I once tasted a Kenyan coffee that I swear wasn’t coffee at all, it was a cup of blackcurrant juice. It is the classic Kenyan profile so many of us seek, and it is disappearing.

Coffee Berry Disease

When I visited Kenya last November, things looked grim for producers. They predicted they would lose 60 – 80% of their coffee crop due to Coffee Berry Disease (CBD). Fortunately many farmers caught the pathogen early enough and sprayed their trees with copper, which minimised losses. Some of those farmers even exceeded their predicted yield.

While this news comes as a great relief, we also have to accept that CBD is fundamentally changing the profile of Kenyan coffees. It is still possible to find blackcurrant, blackberry and blueberry laden jammy cups, but it is increasingly difficult. Lately those profiles are outweighed by lemon, red berries, floral and apple profiles. This could be the result of changing soil structure, temperature variations and possibly other factors we haven’t yet identified. What we do know is that the CBD-resistant hybrid, Ruiru, is increasingly popular. This high-yielding tree can be a better investment for a farmer in CBD prone areas, but it can also affect cup quality.

Coffee Berry Disease hits the cherries first, causing them to blacken and fall from the tree. The disease spreads from the cherries to the branches.
A leaf coated in a film of copper. Spraying the trees with copper is a common way to combat Coffee Berry Disease.

Balancing acidity, reducing astringency

Producers and factories are working to combat this, in the same way the Honduran coffee community worked to mellow the sharpness of Parainema by experimenting with longer fermentation times and natural processing which may boost the sweetness and balance the acidic punch. Another tactic is to graft Ruiru saplings onto strong SL28 roots. This is a current practice, and we hope to see clearer lot separation of these Ruirus in the coming years.

These efforts to harmonise Ruiru profiles are yielding results, and those of us chasing the blackcurrant juice dream have to accept that we might not see the same level of intensity, and more importantly volume, in the future. Fortunately, the days of fresh apple, berries and citrus are just beginning. These profiles are rather elegant, layered, juicy and refreshing, just as we like it.

First Kenya container sailing soon

Our first container of Kenyans will hit the water in the coming days. In it you’ll find a good mix of profiles, some classic Kenyans loaded with blackcurrant and blackberry, other fresh profiles of lemon and apple with hints of jam and blueberry.

See our full list of Kenyans here.

A farmer hand-sorts his cherries for delivery at Kamwangi Washing Station.
The delivery area at Karimikui Washing Station. Small piles of blackened cherries can be seen alongside the large piles. Farmers must hand-pick these from their delivery in order to earn a premium.
A lot planted with Ruiru trees. The plant is so productive, it frequently fails to find enough nutrients in the soil to support its growth, resulting in yellow-ish cherries and leaves.
Ruiru is a CBD resistant variety that is growing in popularity. It is so productive, the branches bend under the weight of the cherries.

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