Posted in Kafevend Blog
Welcome back to the Kafevend blog, and a trip this week to a continent we've left untouched in our recent delvings into tea
- Africa. Today we are going to take a look at coffee's role in Kenya. As ever, we'll start at the beginning- how did coffee get there?
Took its time
Despite sharing a border with Ethiopia, the birth place of coffee, it wasn't until almost the end of the 19th century that coffee arrived. It was supposedly brought to Kenya in 1893 by French missionaries, bringing trees from the island of Reunion, which lies a little way to the east of Madagascar. It is also possible that it was the British- who were in control of Kenya at the time- who introduced it, but there doesn't seem to be a agreement on just who it was.
As coffee took off, the major coffee growing regions in Kenya were concentrated in the south western quarter of the country around the capital of Nairobi, with a few outliers even further south near the border with Tanzania. Large areas of coffee plantations were concentrated around the slopes of Mount Elgon and Mount Kenya, taking advantage of the rich soil to produce quality coffee.
In the 1930s, the coffee farmers themselves asked the colonial government to set up a coffee board, with the idea of providing things such as licensing and inspections. Another aspect to rise out of this was the establishment of an auction for the coffee, which has become an integral part to the way coffee is traded in Kenya.
The push for an auction system was perhaps based on the previous experiences of auctioning tea which had been taking place in Mombasa, a city found on Kenya's south eastern coast. The auction house there was established to meet the demand of Kenyan tea estate owners who no longer wished to send their tea off to auction in London, a system which had been established by the East India Company.
Nairobi's coffee auction is still going strong, and is a weekly occurrence. Samples of the lots up for auction are provided for potential buyers to try beforehand earlier in the week. This system, whereby prices aren't agreed upon, means that quality Kenyan coffee can fetch quite a high price as buyers have to compete against others who are after a good cuppa!
These days, around 70% of the coffee produced in Kenya is done so by smallholders. There is a strong cooperative scene in Kenya in all sorts of trades, coffee included. Whilst it is a great way to ensure a measure of equality amongst its members, the schemes have come under critiscism at times for either heavy handedness by the government or from misplaced idealism. However, a strong sense of community will hopefully see the cooperatives through what transformations they need to make as they drag coffee kicking and screaming into the 21st century- you can always do your bit aswell by keeping an eye out for Kenyan coffee on your shopping trips!
References:Coffee board of KenyaWikipedia