Coffee production started late in Kenya, but has recently grown to high-quality levels and a generally considerable reputation. Despite the fact that the nearby Ethiopia was the birthplace of the coffee plant, coffee in Kenya wasn’t cultivated until the French brought the plant from the Reunion, in late 19th.
Throughout the colonial times the Kenyan coffees grew in output and popularity, until after the independence, in 1963, Kenya became fully recognised as a major player in the coffee production worldwide. An auction system was put in place to warrant an adequate recompensation to the farmers and that helped keeping the coffee price high, in accordance to its quality.
That prevented Kenyan coffees to become widespread earlier than in other countries, but the country has caught up, in recognition and output levels.
Kenyan coffees go under a very organized grading system, which is the moment when the coffee beans get sized up and apprised. Beans showing defects or being undergrown are graded lower than fully grown, with a nice size and shape, ones.
The grading systems for Kenyan coffees separate them in 8 grades. The smallest, and by far the lowest in quality, is graded T. They are basically tiny beans, sometimes chips and broken pieces even.
Somewhat better in quality and larger are the beans graded TT. They’re whole beans, at least, but are considered a scrap of the better beans. They’re the less dense ones, and usually of a light taste profile.
A medium, but still on the small side, grade is C. Kenyan coffees that are graded C are rarely used in high-quality coffee blends, and are used as fillers in blends aimed at the mass market. It’s rare that a C-graded Kenyan coffee is considered specialty-worth.
PB grades are named after the particular development of some coffee beans, not just in Kenya but in general. Commonly known as “peaberries”, they’re a single bean growing inside a single coffee cherry, instead of the usual two. Thus PB Kenyan coffees are big enough to be considered of a normal size. Some are well-reputed and end up in high-quality packages.
Coffee beans that are graded as AB are the largest percentage of the Kenyan coffees production (around 30%). They’re between 6.2mm and 6.8mm, well-developed and usually of excellent quality. Technically, they’re two different grades, A and B, but often are grouped together as AB.
AA is a step bigger than AB. Coffee beans that are around 7.22m fall into this category and can fetch the highest prices among all the Kenyan coffees at auctions. The very best Kenyan coffees are made from AA graded beans.
Even larger than AA are E beans. E named after “elephant”. Easy to imagine that they are the truly gigantic coffee beans, the biggest that are to be found among the various coffee origins in Kenya. E graded beans are quite rare.
Apart from these, MH/ML coffee beans are to be briefly discussed. These are beans not graded according to their size or shape, but it is a name for naturally processed coffees. They stand for Mbuni Heavy and Mbuni Light. Not usually considered of great quality, they’re often overripe or under ripe and sell for very low prices, much less than the average Kenyan coffees.