I was astonished to find out that Kenya wasn’t the biggest coffee producer in Africa. Back home, most of the imported coffees are from Kenya (apart from South American countries).
In fact, I booked a coffee-farm tour in Kenya solely because I thought they were the biggest coffee producer in Africa. That is just how well-known Kenyan coffee is, internationally.
And the reason is its quality. The acidic soil in the highlands of Central Kenya, coupled with just the right amount of sunlight and rainfall provide excellent conditions for coffee plants to thrive. Kenyan coffee is known for its full body, intense flavor, and fragrant aroma with subtle notes of cocoa.
In 2012, it was estimated that there were about 150,000 coffee farmers in Kenya, and at least six million Kenyans who were employed directly or indirectly in the coffee industry. So, your trip to Kenya wouldn’t be complete if you don’t pay a visit to one of the coffee farms in this beautiful East African country.
How to Book
What to Expect
Mbumi Coffee Estate is located in a district called Kiambu, 16 kilometers away from Nairobi. Depending on traffic, it could take you around 30 minutes to get there.
The easiest way to get to the coffee estate is by Uber or boda-boda’s, which are motorbike taxis that you can either flag down by the roadside or book through online apps such as Uber Boda and Safe Boda. It’s also possible to take a bus from Nairobi, but you need to know where to stop, and from the bus stop, you still have to continue the rest of the way by motorbike.
I chose boda-boda, much to the horror of Susan the host, who said she would never let her children ride on one.
Little did she know that the roads and motorcycle taxis in Nairobi actually felt a lot safer than neighboring Uganda. And I had taken boda-boda’s all the time when I was there.
Susan and her husband had lived on the Mbumi Coffee Estate for over 20 years. That was where they raised their 3 children. Her husband was the one who ran the day-to-day operations of the family coffee farm, and eventually it rubbed off on her.
Now, she combines her passions for coffee and meeting new people to allow visitors to discover the uniqueness of Kenyan national treasure.
Unfortunately, Susan wasn’t able to show me around on that day as she had to pick her children up. So, she placed me in the care of her assistant — Stanley — and assured me that I was in good hands.
The Coffee Farm
Kenya’s coffee industry brings in about US$200 million per year, making it the country’s third largest export, after flowers and tea. Unlike the bigger coffee producers in Africa, the coffees produced in Kenya are still 100% hand-picked, ensuring only the best quality — which explains why they produce comparatively less, and which is also why they are the coffees of choice for the international market.
Stanley taught me to differentiate coffee berries, coffee cherries, and coffee beans. We picked a few coffee berries of varying ripeness so that I could compare them. The green, unripe ones were almost impossible to peel, while the ones that were so ripe that they turned black peeled easily but were very dry inside.
I was surprised to know that the beans — before being roasted to its familiar brown form — were actually whitish in color, slightly slimy, and sweet.
The Coffee Factory
From there, they flow into fermentation tanks, where they are de-hulled, and the natural enzymes of the coffee cherries will loosen the slimy layer surrounding the beans. Note that this fermentation stage is skipped in many other countries, thereby giving Kenyan coffee a very unique flavor.
Roasting My Own Coffee
The factory didn’t only contain heavy machinery, it also housed piles of burlap sacks filled with coffee beans of various grades. Stanley scooped up a handful of the best ones for me to roast and bring home.
To do that, we had to go to the roasting room next to their office. There were two roasting machines — one small and one industrial-grade. Since we were only roasting a small amount, we used the smaller one.
Before we began, Stanley made me choose between medium roast and dark roast. To make the dark roast, we would have to roast the beans longer and at a higher temperature. He showed me samples of the finished products as below:
At first, I went for dark roast because it was more aesthetically pleasing and had a much stronger smell. However, Stanley had a different opinion. He said that the dark roast was better as whole beans. If we ground it, it was going to lose its scent and flavor much faster. Since I wanted to bring home my coffee ground, it was best that I made a medium roast.
Well, I had to trust the expert.
Coffee and Cake on the Rooftop
While waiting for the roasted coffee beans to cool, we went to the rooftop to have some coffee. There was a long table already laid out with two sets of baked goodies, fruits, and a jug of freshly brewed coffee.
Accompanying our hi-tea was a picturesque of the coffee farm. It was hard to realize how vast it was until you saw it from a high vantage point.
When we were done, we went back down to the roasting room and packed the coffee.
Stanley helped me call for a boda-boda to take me to the main road, and from there, I continued the rest of the way back to Nairobi on a matatu (public bus).
Truthfully, I’m not that much into caffeinated drinks. Coffee, especially, gives me a headache, gassy stomach, and palpitations. But I would still give it a go every now and then, because who could resist the smell, right?
Besides, I love experiences like this one where you can actively participate, instead of just watching and listening. This coffee-farm experience gives you all of that, plus a souvenir to bring home to the coffee addicts in your life — if you’re not one yourself.
So, if you’re in Nairobi, you should definitely visit this coffee farm in Kiambu. Make sure you bring your own camera, comfortable walking shoes (preferably sport shoes), a hat, and arrange for your own transportation to and from the venue.
Have you visited any coffee farm in Africa? Where did you go? Share your experience in the comment section below.