Twelve hours after posting my Kenyan tea blog, I drove the 30 minute distance from Nairobi to the suburb of Kiambu to conduct a Kiva training for credit officers. As we passed fields of squat green trees growing in hundreds of straight lines, I noticed flashes of bright colored fabric peeking through the thin branches. “That is coffee,” Sam (KADET’s driver) told me, “and those are women picking the coffee fruit for harvest.”
Sam was kind enough to stop the car so I could get out and take a closer look. I have never seen coffee plants before and had no idea that the crimson and yellow berries covering the bark could somehow be transformed into the rich black liquid that provides me with my morning energy. I worked my way around the barbed wire fence surrounding the edge of the coffee trees and found several women staggered throughout the field’s neat rows, a tin paint can slung over each of their shoulders. Mesmerized, I watched as the women gently wriggled the fruit free, careful not to bruise the skin, and placed the detached cherries in the bucket resting at their hips.
Although I have read that coffee is a major crop in Kenya, I have yet to see a non-American or Canadian drink it. In fact, the coffee that KADET keeps on its beverage cart is actually a small Nescafé tin of instant coffee complete with a “Made in Tanzania” label on the back.
A quick Google search revealed that despite its proximity to Ethiopia (believed to be the region from which coffee originated), coffee was not cultivated in Kenya until 1893. Each year, coffee is harvested during the dry season, when the coffee cherries are bright red, firm and glossy. About 50,000 tons of coffee is produced in a given year and is traded weekly at the Nairobi Coffee Exchange. This practice has apparently generated fierce price wars for the best coffee crops.
On another note, after getting back into the car and re-entering the unruly chaos of Nairobi traffic, an especially crazy matatu driver pulled out in front of our KADET van. Sam swerved, avoiding an accident, and I laughed as I saw the decaled image pasted on this specific matatu.