Sour notes at coffee day tour

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. PHOTO | RUPI MANGAT

What you need to know:

  • It is universally acknowledged that Ethiopia, where the monks in the mountains first brewed the bean many centuries ago, is the home of coffee. According to the posters hung around the garden, in Kenya, 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 only white settlers were allowed to plant coffee.

I love coffee, so when I received an invitation to celebrate the International Day Of Coffee at a farm in Kiambu on October 1, I was heady with excitement. I could see it all in my mind’s eye – great conversation exchanged over cups of coffee; iced coffee, hot coffee, house coffee, coffee cocktails, coffee-infused foods, coffee, coffee, coffee. I got together with a couple of coffee-drinking friends and we headed to Kiambu.

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 bags onto a trailer fitted to a tractor. Finally we turned into the estate. The grounds were beautiful – lush green lawn, 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.

It took a few minutes to realise that there was nothing really new 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. And 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.

HOME OF COFFEE

It is universally acknowledged that Ethiopia, where the monks in the mountains first brewed the bean many centuries ago, is the home of coffee. According to the posters hung around the garden, in Kenya, 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 only white settlers were allowed to plant coffee. It was not until 1923 that the colonial government allowed coffee to be planted outside European settlements – but under control – in Kisii and Meru.

Today Kenya boasts the finest Arabica grown in the world. Planted in the rich volcanic soils in the highlands between 1,400 and 2,000 metres above sea-level, it produces a medium-bodied coffee with citrus notes, or one with an intense flavour of wine.

Coffee bushes are pruned for new shoots to catch the soft morning sun and the mature plant to catch the late sun, so one must plant them 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. 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 their pulp, and the naked berry is then spread on wire racks under the sun to be readied for the auction houses. We had a mill tour, after which it would have been great 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 Sh1 000 per person that provided just a nice picnic ground and a tour of the coffee mill and the waterfall.

Perhaps the next coffee celebration day will have more zest to it, especially after the President announced in media on October 1 that coffee cartels are not going to lord it over coffee growers. I’ll drink to that.

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Coffee tours

Do the Kiambu-Limuru-Redhill circuit from Nairobi. It is stunning tea and coffee growing countryside with winding roads, beautiful landscapes and places like the Redhill Art Gallery (redhillartgallery.com), Zereniti (www.zerenitihouse.com), Brackenhurst Hotel (brackenhurst.com), Paradise Lost and Kiambethu Tea Farm. Prior booking is necessary.

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