Origin Information

Grower
Ruera Coffee Estate
Variety
SL28, SL34, Ruiru 11, and Batian
Region
Kiambu County, Kenya
Harvest
May- June
Altitude
1577 masl
Soil
Volcanic loam
Process
Full natural and dried on raised beds
Certifications

Background Details

Kiambu county sits adjacent to Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, and is a coffee powerhouse. Along with an extensive community of coffee mills, exporter warehouses and quality labs, and the Coffee Research Institute (near Ruiru Town, after which the disease-resistant hybrid is named), Kiambu is also home to many of Kenya’s largest and oldest coffee estates. Despite the vast number of smallholder farmers in Kenya the estate system persists, and in many cases reflects both Kenya’s colonial origins and its current identity as a self-actualized producer of some of the world’s most obsessed-over profiles. Coffee’s history in Kenya is astonishingly short compared to Ethiopia, its neighbor to the north, with the introduction of coffee occurring around the turn of the 19th century at the hands of British missionaries who brought bourbon-lineage coffee trees from Brazil. As the value of the cash crop grew in the European marketplace, the British settlers would force indigenous Africans out of the trade by outlawing coffee production outside their colonial estate network. This however did not stop the British from requiring unpaid labor from the same population to further reduce their costs and boost output for the colony. It wouldn’t be until the years of conflict prior to Kenya’s independence, from 1952-1960, that indigenous Africans would be permitted to plant coffee—although for years afterward plantings were severely limited and none of the coffee produced by smallholders was permitted to be consumed. Since independence, the large estate holdings have evolved to reflect Kenya’s modern demographic: ownership can be single families, corporations, or groups of shareholders. In the case of Ruera Estate, a large estate outside Ruiru town with 190 hectares of planted coffee, it is managed by a well-established coffee processing and milling group, Kofinaf Co. Ltd. At Ruera each stage of harvest and post-harvest processing is carried out by a specialized team. Natural processing is still an extreme rarity in Kenya, usually only reserved for the lowest quality pickings. At Ruera Estate however, a small number of day lots are designated each harvest for specialty natural processing, where fresh-picked cherry is hand sorted for imperfections and then taken directly to raised beds to dry in the sun. As is commonly done with washed processing, fully dried cherry in this case is conditioned in bulk for multiple weeks in large containers prior to dry milling, to allow the newly dried coffee time to distribute its internal moisture and stabilize its quality for the upcoming exportation. This particular lot comes from Ruera’s “fly crop”, a smaller secondary harvest common in many equatorial coffee producing countries that follows a secondary rainy season. Fly crop Kenyas are not as large or sought-after as the main harvest, but nonetheless can yield exquisite tasting coffee. The estate not only employs 300 people year round, it also provides free medical treatment and day care for all employees and their children, as well as a local school attended by many in the larger Ruiru community. It’s hard to convey the contrast between an estate of this size and Kenya’s average coffee farm, which is often 200 individual trees or less, with no processing or storage capacity. Estates such as Ruera were established during British colonialism, before indigenous Kenyans were allowed to produce coffee themselves, instead forced to work for free for the British state. As coffee estates have changed hands in the decades since Kenya’s independence, management structures have also changed, now frequently owned by groups of shareholders, or, like in Ruera’s case, by local corporations. Many of Kenya’s large estates are preserved in Kiambu county, a rapidly urbanizing region thanks to its proximity to Nairobi. So, the persistence of properties like these makes them even more unique in the changing landscape over time. Ruiru Town is Kenya’s 6th largest urban municipality and if development continues the way it has, many expect a majority-urban county in just a few years.