Kunga Maitu Kenya
- July 2017
- Written by : Geoff Watts
Vice President / Green Coffee Buyer
Exuberant. Thrilling. Ecstatic. Brilliant.
There’s a reason why most coffee cuppers will name Kenya as their favorite origin—we tend to obsess over organic fruit acids and clarity of flavor, and the best coffees from Kenya have a vibrancy that outshines all others.
It is relatively easy to detect Kenyan coffees on a blind table, and even those new to specialty coffee learn to recognize their distinct character quickly, because it demands your attention. Nothing about Kenyan coffee is quiet—the volume is often at 11—and yet the great ones are so elegant and refined that they seem almost gentle despite their amplitude of taste. They manage to be intense, transparent, complex, and profoundly sweet all at once. It is very, very difficult to achieve this balance of power and grace in coffee, and the fact that Kenyan coffees accomplish it so consistently is downright amazing.
We can point to the country’s location smack on the equator and the exceptional altitudes in Central Kenya (up to 2100 meters in some regions) as some of the reasons these coffees tend toward such immense character. The combination of intense sunlight and cool nights is great for coffee bean development, and encourages the accumulation of sugars and organic acids.
Coffee variety is another factor—the SL-28 and SL-34 cultivars that are so widely grown in Kenya have a great pedigree and are known to produce coffees with compelling aromatic qualities.
Processing is also an important variable when it comes to preserving or enhancing cup quality, and Kenyan traditions for post-harvest coffee handling are exemplary. The unique combination of extended dry fermentation, post-wash soaking and a prolonged, low-velocity drying period is most certainly a contributing factor to the astounding depth and intensity of flavor in these beans.
Another may actually be a result of historical circumstance: Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, is where most of the country’s coffees are traded, graded and prepared for export. Many capital cities in coffee countries, which are often situated in lowland areas with ready access to seaports which can get extremely warm and humid, but not Nairobi. It sits at a commanding height of nearly 6000 feet, where lower humidity and narrower temperature ranges provide an optimal environment for the coffee during the weeks or months the coffee spends in storage awaiting milling and shipment. Whatever the reason, what matters is the outcome—breathtaking coffee that stands out in any context, unrivaled in its mouthwatering gorgeousness.