Coffee is a biennial cycle crop, which means that coffee trees have high productivity in one harvest and low production in the next, due to the plant's need for recomposition. This phenomenon has a greater influence on coffee of the Arabica species, and a greater economic impact on those origins that have only one harvest a year, as is the case in Ethiopia.
During the 2022 harvest in Ethiopia, production was affected by a negative biennial cycle, where flowering decreased due to the need of the plant to recompose itself after a very productive period last harvest 2021.
Things are changing for the better in Kenya, the average price of coffee cherries has increased from USD 0.45 per kg of cherry in 2016/2017 to USD 0.80 per kg of cherry in the year 2020/2021, a 78% grow! But what has happened in the year 2021/2022?
According to information from the Nairobi Coffee Exchange (NCI), coffee production increased by 64% in the 2021/2022 harvest, compared to the previous year, and income increased by 90% in the same period. This is the result of a lower supply to the global market, because in Brazil, the harsh weather conditions caused up to 20% of the entire harvest to be lost in the last season. And in Ethiopia, the world's fifth largest producer, agricultural activities have been interrupted by the conflict between the government and the militia in the Tigray region.
The good news about Uganda is that there is great potential. Probably you have heard this many times, and I am sure that nobody reading this article, has ever cupped an outstanding Ugandan lot.
So, where is all that potential when it comes to cupping?
It is always important to remember that just 27 years ago, Rwanda was in the midst of one of the most horrible tragedies humanity has ever seen. The genocide against the Tutsi population killed almost a million people and displaced two million more. These events shook this small country and almost wiped out the entire coffee industry.
Remarkably since then, Rwanda has enjoyed strong rates of economic growth, creating new business prospects and lifting many people out of poverty. Thanks to an efficient government actively working to develop the economy and reform the financial and business sectors, Rwandan coffee has become a very important player, contributing significantly to foreign exchange earnings and the monetization of the rural economy. In 2019, agriculture accounted for 29% of Rwanda's economy, and coffee accounted for a third of this income, with 75% of the total population working in the agricultural sector.
Cupping coffees without having any origin info, would be nonsense, right? We can't understand a coffee if we do not know its origin and to really know an origin, we must first try to understand its culture, read its history, listen to its music and observe the state of its political system. There's no other way.
It is the same with many other situations in life, everything is a consequence of something anterior, a reaction of a previous action. This "Newtonian" plot is everywhere, and no matter how hard we try to untangle it, hits our unsophisticated sense of perception like an apple falling on one’s head, preventing us from understanding its full scope and impact.
Not long ago I was listening on a podcast, to a "celebrity" of the specialty coffee industry, saying that the most difficult country where to work was Kenya. This seemed nonsense to me, because without a doubt, for anyone who has worked in Africa for a sufficient period of time, will say that the most difficult origin to work is undoubtedly Ethiopia, with light years of difference. And with this I am not saying that Kenya is all peaches and cream, because is not, but what I mean is that Ethiopia is too complex.
It should be noted that with this article, I do not intend to establish a cultural superiority on the part of the West to the detriment of the third world, as it is commonly called. I firmly believe that there is no culture superior to another, however they are all different, each with its positive side and its flaws. I do not agree with the kind of superiority that some feel when they come to Africa "advising" how to live, what is the best solution to problems, and even how to grow and process coffee. Africa must find its own solutions!
Information is power, as they say. Long long long time ago, the purchase decision in any transaction was based on the comparison of the final price of a product (commodity) offered by several suppliers (competitors). These competitors were very reluctant to share their price lists, and clients spent long hours collecting those lists in order to have all the necessary information to make the right choice. But the world has changed, today with a single click we can compare prices of an unlimited number of products and suppliers, so price lists have become old and public, rather than a secret element of strategic negotiation. Today what is most important is the value of the product, not its price.
We work hard to add value in coffee. If your product does not make any difference from the rest of the coffees in the market, it becomes a commodity. The price of a commodity is established as the point of equilibrium of supply and demand of future contracts. Price fluctuation (that is, the movement of the supply and demand curves) is affected by such a large number of variables that they are uncontrollable. For example, if there is a frost in Brazil, Sumatran coffees rise in price; And if there is an excess of production in Brazil, Sumatran coffees will lower their price; In both cases, without the Sumatran coffee farmer having moved a single finger.
Just a few days ago, I walked into a coffee shop and bought a 250gr bag of Kenyan coffee for €20 approx. While I'm happy to pay that kind of money for a very good Kenya in a bag full of tasty promises, when I got home I found only disappointment.
It is an open secret within the specialty industry, that Kenyan coffees have been in a low the last couple of years, and probably it is one of the most controversial topics right now. As you may know, Kenya is one of the most prized origins within the specialty coffee world, it is sought by importers and roasters from all over the world as an origin of outstanding quality, intense sweetness, citrus/winey acidities and velvety bodies.
We would normally cup 500+ samples from Kenya each season, between origin and lab cuppings. Maybe the right number is something closer to 1,000 samples, between February and March each year since 2016. This year the quantity was lower for obvious reasons. And while it's common knowledge among coffee connoisseurs from around the world, that there has been a disruption in the quality of this great origin, we can discuss on the causes or how much it has been affected, but I don’t think anybody that understand well the Kenyan coffee industry, can deny there is a problem.
Environmental sustainability consists in making responsible decisions that tend to reduce the negative impact of your business on the environment. It implies defining a line of action in the interest of protecting the natural world, with particular emphasis on preserving the ability of the environment to make human life endure.
There is a simple rule in the world of environmental sustainability, and this is: "If any waste or pollution of any kind is generated, someone further down the production chain will be affected and will have to pay for it."
We pride in being very good connoisseurs of the coffee industry in Kenya and the country in general. Since 2013 we are constantly going at least twice a year (during main harvest and then at cupping/selection time); We have visited a large number of cooperatives in various regions; We know the reality, dreams and problems of coffee farmers; And it is without doubts, our favorite origin!
But as in all areas of life, nothing is perfect, and the Kenyan coffee industry is no exception. It is no mystery to anyone that agriculture is the cornerstone of the Kenyan economy, and the cooperative movement has a solid footprint that can be traced until just after independence in 1963.