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Kenyan Coffee - A Gift from the Owner of Snow

Mt_KenyaFor hundreds of years the Kikuyu people have lived on the southern slopes of Mt. Kenya, the region where our Kenyan coffee, Kenya Kiangoi, is grown. Traditional spiritual beliefs hold that the snow covered peaks of Mt. Kenya are God’s throne on earth, which is why his name is Mwene Nyaga, meaning “Owner of Snow.”

The first recorded sighting by a European of the mountain that would come to be called Mt. Kenya (eventually the name of the country), occurred in 1849 from 100 miles away. For a generation Mt. Kenya remained a ghost for foreigners, its existence not being confirmed by a second European observer until 1883. Exploration then began in earnest with expeditions reaching 15,000 feet over the following 10 years. In 1896, the same year a German named George Kolb was the first outsider to explore the unique moorlands on the eastern side of the mountain, coffee was being planted by Scottish protestant missionaries outside of Nairobi and in the hills northwest of Mombasa by French Catholic missionaries.kenyan coffee

With the arrival of the British settlers at the turn of the century commercial coffee planting was introduced and there were over 6,000 acres in production by World War I. The coffee industry flourished and by the early 1930’s over 100,000 acres had been planted. It is several times that today and some estimate that six million Kenyans (13%) earn their living directly or indirectly from coffee.

The deep volcanic soil, climate and altitude surrounding Mt. Kenya are excellent for growing coffee. Because the coffee growing regions experience two rainy seasons, a short and a long, there are two coffee crops each year. The early crop, known as the “fly” crop is harvested each May – July. The late crop, known as the “main” crop is larger and harvested each September – December. However, long standing crop patterns have begun changing. Whereas the fly crop once represented 30% of annual coffee production it now represents 45%.

kenyan coffeeOur current Kenyan coffee, Kiangoi, is grown on the southern slopes of Mt. Kenya as part of the Rungeto Farmer’s Society, a cooperative made up of 3000 farmers. The Society operates three washing stations, which they call factories. Kiangoi is one of these factories. Like most high quality Kenyan coffee, the Kiangoi is bright and fruity, but this cup offers a distinct hint of mandarin orange and lime accompanied by a lingering sweetness and a silky body.

It took climbers decades to reach all the peaks and fully explore Mt. Kenya. It wasn’t until the late 1970’s, nearly 20 years after Kenya established her independence, that all the major routes to the peaks had been climbed. The mountain did not give up its secrets easily, so we are always grateful when the “Owner of Snow” once again sends us coffee.

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