I love coffee – the aroma, the taste and that verve that hits the spot. So when a day to celebrate coffee was announced l was already heady with excitement – and that a coffee farm in Kiambu had picked on this was perfect. In my mind’s eye, l had everything pictured with coffee – great conversation exchanged over cups of coffees – ice coffee, hot coffees, house coffee, coffee cocktails, coffee-infused foods, coffee ware, coffee, coffee, coffee. I was so heady with excitement. With a couple of coffee-drinking friends, we headed into Kiambu the celebrated home of the best coffee in Kenya.
Turning off the main Kiambu-Limuru road onto a narrow murram road, glades of coffee fields donned in red-ripe berries announced our arrival into coffee country. A few berry-picking women were loading their coffee bags on the trailer fitted to a tractor. “It takes six months for the berries to ripen,” informed Nancy Wangari – meaning two harvests a year.
Finally we turned into the estate to celebrate the international day of coffee or as we call it kahawa – 1 October. The grounds were beautiful – lush green lawn, great big dam, flowers in bloom in many colours, stately palms from many a decade ago and quaint little bridges to cross over – in the cusp of a coffee plantation.
And we strode in for the coffee celebrations.
It took a few minutes to realize that – hum – there was nothing nouveau going on – there was the always reliable Dorman’s coffee and a lovely Eritrean lady serving Ethiopian coffee. My vision of all-that-is-coffee faded in an instant.
So after a few cups of freshly brewed Ethiopian coffee, sniffing in the aroma of the great bean with the fragrance of incense on the charcoal we made good our day.
It is universally acknowledged that Ethiopia is the home of coffee where the monks in the high mountains first brewed the bean many centuries ago.
In Kenya, reading from the posters hung around the garden, the first coffee was planted in Bura, Taita Hills in 1893. Being an intensely thirsty plant, this was done under irrigation. In 1904, it was planted near Nairobi.
However, coffee was only allowed to be planted by the white settlers and it was not until 1923 that the colonial government allowed coffee to be planted outside European settled areas – meaning that local people could plant it – but under control – in Kisii and Meru.
Kenya today boasts the finest Arabica grown in the world. Planted on the rich volcanic soils in the highlands between 1400-2000 metres above sea-level, it produces medium-bodied coffee with citrus notes or one with an intense flavour of wine.
Our coffee guide so well-versed in coffee pointed to the traits of the coffee shrub. “Kenya produces the best quality coffee to final cup. And that is because we hand-harvest the red berries.”
The finer details prove interesting. The bushes are pruned for the new shoots to catch the soft morning sun and the mature plant to catch the late sun. Hence planting is done in the east-west direction. Some fields are left fallow for local wildlife – like a flock of helmeted guinea fowls strutting around. The coffee is cross-pollinated which needs the services of the humble bee. And to keep the soil rich and fertile, the farm cows produce the manure.
And all our coffee – save for a tiny bit – is exported to Europe and Asia – where because of its superior quality it is blended with others.
At the coffee mill, the berries are washed and stripped of the pulp, and the naked berry then spread on the wire racks under the sun – to be readied for the auction houses.
Back after the mill tour, it would have been a great opportunity to sample the house-coffee – but no such luck though packets were for sale.
It struck an ironic note that the guest-of-honour urged Kenyans to drink more coffee to promote Kenyan coffee – but it’s not a cheap beverage and neither was the coffee day with an entry fee of Ksh 1,000 per person that provided just a nice picnic ground and a tour of the coffee mill – and the waterfall – or both – depending on time.
Perhaps the next coffee celebration day will have more zest to it especially after the President announced in media on the coffee celebration day that coffee cartels are not going to lord it over the coffee growers. I’ll drink to that.
Do the Kiambu-Limuru-Redhill circuit from Nairobi– it’s stunning tea and coffee growing countryside – with winding roads, beautiful landscapes and places like Redhill Art Gallery redhillartgallery.com, Zereniti www.zerenitihouse.com, Brackenhurst Hotel brackenhurst.com, Paradise Lost and Kiambethu Tea Farm. Entry usually prior booking.
Published in Saturday Magazine Nation Newspaper (15 October 2016)