I Like this time of year. Not because the birds are singing or that the days are getting longer, not even that I can start venturing int beer gardens of my favourite hostelries. No its the time of year that we see lots of new coffees arriving in warehouse, and in particular Kenyans – the roasters favourite. (ask most coffee roasters their favourite origin and Kenya’s always up there. )
Year on year we have been buying Kenyans from the cupping table from how they taste and score against our knowledge of what Kenya can produce. This is a great way to find quality coffee, but we often found that there would be a new relationship to start up every time we did this, a new farm to get to understand and new coffee to learn to roast. Its hard to add value to a new relationship every year. Like any relationship, the real benefits come when you get to know each other, and understand each others needs and the mutual respect and friendship that gets built that way
So two years ago, I went to Kenya to see two people we had worked with in the past and see if we could work on a longer term basis. I had set a goal of working in two very different regions and with two very different producers. I wanted to work in Nyeri and in Thika, two places I have had exceptional coffee from, and I wanted to buy from an estate and from a coop. Estates are on the decline in Kenya, and coops are notoriously hard to work with, but I love a challenge.
So my trip began in Thika, the Birmingham of Kenya (who wants to be the Birmingham of anywhere?Even Birmingham doesn’t want to be the Birmingham of the UK )
Thika is an industrial town in Kiambu County, Kenya, lying on the A2 road 25miles to the north east of Nairobi, where the Thika and Chania Rivers meet. The town has changed rapidly over the past years, with many of the once amazing coffee estates (any one remember Gethumbwini) having been turned from farm land to gated communities for wealthy people from Nairobi to live and commute to the more dangerous city and for their family to have a more safe and secure life.
Back in 2010 I first had Kiriga from Thika on a cupping table, and loved it, but like all our Kenyans back then we never got to see it again. Then Brian the current owner reached out to me on the internet and invited me to visit. So this was one of the first places I hit up. Brian was the perfect host, and showed me around the farm, took me to dinner and made me fall in love with both him and the farm. The farm, funnily enough, is across the road (and I mean across the road) from Gethumbwini I mentioned earlier that’s now a gated community.
So last year we agreed that we would buy a small amount of Brian’s AA (more to come) coffee to see how it went. It went very well, so this year we had many email exchanges about how we can make more of a difference and increase what were doing with Brian. So Brian also sent us his AB lot to cup. Whats AB I hear you cry ?
Well I searched the internet and found this
AA – AA is a grade of coffee. Beans with a screen size of 7.2 millimeters (approximately 18/64 of an inch and often referred to as a screen size of 18) are assigned the grade AA. This grade of coffee often receives a higher price than other grades.
AB – Slightly smaller that AA, with a screen size of 6.8 millimeters (or 17/64 of an inch). On average, 30% of Kenyan coffee is assigned this grade.
But in layman terms, they are different and present different cups. Some years AA taste better, some years AB’s sometimes there just different. This time they were both different but delicious. So we have been lucky to secure these two lots from Brian’s farm.
In the cup you can expect fruit, ALL the fruit! Starts off with blackcurrant creamy, smooth, balanced with a fantastic body and structure. Then theres a delicious white grape / green apple acidity, a whopping citrus delight finishing on black cherry.
And the AB’s cupping notes are
In the cup expect a lovely lush creamy mouthfeel, with a summer fruit kick of peaches and apricots and fresh bright green apple acidity.
But why stop there, I decided to drive up the road to Nyeri. Nyeri is a city situated in the Central Highlands of Kenyaand is situated about 150 km (a two-hour drive) north of Kenya’s capital Nairobi. It is the country’s most densely populated and fertile area in Central Highlands, lying between the eastern base of the Aberdare (Nyandarua) Range, which forms part of the eastern end of the Great Rift Valley, and the western slopes of Mount Kenya.
Last year we worked with a cooperative called Kieni. Its fair to say Kieni have been one of the most proactive cooperatives and producing consistent quality because of the work of a Danish roastery who has been working with them for a number of years.
The coffee collective have been doing some amazing work with the management team and investing in helping the coop to do great work, a real poster child for working in the region. Becuase of this I had reservations of working with them, not wanting to take advantage of someone elses work. So an email to one of the owners who is also a very good friend, was called for. His reply was why I love working in coffee, “we cant buy all the coffee so of course you should dive in and help them, but only if you pay the same price as we are”. So I did and last year this was a great success, another different cup.
We have followed this up this year with another purchase from them, that we are super excited about. But why stop there, you already learned about AB and AA so we have
In the cup expect a super different Kenyan that’s been shaken up with a Tiki twist. First thing you’ll get is the huge mouthfeel. Then there’s a big hit of juicy tropical fruit, lemons and oranges which finishes with a super sweet caramel acidity. A deliciously different Kenyan.
And the Kienni AB notes are
In the cup expect fresh orange juice like acidity, with a lovely floral edge, and an aftertaste of Rose water and a gentle fruit sweetness .
So fairly impressive hey ? I’m super proud of thew work we do there, but why stop there. So last year in partnership with an exporter we did a natural Kenyan. This is not normal. Kenyan coffees are renowned for their clean taste, transparent and of course being washed.
So still in Nyeri around 5km outside of the town theres another coop called Othaya and they have a mill near to the Chinga dam (called Chinga). They offered (with some reservations) to start a natural project. We asked them if they would naturally process a batch for us. They kindly agreed to do so as long as we promised to buy it regardless of the final cup. A gamble by us, but one that paid off as you snapped it up. We cupped the sample for the first time together, as you can see I’m at the end of the trip and quite sleepy
But we have built on that and took a large lot this year (less of a gamble) and they have also fine tuned the process, so its even better than the experiment . So here we have
The cupping notes for the Othya Chinga Natural are
In the cup expect the unexpected. An thread of blackcurrants all the way through, like you would expect from a Kenyan, but with a lovely big body, and a liquorice flavour that reminds me of Pontefract cakes, whilst remaining incredibly clean.
This sounds like I’m blowing my own trumpet. I’m not, I did the easy part, I turned up, cupped some delicious coffees and paid for them. The hard work has come from the exporters, the cooperative, from Brian, pickers workers, managers and the rest. The great news is you can drink them and enjoy their hard work, and I can feel smug in the knowledge we have the best range of Kenyans we have ever had, build on strong relationships, paying a good price and making everyone along the chain super happy, I hope you will be too.
PS if your wondering why the blog post has the title it does watch this video, I sang it the whole trip