Cultivars of Kenya

Cultivars of Kenya

Kenyan coffee has been well defined by five leading varietals, but unlike the coffee commonly found in other producing countries coffee from Kenya wears a more barcode like naming system. Known for its bright acidity and citrusy notes, Kenyan coffee is the epitome of an iconic cup. Although geographically close to coffee arabica’s natural environment, coffee cultivation in Kenya was not initially an easy process. Now with over a century of research and innovation in the coffee industry, it’s not surprising Kenya has a reputation as one of the most special coffee origins in the world.

As coffee enthusiasts we’ve tried many different coffees from many different origins, but to us, Kenya always feels like a real treat. When first arriving in Kenya, coffee was plagued by low yields and poor coffee quality due to coffee berry disease, coffee leaf rust and droughts. Due to the varietals at the time being unable to prevent the spread of the diseases, Scott laboratories was opened in an attempt to identify the cause of these problems and research to develop disease-resistant coffee plants.

What we now know and consider as mainstays in Kenyan coffee, Scott Laboratories produced the SL28 and SL34 varieties (which can now be found in farms around the world). Bringing over varietals from Tanzania after growers realised the tree’s capability to withstand droughts, Scott Labs adapted these plants into Kenya’s most popular varietals. What really makes these lab-crafted varietals so special however, is not just their ability to withstand droughts, but the actual coffee itself.

The SL28 varietal in particular has been highly regarded by the wider coffee community, being labelled an exceptional cup profile. The ability for a lab researched varietal to present such pleasant notes with such a strong producibility opened the eyes of coffee producers worldwide, and it is no surprise that it has become Kenya’s most popular coffee export. These initial successes have paved the way for additional development of other varietals, such as the K7, Batian and the Ruiru 11. Researchers have been able to combat some of coffee production’s biggest threats found in Kenya through these varietals.

Most impressively is the Batian varietal, released in 2010. Resistant to Coffee Leaf Rust and Coffee Berry Disease, it also presents a high yield in a shorter time than many other varietals. The Batian provides the best of both worlds, as well as competing with the taste quality of the SL28 and SL34 varietals.

With research and innovation already proving the capability to fix some of coffee’s biggest issues, there is no doubt in our minds that over time the innovation of these varietals will unearth new coffees able to withstand production threats such as diseases and droughts all in one, whilst also gifting us with more refined cups. While we haven’t seen this yet, the prospect behind what these new varietals can bring excites us beyond measure, and we can’t wait to see what the future of Kenyan coffee looks like.