving pruning, timely harvest and processing are taken seriously.

The history of coffee in Kenya is one with hard work, determination and a love of the land and the crop. Today, Kenya’s coffee farmers are reaping the fruits of that labor and producing the world’s best coffee. Kikwetu Kenya Coffee Company is supremely privileged to bring that coffee, and a taste of Kenya, to your doorstep.