QUALITY vs QUANTITY: Which way Kenya’s coffee sector?

Farmers harvesting coffee in undisclosed location in Kenya. PHOTO/Courtesy.

By Morwani Zachary Nyakweba

The coffee industry has been one of the key pillars of Kenya’s economy since the country attained its independence. The cash crop is known for its intense flavor and pleasant aroma.

There are several other countries in the world that produce coffee. They include Brazil, Ethiopia, Uganda, China, Vietnam and Colombia.

Brazil is the leading producer and exporter of coffee globally. It produces about one third of all the coffee in the world. The country has held this position of the world’s largest coffee producer and exporter for over 150 years.

In the year 2015/2016 Brazil exported about 2,592,000 metric tonnes of coffee to other countries. This sharply compares with the 49,980 metric tonnes of coffee that Kenya produced. So how can we as Kenyans climb up the exporter scale?

People are different; they value different flavor, tastes and aromas of coffee. This is a fact that we can capitalize on as Kenyans in order to ensure that coffee brings in more revenue to the country.

Records show that the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA); Coffee directorate conducted a coffee laboratory technician’s exam in 2017.

The exam was a capacity building and enhancement initiative.

It was conducted to ensure that the coffee industry has key experts who can conduct coffee laboratory activities to maintain and improve the quality of Kenyan coffee activities.

The exam targeted people who have been in the coffee industry for a period of 2 years and above and also students studying coffee in school.

The results of this exam showed that there is still an opportunity to develop capacity within the coffee industry.

It also showed that as Kenyans we need to put in a lot of effort in order to achieve proper quality and capacity within the industry.

In 2015, Kenya exported coffee to Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, United Kingdom, Spain, South Korea, India, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and several other countries.

The amount of coffee Kenya exports can increase if we improve the quality of the coffee we have in the country. We also have to create different tastes and flavors from the coffee we already have in the country.

Coffee is a brewed beverage made from the roasted seeds, or ‘beans’, of the coffee plant.

Once the berries of the coffee plant are harvested, the flesh is removed and discarded, leaving only the seed.

Coffee beans vary in size, shape, color and flavor depending on the region and conditions in which they were grown.

The range of unique flavors and aromas between regional varieties is expansive as the varieties of wine available from different vineyards all over the world.

Several coffee lovers experiment with different varieties to discover a bean perfect for their palate.

The main variety of coffee grown in Kenya is Arabica. It is superior to Robusta coffee because of its unique flavor and low acidity.

We can improve our methods of processing in order to give our coffee different flavors and tastes that will appeal to different markets all over the world.

Processing the coffee bean in a different manner can enable one to achieve different results.

There are two types of processing methods; washed and unwashed.

The washed method involves removing the cherries before the bean is left to dry while the unwashed method involves removing the cherries after the bean has been let to dry.

Unwashed and washed coffee taste different and also bear different aromas.

Secondly, the roasting method used on the bean also gives a difference in taste and aroma of the coffee.

Roasting is a complex process that can produce varying degrees of flavor and caffeine content.

Roast levels can include light roasting, medium roasting, full roasting and double roasting.

Lighter roasts tend to have more caffeine than darker roasts.

Using different roast levels can ensure that we have different tastes from our Arabica coffee.

By achieving different tastes we can appeal to and satisfy different tastes all over the world. In turn, this will lead to Kenya generating more revenue from the sale and export of coffee.

As a country we can choose to put quality above quantity or vice versa.

Even so, it should be noted that putting quality first will make us stand a better chance at improving our rankings in the coffee industry.

Indeed, as John Alan Lasseter, a renowned American animator, film director, screen writer and film producer once said, ‘Quality is always the best business plan.’

– Mr. Nyakweba is a Communications student, University of Nairobi

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