Kenya is in East Africa, along the Indian Ocean. Beyond the coastal plains, the land rises to plateaux interrupted by volcanic mountains. The Rift Valley runs northwest of Nairobi to Lake Turkana. Most people live in central Kenya.

Conditions are tropical on the coast, semi-desert in the north and savannah in the south. Agricultural products, mainly tea and coffee, provide half of the export earnings. Light industry is important. Tourism is the main foreign exchange earner; oil refinement and re-exports for landlocked neighbours are others.

Only Arabica

The larger part of the production is washed Arabica and about 10% is unwashed and dry-processed.

Kenyan historians agree that coffee was first grown in a commercial sense towards the end of the last century (1893) through efforts of European missionaries. The coffee is of an extra mild Arabica type, that has been grouped by the ICO, together with Colombia and Tanzania, as one of the "Colombian Mild Arabicas". 

Since the introduction of a small scale coffee production 50 years ago, the coffee grown area has steadily expanded. By the 1994-95 coffee season, there were about 1,300 coffee plantations with a total of approx. 38,000 hectares, compared to 600,000 small scale growers with 120,000 hectares. The average coffee yield of small scale farms is 534 kg per hectare clean coffee, compared to an average yield of 1,064 kg/ha at plantations. 

Until 1950 Kenyan coffee was mainly grown on large estates (plantations) by European settler farmers on land that was suitable for mechanisation and irrigation. After 1952, Kenyan Africans were selectively allowed to grow coffee on smallholder farms in hilly and undulating terrains, which were limited for human labour and in natural rainfall. Because of the necessity to wet process the coffee, the investments and equipment required to do this, and the relative small size of these farms, they eventually organised themselves under the auspices of co-operative societies to share the investments, maintenance and usage of processing plants.

Today, the cooperative sector is responsible for the bulk (65%) of the Kenya coffee exports.

Over the years, the Kenyan coffee industry's devotion to processing and marketing a high quality product has earned them "Premium" prices on the world coffee market. 

Ruiri 11

The Kenyan research foundation tried to market this new variety of cheaper, more resistant Arabica but so far results have not been encouraging. The "Ruiri 11" which accounts for approximately 5% of the total production, is a low cost grade, cutting production costs by 30% percent, mainly due to its resistance to coffee berry disease and leaf rust. This grade also enables farmers to plant more coffee trees per hectare. Kenyan coffee buyers however, such as the USA and Japan, say that its quality is below traditional Arabica grades such as AA and AB, and contains undesirable flavour and taste characteristics. The main issue surrounding this coffee remains whether or not it would make better economic sense for African producers such as Kenya to worry less about reputation for premium quality and instead opt for cheaper, bulk output of grades like the Ruiri 11. So far, traders are reluctant to buy it.

Crop Periods

Flowering Period

Main : From March until April

Secondary: Fom October until November


Harvesting Period

Main : From November until February

Secondary : From May until August


Shipping Period

Main : From December until May

Secondary : From August until November

Transit days

Port of Shipment








Destination countries

1. Germany
2. USA
3. Japan, Belgium, Australia, France

Nice to know

Production came down a lot after having reached a peak of 2 mio bags in the mid eighties. The production of the country has suffered from climate instability.

ICO Figures

By screensize





Screens : 17 and 18 = 7.2 mm


Screens : 15 and 16 = 6.6 mm


Screens : 14 and 15


When the beans separate during processing, they are chipped and called "Ears". This category also contains large "Peaberries".


Light beans separated from AA and AB by air current


Smaller than TT, many fragments. Light beans separated from C by air current


Ungraded : all that does not fit the specific criteria for each official grade.




Deteriorated beans (branches broken by the wind or the weight of the cherries), processed by the dry method


M'buni Heavy = large beans


M'buni Light = small beans

Can be exported.

As is sorted : machine-cleaned, electronic-sorted, hand-picked once or twice.


Traditional descriptions

There are 10 classes of Kenyan coffee dependent on cup quality, 1 being the best and 10 the poorest.
Various descriptions include: Fine, Good, Fair to Good, Fair to average Quality ( FAQ ), Fair, Poor to Fair, and finally Poor.

Those classes and descriptions are becoming obsolete. FAQ is the only one still commonly used.

Current descriptions

Main crop coffee is considered a much better quality than fly crop coffee. Nowadays sellers add this distinction to the description. 
Due to lack a quality of some FAQ shipments, shippers started to use the term FAQ PLUS for their better FAQs

Typical description

Kenya AB FAQ fly crop

Picking (1)

only ripe cherries are picked; there are up to 7 pickings

Washing (2)

wet processing

Fermentation (3)

Dry fermentation from 36 - 72 hours

Drying (4)

sun-drying (on raised tables)

Sorting (5)

mechanical, by hand and electronic

Picking coffee

(1) About picking

Harvesting is done completely by hand. The individual red ripe cherries are usually picked 5 days a week during the major campaign by members of the cooperatives. On larger estates this may be done 6 or 7 times a week. During the period of the so called "fly-picking" (the secondary harvest), the crops are picked only once a week.

