The morning began with more cupping at CKCM, revisiting some old favourites and trying out some unknown factories. Kimathi talked me through the QC process that starts when the bags of parchment arrive at the mill: at least 35% of the arrived bags on a truck get spiked in order to gather a 500g lot sample, 300g of this gets hulled in order to roast a 100g cupping sample and also roast some for the factory rep to take home. The samples are measured for moisture, screen sizes are recorded, and cupping scores noted.
A few of the coffees we cupped performed really well and I was feeling more confident that I’d leave here with some lots confirmed, so grabbed samples of all the ones that interested me so I can roast and cup at home where I’m more in control of the parameters.
We wanted to see more factories today and first up was Kagumoini, headed up by Patrick Kiromo who has been there for 4 years. They receive cherry from 1500 farmers and now near to closing up the final lots for the season have received about 762.000 kg cherry. Some of the final batches of parchment to head to CKCM were being sorted by hand by a crew sat in the comfortable shade at the receiving patio, and I was told it took 3-4 days to sort through a delivery of 300 bags for the mill. They’re currently delivering a truck pr week, but have about 2000 bags in store still to go, another logistical issue that comes with big harvest years. They also still have parchment on the drying beds, being turned by hand and needing another day before it’d reach their target of 9-11%. Isaac, the chairman of the co-op, told us that he was expecting next year’s crop to be as good or even bigger, as when visiting the shambas that deliver to Kagumoini he was seeing a lot of flower spikes on the trees, and the rains had been falling well so far.
Since we had to get back to Nairobi today we only had time for one more stop, the Karatina factory in the middle of Karatina town. Karatina is the oldest factory in Nyeri having been around since 1957, but is a bit less busy today as other factories have sprung up all around. James Githinji met us at the gates and took us on a tour of the facility where 2000 farmers delivered 800.000 kg cherry this year. They have a 3 disc pulper that had just been taken apart for its clan, and a single row of fermentation tanks where in order to do the two stage dry fermentation, they will simply fill the tank with water after the initial overnight fermentation, scrub the parchment by agitating the water with rakes, drain the water out and letting the parchment sit for another few hours. They actually had a bit of parchment just about to be washed off in the channels and pumped through to the drying tables, so I got stuck in to help.
First the concrete channels were washed with clean water, before they started hosing the tank down, flushing all the parchment out through the valve into the gently sloping washing channels. There it gets pushed with rakes against the waterflow to scrub all remains of mucilage off, before it’s collected in a well from which it’s pumped to the drying tables up on the hill. A crew of people had rolled out a sheet of plastic on to the tables and gathered the sides of it up to create a sleeve for the water and coffee to flow through. Moses and Philip had one end attached to the pipe where the parchment would come through, the other at the bottom of the table would be left open to let the water drain. As the parchment started flowing through the sleeve, the ladies would roll up the plastic from the bottom of the hill so the coffee would spread itself evenly on the drying mesh and drain off. Once everything was pumped through, Patrick one of the shamba owners who deliver to Karatina showed me how to flush the system out with water in order to keep everything clean and free from stuck bits of parchment. The whole process seemed to require an enormous amount of water, and while it’s not a natural resource they have limited access to right here, I still wish there was a way of limiting this waste.
We wished we’d had more time to see other factories but as we had to get back to Nyeri before dark, we said our goodbyes and headed back south. Stopping by Bridget’s house before dinner out with her and Kamau I was overjoyed to finally get some fur-time, with her big bouncy guard dogs (not very fierce I have to say!)
Early Friday morning and I headed to Taylor Winch’s offices to see a friend who recently moved to Nairobi from Kigali, and to cup some coffees of course! I brought some of our Bolivian CSJ for them to try thinking that they probably rarely get to drink anything other than Kenyan coffees, and while first regarded with some suspicion I think Dirk and Matt finally conceded that even if it wasn’t bright and fruity, it was fairly drinkable. Tough audience!
Their lab is beautifully set up and wonderfully spacious feeling in spite of being a hive of roasting and cupping activity. With windows on three walls flooding the space with sunlight and a breeze coming through the open door to the garden, I spared a thought to my crew at home who were probably cupping in close to minus degree conditions in snowy London. Ha ha!
Amos was in full flow running all 5 barrels on their sample roaster, while Dinah and Sam were setting up their second table of the day. They easily cup 4-500 cups here in a day so setting up and evaluating the cups is done with brisk efficiency, and it was great to be able to try everything from grinders to top AA lots on the same table. I was pleased to find Sam, who’s been doing this for 31 years, agreeing with me on most of the thoughts I had on the coffees, whether on the lower or higher end of the quality scale. He was however better able to pick out coffees that perhaps didn’t stand out for me on the first pass, but cooled really well where others fell through. Maybe in another 15 years I’ll get the hang of it… As Sam and Joseph worked their way down the table scoring and taking notes, I picked out some samples to take back home for cupping in my own environment. Again, none of my favourites on the table were AA’s, one of them was in fact a C and one was a bulk AB lot. Funny year for Kenyas this year for sure, I feel like I’ll need to spend a long time cupping and re-cupping to make sure what we bring in this year will be the very best we can find.
Dirk and Matt then took me to their warehouse for a quick tour and an explanation on how they work. As containers were being stuffed in a steady pace, we walked through their spotlessly clean space and beautifully organized receiving, stacking, bulking, sorting, screening, sampling and bagging procedures, discussing the merits of sisal vs jute and the options for grainpro and vac packing.
In the hand sorting room my camera and I turned out to be a big hit with the girls working through the greens, they were quite the lively bunch and noise levels quickly rose to new heights! I’m told they don’t see other women in my role come through there very often, so I was happy that I was a visitor they felt relaxed around, more so than perhaps some severe looking ol’ coffee guy. No offense to all the severe looking ol’ coffee guys out there!
After a lovely lunch at a nearby Nairobi Java House I had to quickly run to catch up with Mie and Ben at the Dorman factory, where they were touring their milling and roasting facilities. As I was admiring (and feeling rather jealous of) their 90kg Probat, I was thrilled to suddenly see John Muli Makau come in, Kenyan barista Champion in 2007, 8 and 9 and one of the nicest most passionate coffee guys I know! He treated us to some cappuccinos off the 3 group La Marzocco set up in the Dormans canteen, the first capp I’d had in a week and just the perfect end to the day.
Last day in Nairobi and instead of relaxing and letting other people relax, we dragged the SMS/Sangana crew from their peaceful Saturday mornings and made them cup with us instead! In their gorgeous cupping lab, Justin and Charli had very kindly put on a full table of some of their offerings both from last crop and the current, and I brought a bag of one of our Kenyas to put on as well. In spite of the differences in our roast styles there was broad agreement on which lots were best on the table, and it was useful for me to cup a table of slightly darker roasts, learning to see through to the coffee in a different way. The way these guys are set up and the developments underway in their link from grower to export are very exciting, and I look forward to following what they do in the near future. It was great to chat to SMS’s TM as well, whose family own an interesting estate in Thika that I hope to be able to visit on my next trip.
Thank you Kenya, I hope to see you again before Christmas!