Tag Archives: Kenyan coffee

I was at the Coffee Research Institute, Ruiru – Kenya

The latter half of 2019 has proven to be probably my most exhilarating coffee experience ever, with my last three posts taking place since September and just before that in late August, I was lucky enough on my last trip to Kenya to stop by the Coffee Research Institute (CRI). Prior to that, but of course, I had done some research on whether nuclear science and technology could be used to enhance the productivity of coffee crops and I was fascinated that in Kenya they actually had an institute specialising in coffee research, so I ensured that when I visited, I would try my best to visit. For those who don’t know I used to work for a UN organisation (until 30 November 2019) in which I was responsible for designing projects to use nuclear science and technology to address development challenges in Africa. I digress. Needless to say, the Coffee Research Institute, part of the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) were very interested to meet with me to explore how the technology could help Kenya improve the productivity of coffee beans in relation to climate change.

Located just outside Nairobi, the CRI is located in an area called Ruiru. I have heard the name before as I have seen it many times on Kenyan coffee bags. Nevertheless, as we approached, I was amazed by the sight of a huge array of coffee trees – a coffee lovers dream. We were literally surrounded by plantations of coffee as we drove up to the main building, which I must confess, looks like it was straight out of the 1960s.

As we waited in the boardroom for the Director of the CRI, Dr Elijah Gichuru, we were offered coffee of course and my colleague was stunned that I had it without sugar or milk. The Director gave us a short presentation on the work of the CRI which are as follows;

Coffee breeding – developing new varieties, resistant to diseases, but with higher yields

Coffee quality analysis, including sensory evaluation

Engineering – processing, water and waste analysis

Food safety – ensuring that there’s no mycotoxin in the bean

Entomology – ensuring that there are no pests destroying the plantations

Research focused on hastening crop development

Analysis on growing domestic coffee consumption

There was a lot more, but in short, at the CRI they focus a lot on researching coffee to make it sustainable for the future. They are even working on the hybrid of robusta and arabica, aptly called, Arabusta. So in summary it would be possible to use nuclear technology to help them especially in developing new varieties to combat climate change. From my perspective, I as thinking that the expertise at CRI could easily align with my goal of helping African coffee farmers to enhance their quality and hence command a better price on the export market.

If you are really serious about learning more, the CRI also houses a coffee college (yes, you read that right), where coffee farmers and other people from the industry can learn a number of techniques. Very tempting for me in relation to one of my goals to usurp myself into coffee, even if it’s just for a week, especially to learn more about Kenyan coffee, which still commands the highest premium price of African coffees on the World market.

As we finished our tour, the Director led us the front of the main secretariat to take a picture (top of post) as he handed me some coffee from the institute, as well as for me to actually see and touch a coffee tree.

Another highlight of my experiences of 2019 especially in relation to the future of coffee in Africa and for my personal project to try to help coffee farmers in Africa get a better price and recognition for the quality of the crop.

However, before I leave, I need to mention another experience that I had earlier in Kenya as this post is primarily about Kenyan coffee.

It is no secret that even with the people I worked with in Vienna or in Africa, my coffee passion stands out. So on one previous visit, one of the researchers mentioned that she wanted to show me something at another one of KALROs institute – this time in Nairobi itself.

What is this, you ask ? Well a coffee tree of course, but even though it is quite big, it is very special –

I present to you the oldest coffee tree in Kenya from the 1920s. But that’s not all. As I approached the tree, I noticed two initials SL – initials that I have seen many times on coffee bags from Kenya. So I asked, what does that stand for – they said Scott Labs – the original name for the coffee research institute in Kenya. That is why many coffee varieties in Kenya start with SL, like SL28 and SL34, which you may have seen many times, along with Ruiru 11, etc.

Perhaps Kenya should, if not done yet, start a coffee tour package for coffee lovers like me.

Next time you have the opportunity to buy Kenyan coffee, please do as when it is roasted properly, you will understand why so many coffee connoisseurs believe Kenyan coffee to be the best in the World.

