King of coffee
Kenya is king when talking about East African coffee. There is a certain special respect paid to any coffee that comes from Kenya, and for good reason. The ‘Kenya AA’ was the very first single origin specialty coffee to become a household name. From the altitude to the know-how, Kenyan coffee farmers have what it takes to grow truly exceptional coffees.
The last century was tough on royalty everywhere, including the king of coffee. Kenya’s influence on the world stage declined along with it’s exports – Kenya only exporter 660,000 bags of coffee in 2012, compared to over 2.1 million 25 years earlier. During this time coffee plantations have dwindled in size and output while smallholders diversified their crops.
Some have blamed Kenya’s national coffee auction for driving down volumes. The logic here is that famers were not getting their fair share of export price, and so put less effort into growing less coffee. The brand of and need for Kenyan coffee, supported by the National Auction, kept prices high for Kenyan coffees even while both quality and farmer income dropped.
Kenya’s recent response to this was to decentralize their coffee economy. Large milling collectives who with seats on the auction board in Nairobi were balkanized into regional groups. The dust has yet to settle on this change-up; Crop to Cup has yet to get involved in Kenya because we could not understand what our impact would be. We are still proceeding slowly, but these first coffees we are bringing in make it clear to us that this is a place we want to be.