We travel to Kenya twice each year. The first trip comes during the harvesting season when we visit our producing partners to witness first hand how that season is going. The second trip falls in February and we cup through tables and tables of pre-selected coffees for outstanding micro-lots to bring back to you.
Our Kenyan coffees are sourced one of two ways. Sometimes we buy direct from farm-level sourcing projects or single farmer projects. Our local sustainability branch and sister companies in Kenya help us reach these farmers to build connections and purchase coffees in ways that help make coffee farming sustainable for small farmers. Other times we’ll purchase coffees go through the weekly Nairobi Coffee Exchange. Our exporter, Kenyacof, cups the entire catalog of for-sale coffees each week and purchases their favorites. Since we’re calibrated with their quality team, they know exactly which kind of coffee we’re looking for.
Benefits of the Nairobi Coffee Exchange (NCE)
The modern Kenyan Coffee Exchange is a hallmark of Kenyan coffee production and exporting. The first auction was held in 1935, just 5 years after native people were first allowed to grow coffee themselves—before 1934, most coffee plantations were owned by the British and functioned as forced labor camps where indigenous Kenyans were worked as slaves.
The auction succeeds in promoting high prices for Kenyan coffees and providing a buffer from the fluctuations and vagaries of the C market. It is frequently seen as a golden standard among neighboring countries because its prices are often many of the highest by weight among all weekly coffee auctions in the world.
Coffee is graded physically and sensorially before going to auction. Many of the coffees auctioned can be traced back to a local washing station operated by a cooperative.
Changes to the NCE
The breakdown of the 1989 International Coffee Agreement led to worldwide price instability. Following on the heels of the ICA’s dissolution, scandals of corruption in Kenya led to the removal of much of the world’s aid to Kenya. In an attempt to regain world standing and reinstitute international aid, Kenya followed World Bank prescriptions to privatize the coffee exchange, allow international participation in the Nairobi Stock Exchange, give smallholders the choice of which factory to which to sell their coffee cherry and re-envision the role of the Coffee Board as regulating coffee rather than marketing it—which can have an effect on determining grade, minimum price and deciding who may big on the coffee.
Prices at NCE
Coffees are sold at the auction in green bean per $/50kg unit. All registered exporters can bid in the auction, which makes prices for the much-wanted coffees go up. Various costs apply from the point of selling to the producer-return price.
Once the coffee is purchased at the auction, various costs apply to prepare the coffee for export and its onward journey to your roastery. The coffee is transported to a third part dry mill for additional handpicking, sampling and vacuum packing. When the full shipment of coffee is ready, the container goes on a truck to the port of Mombasa. Finally, it is loaded on a cargo ship for its onward journey to Europe!