Kenya is one of Drop Coffees main origins and somewhere from which we have been buying coffee from ever since the company’s early days due to our love for its unique taste profiles. The character of a great Kenyan coffee has no likeness in other terroirs, particularly when it comes to its most unique attributes, such as crisp clear acidity and the notes of blackcurrants and rhubarb. A coffee from Kenya can act as a great introduction to speciality coffee for those whom have never previously experienced it: a chance to highlight the potential of truly characteristic coffee.
Although there is lots of great coffee to be found in Kenya, this is the fourth year a great majority of our Kenyan coffee is coming from just Kamwangi. This is for two reasons, but first and foremost, it is because the taste of the coffee delivers “delicious” every year. The other reason is the transparency of the production we get through our green coffee buyer Nordic Approach—buying coffee with a transparent chain is incredibly tricky, as you’ll learn in our quick primer on coffee in Kenya in our blogpost here.
This year, we’re buying mainly Kamwangi in Kenya so that we can commit to buying in bigger amounts year on year (approximately 2.5 ton this year) in relation to the size of roastery Drop Coffee is today. By committing to buying a larger amount of coffee from fewer producers, we can contribute more where we are working.
Introduction of the factory Kamwangi
Kamwangi factory is one of two factories (in Kenya the process stations / wet mills are called factories) under the cooperative named New Ngariama Cooperative Society located in the region of Kirinyaga in the hills surrounding mount Kenya, with a third factory soon to become operational. This area is less well known than its neighbour Nyeri, but has surprised us the last few years by some outstanding and memorable coffees. New Ngariama have recently chosen to switch marketing agents a couple of times during the last few years but have now chosen to work with CMS, a marketing agent working in tangent with coffee exporters Dormans.
The New Ngariama Cooperative Society is mainly made up by smallholder farms, each with some 100 trees. In the Gichugu division of the Kirinyaga district where the surrounding farms to Kamwangi is located, this years’ picking season started in early November 2016 and finished in January 2017. The farmers are organized in Cooperative Societies that act as umbrella organizations for the Kamwangi and their other cooperative, where the smallholders deliver their coffee cherries for processing freshly every day after picking in a period of about two months, normally delivering about 25-50 kilo by foot or bike for a few kilometers. When arriving the factory, each producer will sort their cherries manually to separate defect and lower grade since they are paid more in relation to quality (grade one being the highest).
Payment & Longterm Investments
Visiting Kamwangi factory in December 2016, the manager Edwin Gichori was quick to speak of the work being done at the factory in order to help raise quality levels and of where changes can be made in the long-term.
Last year, Kamwangi were able to pay their farmers 75 Kenyan Shillings per kilo of delivered coffee cherries, which is on the higher side of premiums we found whilst traveling. Although it's our and the factories cooperative aim to rase this in the future.
Kamwangi gives a small advance payment to the farmers at delivery. Some well-managed wet mills are able to give more than 85% of the sales price back to the farmers; Kamwangi was able to give back 80% last year after cost of milling and marketing is deducted.
Registered in 1997, Kamwangi is Rainforest Alliance certified and are have a good structure for tracking payments to producers. They have also established soaking pits for waste water treatment as well as a good quality control systems for processing.
Kamwangi Facotry manager Edwin Gichori showing up the factory's training program
Part of what makes the Kenyan taste profile so unique is achieved through the highly controlled way in which it is processed and sorted. Rigorous sorting is done at each stage of the processing and the dry milling, creating an extremely consistent final product. Once the cherries are delivered to the factory and have been sorted for over and under ripe cherries, they are generally de-pulped directly by a large 4-disced pulper, which removes the cherry from the coffee bean. The coffee is from here on known as parchment.
This pulper also acts as the next stage of sorting, as the low density beans float to the top of water channels after the pulp is removed and are washed down into a separate fermentation tank to the denser, higher quality beans. Once it been de-pulped, the coffee parchment is fermented in large concrete tanks overnight, breaking down the sugar layer (mucilage) so that it may easily be removed during the washing process. Fermentation can take 12-16 hours depending on the temperature.
The farm manager checks when the coffee has finished fermented by rubbing the parchment between her hands: if there is abrasion, then the mucilage has deteriorated sufficiently and the coffee may be washed further along the line to the washing channels. If the parchment is allowed to ferment further, its delicate flavour characteristics would be ruined so washing must occur at a very particular time in order to stop the fermentation process.
The parchment is washed in fresh water in order to remove the residual sugars from the mucilage and is here further sorted by density. Lower density beans are once again separated to be sold as lower grade coffee whilst the higher density parchment is held back by gates in the channels whilst workers sweep along the channels with paddles in order to move the coffee. Once the washing process is complete, the coffee is moved to drying beds in order to lower the moisture content to a stable level before storage.
During the warmest hours of the day the coffee is being covered to protect the beans form to strong sunshine (that can damage the beans) and to keep the drying time longer.
If the drying beds are full, the higher grade coffee is often stored overnight in tanks of clean water to prevent any further fermentation whilst the parchment waits to be moved to the drying tables. On the drying tables the coffee is sorted and stirred by hand in order to ensure an even drying, until the moisture content reaches 13% when is it moved to conditions bins for storage where they sink about 1.5% more.
Edwin Gichori showing us the moist level in the dry storage.
The beans are graded after bean size where AA is screen 17/18; AB is screen 15/16 with a tolerance for 10% below screen 15. This is the AB version of the Kamwangi, we’re also having the AA from Kamwangi, and truly encourage you to try them both.
Producer: Kamwangi Factory
Location: Gichugu division of the Kirinyaga district
Varietal: SL28, SL34, K7, Ruiru 11
Picking period: November 2016 to January 2017
Drying: On raised beds in 12-14 days. Covered with plastic when the sun is hottest.
Cooperative: New Ngariama Cooperative Society
Sourced by: Nordic Approach
Elevation: 1600-1800 masl
Soil: Mainly Nitisol, red volcanic soil. Nitisols occur in highlands and on volcanic steep slopes. They are developed from volcanic rocks and have better chemical and physical properties than other tropical soils.
Processing: Fully Washed. Cherries are hand sorted for unripes and overripes by the farmers before they go in to production. A pulping machine removes the skin and pulp. The coffees are graded by density in to 3 grades by the pulper. Grade 1 and 2 go separately to fermentation. Grade 3 is considered low grade. The coffee is fermented for 24-36 hour under close shade. After fermentation the coffees are washed and again graded by density in washing channels they randomly do soaking in clean water over night in clean water.
Flavour description: Mainly an acidity driven cup with light yet buttery body and juicy mouthfeel. The coffee has notes of acidic black berries and fresh starberries.