Othaya is an impressive operation. They have 19 factories (although not all of them operated in the 2017 season, given the smaller crop) and their own dry mill and cupping lab. The latter two operations are led by Mr. David K. Wairagu. David’s role is very important, and unique among co-ops - especially the cupping lab. This cupping allows them to really understand the quality of the coffee that their factories are producing in order to work to improve it, and also ensure that the right prices are being fetched based on the quality produced.
For much of the rest of the coffee sector in Kenya, the cup quality of a co-op’s coffee is assessed by a 3rd party, usually the dry mill that the co-op is using. This places the co-op in a bit of a vulnerable spot, fully in the hands of the mill to obtain feedback on their coffees. It’s sad to say, but sometimes this position of power is abused to sell coffee for a lower than appropriate price. Additionally, dry mills have been known to wittingly or unwittingly mis-sort AA and AB screen sizes to reduce the amount of AA (which sells for a higher price) and consequently produce a lower price for the coffees. Lastly, sometimes milling losses are abnormally high and this abuse is again prevented by a co-op that also owns a dry mill.
Gatuyaini is a wet mill (called a Factory in Kenya), and it was founded in 1969—eleven years after the co-op began. The most unique aspect of this mill as compared to all of the Othaya factories is that it’s co-located to the Othaya dry mill. The warehouse where the parchment is placed in conditioning bins and stored prior to milling is literally a few feet from the dry milling facility. This couldn’t be more convenient, but the primary reason I like it so much is that the risk of damage to the coffee during transport is reduced to almost nil. This gives me a nice assurance that the coffee I taste before milling will more likely resemble the coffee after milling. Managing risk factors such as this is imperative to sourcing extraordinary coffee out of Africa.
As always, I remain very grateful to Philip, David, and the Othaya board of directors for running an honest and diligent operation.
This coffee was frozen immediately upon arrival in Calgary, to preserve freshness.