A Coffee Blog

Coffee from Kenya | The complete guide

It is in Ethiopia in East Africa that coffee has its roots (literally). In general, many of the coffee-producing countries in East Africa are known for growing high-quality coffee.

Kenya, which borders Ethiopia, is a country that has become particularly synonymous with speciality coffee of the highest quality. We come here with Kaffeteriet’s guide to coffee from Kenya.

A familiar place on the specialty coffee menu

In 2017, the Specialty Coffee Association made Kenya their SCA Portrait Country, ie. a coffee-producing country, which gets a special focus for the organization’s annual trade fair.

It is with good reason that they chose to focus on Kenya. The country manages to produce some of the best coffee in the world, if not seen by many as the best. 

Despite the fact that Kenya borders the motherland of coffee, Ethiopia, production of coffee actually began in Kenya around the turn of the century from the 19th to the 20th century. 

Coffee production was started by the British colonists, but through a series of laws in the 1930s and 50s, coffee production largely passed to the Kenyans themselves until they gained their independence in 1963. 

The very special thing about Kenya’s coffee production is its auction system, which has roots dating back to 1934. It is recognized as being one of the most transparent systems in relation to the coffee trade, as in most cases you can trace the coffee back to the farm on which it is grown.

All the coffee beans are evaluated before the auction, and here the Kenyans also have a specific system where the coffee is evaluated by size. It is often seen that e.g. Kenya AA is on the bag when buying Kenyan coffee. AA means it is the largest size coffee bean and not that it is the highest quality as it is otherwise often misunderstood as. 

The auction system has also helped to ensure good coffee prices in the country. Due to the auction, the coffee farmers in Kenya are not subject to market prices, which can often be very low and make it unprofitable to grow coffee. 

The disadvantages of the system, however, are that it is regulated by the government and associated with a certain amount of corruption. There are strict regulations regarding who can grow and finish coffee, and this also makes it difficult for coffee farmers to deal directly with roasteries around the world. 

Known areas and special coffee varieties

The vast majority of coffee farms in Kenya are quite small. There are some larger farms, primarily around the middle of Kenya, but the small farms mean that much of the production takes place through cooperatives. This means that the individual farmers are part of collaborations, where they each grow their own coffee, but they get it finished at a common washing station. 

The most frequent finishing of coffee beans in Kenya is the washing method. Here you remove the fruit from the coffee berries by i.a. to ferment the beans in a container with water, after which they are rinsed and dried. This way results in coffee that is pure and complex in taste and with a lot of acidities. 

Kenya is also known for having two varieties of coffee trees that are unique to the country. Both are of the Arabica variety and originate from the Bourbon variety, which was the coffee tree first imported to Kenya. The two varieties have the colloquial names SL-28 and SL-34 (‘SL’ stands for Scott Laboratories, where the variety was first cultivated). They are known to have a complex taste of berries and fruits with lots of sweetness and acidity. 

Coffee is grown in several parts of Kenya, and the country has a number of different regions, each with its own characteristics of cultivated coffee. The largest production takes place between Mt. Kenya and the capital, Nairobi. We mention a small selection of the regions here:


This region of Mount Kenya and the farmers here benefit from the lush volcanic soil. The region is known for some of the best coffee in Kenya.

In this region, you see smaller farms that are part of cooperatives to a greater extent than you see larger farms. The coffee is grown at an altitude of 1200-2300 meters, and the coffee varieties are primarily SL-28 and SL-34.


This region is located east of Nyeri and, like Nyeri, is known for producing high-quality coffee. The coffee is grown at an altitude of 1300-1900 meters, and the coffee varieties are very similar to those found in Nyeri.


This region, unlike the previous two, is characterized by having larger farms and not so many cooperatives. How much of the coffee in Kenya is often hand-picked, it is in this region in several places harvested by machines.

This means that the coffee is not always of the same good quality, as unripe and overripe berries are smoked, but in return, they can be produced in larger quantities.

Coffee in small quantities, but still good quality

In recent years, the amount of coffee grown in Kenya has been declining. It is i.a. because the younger generations would rather educate themselves than take over the parents’ coffee production.

Even though smaller quantities are being produced than before, the coffee from Kenya is still of very high quality. Kenyan coffee is definitely worth exploring.

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