One of the main reasons I chose to come on the Uganda/Kenya Chazen trip was to be closer to the source of some of the world’s best coffee. This is a little primer on the industry. If you are at all interested in trying coffee from these regions, you can order Café Grumpy’s Ichamama (Kenya) or PT’s Coffee Roastinc Co.’s Gochatha (Kenya).
(Photo Credit: PT’s Coffee Roasting Co. )
Coffee growing is an enormous part of both country’s economies, accounting for 60% of export revenue for Uganda (2000) and 3.8% in 2014 for Kenya. Although Kenya’s coffee production seems significantly smaller in terms of export value than Uganda, it was still the 4th largest export good ($227M), trumped only by Tea ($957M) Refined Petroleum ($721M) and Cut Flowers ($700M).
Coffee production in Uganda is likely as old as the civilizations who have lived here. The Robusta variety is indigenous to this country and makes up the bulk of its plantings. Most coffee growers are small-scale farmers who grow other crops as well. It is estimated that 1/3 of all rural households (1.2M families) produce some coffee. The bulk is grown in the west, on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, comprising of mostly Robusta plants, though some Arabica is grown at the base of Mt. Elgon in the East near Kenya.
Coffee production only began in 1893 in Kenya, surprising considering that Ethiopia is considered the birthplace of coffee. Most of the coffee grown here is of the Arabica variety and specifically SL28, which is susceptible to disease but more delicious and aromatic than the heartier varieties. The main growing region is Nyeri County, about 2-4 hours north and slightly west of Nairobi, rich in volcanic soil. Half of the production is from small farmers who bring their coffee cherries to a washing station co-operative where it is washed, dried and sold.
We are looking forward to trying these coffees and eventually seeing it first hand.
Robusta: native to Uganda, resistant to pests and disease, thrives in humid environments, finished product usually found in instant coffees and filler for bulk coffee production
Arabica: native to Ethiopia, usually grown at higher altitudes and found in premium, single-origin roasts