Kent's pace bowlers combined to dismiss Essex for 212 on the opening day of their LV= Country Championship Division Two match at Chelmsford.
Darren Stevens returned figures of 4-36 while Mark Davies and Charlie Shreck each claimed three wickets before the visitors finished the day on 20-1 in reply.
It could have been worse for Essex if not for a half-century from Graham Napier, who along with skipper James Foster dug his side out of a major hole at 109-6.
Both batsmen made progress with confident drives and cuts, the stand of 88 being broken when an attempted square drive from Foster (48) against Shreck (3-61) ended up in the hands of Matt Coles in the slip cordon when just three short of his half-century.
Napier mixed a certain amount of caution with controlled aggression to collect five fours and a six before finally being undone by Stevens for 58.
The only other stand of note featured openers Tom Westley (30) and Jaik Mickleburgh (37) after Kent had gambled on putting their opponents in after winning the toss. Davies (3-31) removed both batsmen.
The loss of Mickleburgh triggered a run of four wickets for eight runs in the space of 32 deliveries, with Mark Pettini adding just 16 before Napier and Foster led a meaningful recovery.
Left with 12 overs before the close, Kent lost Rob Key, who was caught behind off David Masters after contributing just a single run.