A brief history of the Kenyan coffee

The origin of coffee is relatively close to Kenya. However, getting it there was a difficult task and full of bloodshed. The coffee was controlled by Arabs who came into the country through coastal trade connections from as early as the 9th century. They enslaved thousands of Kenyans to work on the coffee plantations in both Kenya and Arabia. The British settlers then followed around 1900 and quickly assumed control over the country which led to more bloodshed.

The country’s interior was settled by British and European farmers in the first part of the 20th century. They became rich by farming coffee on the backs of Kenyan workers. By the 1930’s the powers of these British and European farmers had become very strong. Even with over 1 million Kikuyu tribe members calling it home, they had now real land claims according to the Europeans.

In order to protect their interest, the wealthy Europeans banned the locals from growing coffee. They also introduced hut tax and gave them less and less money for their labor. The Kikuyus were forced to leave their land and go to the cities to survive. This legal slavery of the local population continued into the century until the British surrendered control in 1960.

Despite all this bloodshed and slavery, Kenya coffee has flourished and is among one of the finest cups in the world.

Coffee in Kenya

The Kenya’s interior was first explored by missionaries who were keen to spread Christianity amongst the heathen tribes. However, there is no doubt that the construction of the Ugandan Railway, completed in 1901, and the arrival of European settlers in Kenya was of great importance to the development of the country and the region as a whole. The settlers introduced plantation agriculture, the main crops including coffee, tea, sisal, wheat and pyrethrum.

It is thought that coffee was growing at the French Mission at Bura on the Taita hills as far back as 1885. However, documents show that the plant was introduced to Kenya by a John Paterson on behalf of the Scottish Mission in 1893. The seed obtained from the agents of the British East India Company, Smith Mackenzie & Co., at Aden, was sown at Kibwezi, near Mombasa. In 1896 the first crop was reaped.

In 1896, coffee was first introduced into the Kiambu-Kikuyu district, a fertile area, which by 1912 boasted a plantations several hundred acres in size, growing predominately the Bourbon and Kent varieties.

Whilst credit for the introduction of coffee rests with the Missions, it was the settlers who accelerated its importance to the economy. They were actively encouraged to grow crops for export in order to help repay the then exorbitant costs of building the railway.

After independence in 1963, the long acquired expertise and the tremendous know-how of coffee production have been well adapted by indigenous Kenyan farmers. This has resulted in today’s high coffee quality standards which are so well known by coffee drinkers around the world.

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