Coffee was introduced to Kenya in 1893 by the Scottish missionary John Paterson. The coffee seed was reported to have been obtained from the Smith Mackenzie & Co., agents of the British East India Company at the Yemeni port city of Aden. It was then sown in Kenya at Kibwezi, near Mombasa. The year 1896 marked the first harvest from that planting, as well as the first introduction of coffee into the very fertile Kiambu-Kikuyu district. By 1912 a number of large coffee estates several hundred acres in size were established around the Kiambu-Kikuyu area growing primarily Kent and Bourbon varieties.By the time Kenya gained its independence in 1963, Kenya had already gained a reputation for producing some of the highest quality coffee in the world.
The vast bulk of Kenya’s coffee is sold through an auction system, under the auspices of the Kenya Coffee Board. Private marketing services and exporters buy top quality lots through these auctions, having cupped samples of available lots before hand. Atlas has had access to fantastic quality to these auction lots through our exporter partners, but it’s only been relatively recently that we’ve been able to work more directly with the growers of our favorite Kenya coffees, and lay the groundwork for a long term personal connection.
Traceable Kenya coffees are available from either privately owned estates, or cooperatively managed washing stations commonly called “Factories.” Factories are typically organized in Societies, much like cooperatives organize under associations in Latin American coffee producing countries. While private estates have had the ability to market directly to buyers for some time, it’s a relatively recent development that exporters have been able to market coffees from individual washing stations (factories) directly to buyers. Atlas’ buying is currently focused on just a few Farmer Cooperative Societies (FCS.) In Nyeri County we work often with Othaya and Rumukia Societies, and in Murang’a County we’ve more recently started buying from Kariua and Gatunyu Kigio Societies.
Atlas is fortunate to have strong social development partners in Kenya. Since 2016 we’ve worked with the University of Washington TREE program and Aga Khan University Hospital based in Nairobi to bring a mobile women’s health clinic to coffee producing communities in Nyeri, Murang’a and Embu Counties. Read more on our News page about how you can support cervical cancer screening for women farmers through our Farmer Health Program.
Unique to East Africa is a letter based size grading system. Screen sizes are measured in 64ths of an inch increments. “AA” is the largest size grade, consisting of beans with screen sizes 17 and 18. “AB” refers to 15/16 screen, “C” grade is 14/15 screen and “PB” is the small peaberry bean. Larger screen sizes fetch higher auction prices even today, with much of the international market preferring a large size bean. We’ve found that there’s no absolute correlation between bean size and cup quality, which is why many of our Kenya offerings are AB and PB grade.
The quality of Kenya coffee is considered among the highest in specialty coffee circles. The sweetness, complexity and bold acidity is practically unmatched by any other coffee growing region. Fruit notes range from citrus (grapefruit, mandarin orange) to stone fruit (peach, apricot) to dark berry (blackberry, black currant) and everything in between. The diversity of Kenya coffee profiles is part of the origin’s charm. Here at Atlas we source an array of different styles to showcase the best coffees that Kenya has to offer.