Washing coffee

(2) About washing

The cooperatives of the smaller planters run their own processing plants, which is equally true for most of the medium sized and all larger plantations. Hulling and all other processes are carried out in three mills. 


Washed Method : The fresh cherries, supplied to the processing plant, are first separated by gravity with the aid of water. This removes and separates most of the stones, sticks and some other foreign matter before the coffee is put upon conveyor belts to the feeding device of the pulping machine. Most processing plants use Disc pulpers. The pulper separates the pulp from the beans and then the "Aagard-pregrader" eliminates all materials that are too light.

(3) About Fermentation :

The coffee, after washing, is placed in concrete tanks , without water, where dry fermentation takes place. These concrete tanks are equipped with roofing to protect the coffee from sunlight and rain. The coffee is stirred three times a day and washed every morning until the fermentation process is complete. The duration of this process depends on the degree of ripeness and air temperature (ripe + warm = fastest fermentation) and will vary anywhere from 36 up to 72 hours. Fermentation time may be reduced by 50% by using recycled water or by adding pectic enzymes (16-20 hours). 

When the fermentation process is completed, the coffee is washed out of the tanks and is put into a specialised washing channel. This channel consists of a three section cascade designed to, with the help of water current, sort the coffee according to density. The heavier and better coffee beans are retained in the first and highest section, the product for the preparation and 2nd washing in the second section, and finally the waste material in the third and lowest section. The good coffee retained within the first section is then conducted to where it is dried.

Water is taken from natural watercourses (rivers or creeks), wells, or especially reservoirs. Water is recycled several times before it is finally filtered and disposed of. For the final washing only fresh and clean water is used.

(4) About Drying

Immediately after washing, the coffee is layed out in a thin layer and covered with a fine wire netting for predrying. During this process handpicking is carried out to eliminate faulty or insect-damaged beans. The coffee is then moved onto wire stagings covered with strong hessian and left to dry in the sun for a period of approximately 2 weeks.

Again during this drying process, handpicking is continued while the coffee is continuously being moved. In the event of extremely high temperatures or rain the stagings are rolled under a shed or roof or covered up with sheets or plastic in such a way as to enable air to penetrate from below. Coffee is dried until the residual moisture reaches 10 - 11%.

For quality reasons natural drying is preferred (about 70% of total production). In cases of artificial drying, the usual devices are used with no particular preference, some of which are locally produced.

(5) About sorting

Producers deliver their dry parchment coffee, of no more than 10,5% residual moisture, to the hulling mill for processing. Here the coffee is cleaned, screened and weighed before being stored in silos. The coffee is then hulled by cracking the parchment shell and polished before it is finally graded according to size and density.

The sorting by density is done using catadors or air separators and by bean size using vibrating screens. Finally the coffee is put through an electronic colour sorter and then pneumatically transported to a weighing and bagging station. Each producer's coffee is processed and stored separately until it has been sold.

About exporters

For decades all Kenyan coffees were sold through central auctions, supervised by the Kenyan Coffee Board, at the Nairobi Coffee Exchange. This was done practically every Tuesday morning throughout the year and bidding was done solely by licensed private exporters. Small samples were given to exporters 10 days before the actual auction, who in turn liaise with clients overseas. On the actual auction date, the highest bidder purchased the coffee. Successful buyers were given seven days in which to pay for the coffee by banker's draft. The Kenyan coffee year starts on October 1st and ends September 30th. As the Coffee Board of Kenya did not actually buy coffee from farmers, all proceeds from the auctions were returned to the farmer less marketing and processing costs. Kenyan farmers were paid not only for the quantity of coffee delivered, but also for the quality of the coffee's raw form, roasted form and cup.

Kenyan coffee farmers, since the mid 1990s, were also able to opt to be "out of pool" - a program also referred to as direct payment, which got auction proceeds from crops sold, at the auctions, into the hands of farmers much quicker. In the past, proceeds from these weekly auctions were all placed into a pool for the coffee year. "In pool" farmers were paid in three to four installments, on an estimated basis, over the entire coffee year. Final payment for the crop delivered was done at the end of the coffee year, often even later, and was based on receipts from auctions, less marketing cost and interim payments. "Out of Pool" farmers, on the other hand, were paid almost immediately after the coffee has been sold.

Since August 1st 2002, the Kenyan Coffee Board is no longer involved in the auctions in order to concentrate on regulating the sub-sector. The auction at the Nairobi Coffee Exchange (NCE) is now presided over by three licensed marketing agents : Millers Socfinaf, Kenya Planters' Co-operative Union (KPCU) and Thika Coffee Mills (TCM). Another significant change was the instruction for dealers and exporters to pay marketing agents directly and promptly. The agents are in turn required to pay farmers within seven days and pass the statutory deductions to respective institutions without delay. 

The Kenyan Coffee Board is still actively involved in promoting and marketing Kenyan coffee as well as processing, licensing, and in research & development. It also acts and serves as Agent of the Kenyan government in all matters pertaining to International agreements, made or to be made, in relation to coffee. 

Kenya is a vocal and active member of the World Speciality Coffee movement.

Nice to know

The bulk of the Kenyan production used to be of top quality. Today more and more "medium quality" is produced.

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