Enjoy!


I was @ Java House, Kenya: Perhaps, Africa’s best coffee chain?

Actually, I’m a bit embarrassed by the lateness of this post, because last year I had one of my most surprising coffee experiences in the eclectic city of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city and main hub. As per usual, I had to attend a five day meeting in the city and of course I was on the hunt for coffee. Prior to my departure, I visited lonely planet’s helpful guide to cafes and restaurants to visit in Nairobi – also a major tourist destination and springboard to visit the vast wildlife and safaris across the country; and found 2-3 interesting ones. You may wish to know too that Nairobi is the only capital city in the World where there’s actually a natural safari park, near the airport, which we visited on our penultimate day – pics at the end.

So how about the coffee ? After all I was visiting one of the premier coffee countries in the World – not just a coffee growing country but a country that reputably has one of the best arabica varieties in the World (SL28 and SL32 but let’s not go there with deep coffee neurosis), sought after by coffee connoisseurs all over. Due to the location of our meeting and hence hotel, we were placed right bang in the middle of the city. I had initially wanted to check out another brand, the Artcaffe Coffee & Bakery, which looked very “European/American” in design, but all their locations were too far to get to during my busy week, so Java House it was – located on Mama Ngina Street, Transnational Plaza, about 5 minutes walk from the Hilton Hotel.

Upon entering their cafe, you won’t notice anything special in terms of decor; no exposed bricks, Scandinavian clean white washed floors and serving bar, because this is no frills per say – you could easily be in a typical local restaurant, apart from the smell of coffee and for geeks like me – the La Marzocco GB5 espresso machine. I looked around, the clientele was mainly Kenyan but there were a few what looked like backpackers as they had free wifi for customers too. I checked their menu – typical espresso menu, even with an offer for double as well as triple shots. I enquired about their coffee – roasted in small batches every day, primarily from Kenya but also from the region, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Rwanda. I checked out the barista and his skills as he prepared other drinks and not to seem to geeky in front of my colleague, recommend that we both try a double espresso each. I must confess I wasn’t expecting much – I could hear my wife echoing her usual verdict of “coffee snob” into my ear from 1,000 of kilometres away in Vienna.

Hmm! Espresso served with a biscuit

So impressed with the extraction and of course the taste, my colleague immediately went over to ask about buying their coffees. Initially I was reluctant, but bought a Kenyan AA filter blend 500g of arabica coffee beans. The bill, for 2 double espressos and a 375g of Kenyan AA bag of coffee – wait for it US$10 – now that’s a great all round experience.

Of course I went back but must confess that on one occasion I was the victim of the plague of inconsistency that sometimes hampers African businesses, as on my second visit, the espresso lacked vigour – no crema and bitter. Needless to say, the other 1/2 visits did not disappoint. In a way I got the impression that their roasting skills would not disappoint and bought another bag of coffee, but this time from their speciality offering of a Rwandan arabica to take home with me and try on my French press. My colleague bought about 3-4 bags – I lost count.

Java House, I came to find out have about 40 branches in Nairobi alone. They seem quite popular and were always busy when I visited, perhaps because they also have an extensive food menu, including red velvet cake closing late, around 10pm everyday.

They also have a branch at the airport and saw their beans being sold in a duty free shop, but be warned, the coffee was not as freshly roasted as the ones in the city and were more expensive – I smiled to myself as I left the bags of months old roasted coffee at the airport duty free, informing the shop keeper that the coffee costs more at duty free but in town.

In summary I was quite happy to see that Java House, Kenyan created and currently still owned is an African coffee chain that is built on using locally produced coffee, roasted in small batches and successful in terms of its wide range and number of outlets in the city and beyond – It was also gratifying to see that Kenyans were enjoying one of their most prized exports in their own country and that the best stuff hadn’t been siphoned off to the European US and beyond – proud to be African is what comes to mind.