Kenya

Kenya is the East African powerhouse of the coffee world. Both in the cup, and the way they run their trade, everything is topnotch. The best Kenya coffees are not sold simply as generic AA or AB. They are specific auction lots sold to the highest bidder, and heated competition drives the prices sky high. Their research and development is unparalleled. Their quality control is meticulous, and many thousands of small farmers are highly educated in their agricultural practice --and rewarded -- for top level coffee.

In general, this is a bright coffee that lights up the palate from front to back. It is not for people who do not like acidity in coffee (acidity being the prized bright notes in the cup due to an interrelated set of chlorogenic acids). A great Kenya is complex, and has interesting fruit (berry, citrus) flavors, sometimes alternating with spice. Some are clean and bright, others have cherished winey flavors.

I am really proud of our consistently excellent selection of Kenyas! It takes a lot of work to sort through the many samples we receive in order to find the few that are truly complex. These are the coffees that truly stand out, not just making a pleasant cup, but providing a real "experience". When we go after an auction lot, 9 out of 10 times we buy the whole thing; it is exclusively ours. While it is possible that the same farm or co-op has more than one auction lot (for example, early and late harvest lots from the same season) I can say with certainty that we have cupped all the lots and chosen the best one. It's just a matter of effort and hard work, and when it comes to cupping Kenyas, we put a focused and intensive effort into the auctions during the main crop season.

Currently, the excellent Kenya auction system and coffee production in general is suffering a myriad problems, as is all of East Africa. Politically, Kenya, the former model of progress and African Independence, is in disarray. For now, the coffees are still of high quality but if the auction system does not continue to serve and benefit the small farmer co-ops, they will plant other crops instead, or replace the better cultivars (the excellent SL-28 and SL-34 selections) with the disease resistant, but poor quality, Ruiri 11 strain.

I was in Kenya in March 2009, visiting farms, as well as the Nairobi auction house and the cupping rooms of Dorman's, a big coffee exporter. The entire auction operation is amazingly impressive - over 600 separate lots that are sampled and bid each week! Be sure to look for my travel commentary from my recent Kenya trip, plus a couple hundred new images. There are great pictures of the coffee auction house, where nearly all Kenyan coffees that reach the market are traded. I also went back later that same year, and have visited every year since, so check out our travelogues.

On a historical note: coffee was introduced into Kenya by way of Reunion (Bourbon) island at the end of the 19th century (1893 is sometimes given as the date). It was brought for local cultivation by the Fathers of the Holy Spirit congregation in 1911 - another case of the long and twisted road that religion and coffee have traveled together.

Some facts ...Harvest Times - Main Crop: October-December, Fly Crop: June-August; Cultivars in Kenya: SL-28, SL-34, Bourbon, Kents, Typica, Riuri 11. Bourbons are sometimes called "Scottish Mission" and "French Mission".

No coffees are currently available from this origin. The review is our most recent offering, provided for reference.
Kenya Nyeri Kangocho AB
Washing channels at the Kangocho Factory
Appearance.2 d/300gr, 15-17 screen
GradeAB
ProcessingWet Process Kenya Type
RegionNyeri District, Karatina Division
Varietal(s)SL-28, SL-34
RoastCity+ roast to Full City is ideal.
Kangocho Factory is near Karatina town in the Nyeri District of central Kenya and is part of the Gikanda Cooperative Society, which is made up from the Gichatha-ini, Kangocho, and Ndaro-ini Cooperatives. The name takes the first few letters of each factory/wet mill to arrive at GiKaNda. Through Sweet Maria's, we have offered coffees from both the Gichatha-ini and Ndaro-ini factories, but Kangocho has been a relatively recent addition. The Gikanda Farmers Coop Society consistently delivers phenomenal coffees and we're always excited to add their coffees to our offer list. They have a system where pickers are graded as A or B. "A" pickers are those who have been proven to deliver well-selected and sorted cherry, and they are invited to submit coffee on the "A" day, when a higher price is paid. "B" pickers are still yet-to-be-proven, or have had more immature beans and over-matures in their bags. They must come on the lowly "B" day and are paid less. Maybe it seems harsh, but there is no better way I have seen to create an incentive for quality harvesting, rather than mindless strip-picking of the coffee tree. (By the way, this A and B picker system has nothing to do with the AA or AB grade, that refers to screen size of the coffee at the dry mill only). Kangocho is definitely on the brighter side of the Kenyan coffees we cupped this year. It's citric, for sure, but finds some balance in the candy-like sweetness that iS sound in the cup. The profile is apparent in the ground coffee - orange blossom, grapefruit, lemon, and a touch of warming spices. Very sweet and potent indeed. The wet grounds follow suit, but with a bolstered brown sugar and butter smell that adds a deep caramel smell to the mix, along with dried fruit notes such as fig and red raisin. For me, this is such a welcoming set of smells, and promises a cup profile nothing short of complex. The flavors shift quite a bit with roast, and the temperature of the liquor has a great effect on what you perceive. Hot, acidity is up front and while fruits are "there", they're less perceptible than when the coffee is closer to mouth temperature. And that's when this coffee really livens up - white grape juice, pomegranite, orange, pink grapefruit - it's all here. The body is nectar-like and, so weighty and fruity. The finish is sweet and flavors of nectarine and apricot linger. Full City roasts are also very fruity and with tropical notes of papaya, mango, and some jack fruit in the finish. As espresso, this one's going to be a fruit bomb, and at a long Full City will flatten acidity a tad, extracting a great, viscous mouthfeel.