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 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 elevations in Central Kenya (up to 2100 meters above sea level in some regions) as an important part of the reason theses coffees tend toward such immense character. The combination of intense sunlight and cool nights is great for the development of the coffee cherry and encourages the accumulation of sugars and organic acids in the seed we roast.
Coffee genetics are another factor. The SL-28 and SL-34 cultivars that are so widely grown there are a natural fit for the terroir, patiently developed there over many years by breeders. They 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 on point. The unique combination of extended dry fermentation followed by brief soaking stage after washing 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 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-growing countries are situated in lowland areas whose high temperatures and humidity accelerate the degradation of the raw coffee seed. Nairobi, by contrast, enjoys a high elevation — nearly 6000 feet above sea level — and relatively stable temperatures, providing a comfortable environment for coffee during milling and storage that helps prevent the loss of quality during the weeks or months the coffee spends between harvest and shipment.
Whatever the reason, what matters most is the outcome — breathtaking coffee that stands out in any context, unrivaled in its mouthwatering gorgeousness.