Welcome to coffee country! Kenya coffee has recently gained international fame and acclaim as the best single blend for four years running. Quite an achievement considering the introduction of coffee to Kenya in 1893. The history of coffee is dark and deep, with many memories of the crop as the preserve of the colonial settlers until the 1940s.
Africans were not permitted to grow coffee and could only consume the lowest grade, the infamous ‘burnt’ taste of the ‘mbuni’ grade. This grade is produced from the late harvest berries, which are too defective and would ordinarily be picked and discarded. On a positive note, at least nothing went to waste.
Then came Karen Blixen the striking and ambitious Danish woman, who settled in Kenya, on the outskirts of Nairobi, close the to Ngong Hills. She bought a farm, in the hope of growing coffee in 1913. She and her new husband settled at their Mbagathi Farm and later added the Mbogani Farm. As soon as the First World War broke out, their borrowing and coffee sales immediately went into risk. Mounting debt, a series of misfortunes brought mounting debt. The peak cam with the depression in the 1930 and by 1931, their farms auctioned off. She left after divorcing her husband Baron Bror Blixen-Finecke and a tragic love-affair with Denys Finch Hatton in 1931, two months after the latter’s death. She eventually wrote about her experiences in Kenya, coffee and life, in Out of Africa. Her strong, artistic and almost nutty character dominated the movie of the same name.
The Arabs brought us coffee from Yemen and Ethiopia hundreds of years earlier. Sadly, the consumption of coffee remained within the Swahili nations for centuries. When we lived at the coast, I remember the streets lined with coffee vendors, in their white kaftans, short caps, sandals and donning Arabic coffee jugs, complete with cups on the streets of Mombasa. I once asked my father if we could taste some and he declined – the coffee served unsuitable for children, due to the strong brew and bitter taste. When I eventually did taste it, only a few years ago, I understood Dad’s reasons perfectly. I then joked with a colleague, later that day, that I would only fall asleep after another 48-hours!
A super-sized Swahili brass coffee pot in Mombasa
The thing with coffee is that it is Africa’s other black gold, especially with the prices our brand fetched over the last few years. Sadly, the wealth does not trickle down as well as it does with tea. One of the reasons is that we have left other nations to stock-pile the world’s green bean stocks, which largely determines future prices on international stock exchanges. If only we can realize our own coffee exchange, this song would be that much merrier! Our coffee farmers and industry are resilient. Coffee is now known to prevent a variety of illnesses, from cancer, to stroke and even heart disease! As with all treats, consume in moderation!
Coffee in Kenya is taking centre-stage as a leading beverage and is consumed on a larger scale more than it was ten years ago. Kenya is once more rekindling its quirky love-affair with coffee. Our famous AA Coffee serves up a delightful taste, every time. Coffee may be responsible for bringing wild and wonderful people to our lovely country, but at least we can taste , and dream on the aroma of the romance they left in every sip!