Kenya Coffee Grades: Exploring the Coffee Grading System

Coffee grading is critical to cup quality and determining coffee value, but isn’t often explored outside the trade.

As with other coffee-producing countries, the Kenya coffee trade has an elaborate grading system to determine value.

This video is made in my lab in Oakland as I explore Kenya coffee grades. I do this with under a macro lens with samples I had just brought back from a trip to Kenya.

To be clear, coffee cupping, the tasting procedure to determine the value of coffee by buyers, is a relatively new way to determine coffee quality. Before cupping, assessing green coffee by physical grading was the only way value was determined.

Experienced traders were experts at looking at non-separated coffee (what I am exploring in this video is all separated) and determining the price. And grading is still important in the coffee trade at all levels, from so-called specialty coffee to average quality coffee, from commercial coffee to off grades.

Another main point I hope to make is that good as well as off grade quality coffee comes from even the best farm or cooperative. It’s not like bad coffee comes from a bad farm or mill (that is one that doesn’t follow good quality practices). Off grades come from very fine farms too!

Another main point, something we hear about a bit because of the efforts of companies like Bulletproof coffee to scare consumers (and get them to buy their brand) concerns mold in coffee.

I think you can easily see this in the video, but off-grade coffee is where you might see coffee that has mold (see the UG-1 sample I show in the video, or the Mbuni Defects grade). The off-grade coffees go to commercial buyers who most often produce Instant Coffee, or Roasted-Ground coffee products. The later means the coffee is not seen by consumers as whole bean, but is already ground and packaged. That type of coffee could be sold in bulk to institutions, or low quality office coffee that is pre-weighed in little packets. So as I explain this coffee is called Grinders, coffee sold to this type of buyer who doesn’t care what the bean looks like.

Getting back to my point, if you want to avoid mold in coffee, you don’t need to buy Bulletproof (and I would have serious doubt that they buy truly top grade coffee, really). I would not drink instant coffee, I would not drink crap commercial coffee. I would not buy Pilon or Bustelo type coffees.

Thanks for watching -Thompson

Also see the video I made on my first visit to the trading floor of the Kenya Auction, and interesting look at how coffee is / was traded at the time:

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