It’s with great pleasure that we announce the much anticipated (at least by me) launch of our fresh crop Kenyans. Gachatha AB and Karinga AA are both powerhouses with big flavours, acidity and body, while still showing elegance and grace. I’m so pleased with the way they’re performing, and in truth, quite relieved.
This year has been a tumultuous one for Kenyan coffee farmers, especially in the region of Nyeri. Before getting into the events that affected Nyeri this season, it’s important to mention that the coffee sector of Kenya was fully privatized. This meant that each factory (what they call washing stations in Kenya) and co-op was free to choose a marketing agent company (who would help sell their coffee) from the long list of options available. In my opinion, this was a very good thing for the factories. It meant that each marketing agent had to show a high level of performance (i.e. get good prices for the coffee) or they would be replaced with another. They also had to offer incentives such as low interest loans. Ok, that’s the background, now to the story…
A few months before my visit to Kenya last February, a crisis erupted in the county of Nyeri. A new constitution of Kenya took effect, which decentralized the agriculture sector’s responsibilities to the county governors. The governor of Nyeri, Nderitu Gachagua, seized the opportunity and undertook a process to de-privatize the coffee sector of Nyeri, and bring it back under government control. The argument has been made to me that Nderitu’s had some good intentions, as he felt that by centralizing the supply of coffee they could obtain higher prices, because he only had the farmers best interest in mind, and not the buyers. However, understandably, this action was met with an outcry from many farmers. They argued the governor’s action was unconstitutional because it removed the farmers right to choose their marking agent, forcing them use only one: the government. As my trip approached, it became clear the situation would not be resolved this season and that I would have to make a choice to either buy from the government mill or limit my purchases to coffees outside Nyeri or the few co-ops in Nyeri who managed to resist the governor’s directive. After some lengthy talks with Geoff Watts of Intelligentsia, who I bumped into in Ethiopia the week after, I made the choice to do the latter — explore other options and avoid purchasing from the government mill. I don’t believe either side in this debacle is wholly innocent, but I just couldn’t condone the governor’s coercion tactics and the hollow promises (read: unachievable) of high prices.
As if these political challenges weren’t enough, Kenya experienced some rather erratic weather this season. Normally, it is very dry during and after the harvest, but this season it was quite a bit wetter. In fact, I got caught in multiple rainstorms, and I’ve never seen rain in Kenya before! As is pretty evident, this made for some difficult drying conditions, as well as very sub-optimal storage conditions for coffee. Naturally, I travelled with my trusty water activity meter to ensure that the lots we bought were properly dried and stored, but I experienced the highest reject rate due to moisture that I’ve even seen. I literally rejected 90% of the top performing (on the cupping table) due to poor drying to storage. It was such a challenge to find these lots from Karinga and Gachatha that were in better condition. I wish I could say that it was intentional on their part, but honestly I think there was a great deal of luck involved (there was no rain during the drying of these lots and they were stored in good locations in the warehouses).
Karinga is in the Thika district of the Kiambu county, which is actually very close to Nairobi. They are part of the Gitwe Farmers Co-operative, and I had really liked their coffees in the past but I had never visited them. During my visit, I met the manager Samuel Muteti, who’s been at the helm of the factory for 3 years. I was quite impressed by his unusually high knowledge of coffee growing (for a mill manager), and the demonstration plot they had was beautifully kept. This knowledge has clearly disseminated well to the growers, as they have some of the most exciting coffee I tasted from Kiambu, for sure rivalling the prized coffees of Nyeri. The lot is the AA screen size, which basically means the biggest beans from that lot. AA lots are generally considered superior (to AB) and they fetch quite a higher price. However, we have found cases where AB lots are actually better or at least almost equal. In this case, we bought both AA and AB screen sizes, and they are both delightful, but the AA is just a bit more powerful and elegant.
Very juicy and sweet, dried grape and fresh red grape, plum with pomegranate in the aftertaste. Creamy and smooth. Creamy and super smooth, stewed strawberry with pomegranate. Very creamy mouth feel. Tones of blackberry and dark chocolate. Tons of currant acidity.
The Gachatha factory is the only washing station of the Gachatha Farmers Co-operative, and it’s located in the heart of the Nyeri county, near the town of Nyeri. I found this amazing lot on the last morning of my visit to the Central Kenya coffee mill in Nyeri. That morning I was feeling a little sorry for myself as I really missed the Nyeri profile (I had found a few good Nyeri coffees, but they were all under-dried or poorly stored), even though I was really happy with Karinga and a few other lots I had booked. It just so happened that Gachatha had delivered this lot the evening before, and they had milled the lot at 4am that morning (the green was still a little warm!). Boom! I had found my beloved Nyeri profile. Ripe stonefruit and florals leapt off the table and I smiled for about the next 2 hours. Naturally, I booked the lot right away and counted my lucky stars. The downside is that I had booked my transport back to Nyeri already and I didn’t have time to visit this factory before departing. They’re on my radar now though, and I’ll be all over them next season. For now, just enjoy the rare treat of a Nyeri coffee that was well dried and stored. In this case the AA and AB lots scored identically for me, so we bought them both, of course!
Peach, very sweet, floral, tons of chocolate with a very sweet finish. Juicy, perfumed, peach juice, elegant. Deep, complex sweetness.