Kenya – Karimikui
Kenya, situated on the equator on Africa’s east coast, has been described as “the cradle of humanity”. In the Great Rift Valley palaeontologists have discovered some of the earliest evidence of man’s ancestors. Kenya’s topography is incredibly diverse. The country is a land of mountains, valleys, open plains, deserts, forests, lakes, savannahs and a golden sanded coastline. With its scenic beauty and abundant wildlife, Kenya is one of Africa’s major safari destinations.
Coffee was introduced to Kenya by the British with seeds from neighbouring Ethiopia and also from Reunion (Bourbon) island. The development of hybrids during the 1930s brought about the highly successful varietals, SL28 and SL34 – coffees that are now world famous and highly admired for their wonderful complexity in the cup with unrivalled lemony acidity. The country’s best coffees are grown in the Central Highlands on the southern slopes of Mt. Kenya to the north and in the foothills of the Aberdare Mountains to the west. Here the coffee is grown on farms with altitudes of up to 1,800 metres above sea level – and this, along with the fertile volcanic soils of the region, is the key to the almost unbelievable flavours that can be found within the cup. The best coffees in Kenya are produced by the cooperatives of which there are around 300 comprised of between half a million to 600,000 smallholder members. About 60% of Kenya’s coffee is produced on cooperatives with estates and plantations making up the balance. Typically a smallholding or ‘shamba’ is comprised of shade-grown coffee, a house, the family cow and a good variety of vegetables and fruit for the use of the family.
The Karimikui factory is located in Ngairiama in the Gichugu division of Kirinyaga district in Central Province. It is one of 3 factories, along with Kiangoi and Kii, which make up the Rungeto Farmers Coop Society. This coop was established in 1953 and now has around 3507 members. Each smallholder member has around a hectare of land for growing coffee alongside vegetables for the family. The area has rich and fertile red volcanic soil at altitudes of 1700 to 1900 metres above sea level and receives between 1600 and 1900mm of rainfall annually.
The coffee is handpicked by the smallholder members and delivered to the Karimikui factory where it is pulped. This initially separates the dense beans from the immature ‘mbuni’s (floaters) using water floatation which means the denser beans will sink and be sent through channels to the fermentation tank. This first stage of fermentation will last for around 24 hours, after which the beans are washed and sent to the secondary fermentation tank for another 12-24 hours. Once the fermentation process is completed, the beans enter the washing channels where floaters are separated further and the dense beans are cleaned of mucilage. The washed beans will then enter soaking tanks where they can sit under clean water for as long as another 24 hours. This soaking process allows amino acids and proteins in the cellular structure of each bean to develop which results in higher levels of acidity and complex fruit flavours in the cup – it is thought that this process of soaking contributes to the flavour profiles that Kenyan coffees are so famed for. The beans are then transferred to the initial drying tables where they are laid in a thin layer to allow around 50% of the moisture to be quickly removed. This first stage of drying can last around 6 hours before the beans are gathered and laid in thicker layers for the remaining 5-10 days of the drying period. The dry parchment coffee is then delivered to a private mill and put into ‘bodegas’ to rest – these are raised cells made of chicken wire which allows the coffee to breathe fully. Coffee is traditionally sold through the country’s auction system, though recent amendments to the coffee law of Kenya have brought about the introduction of direct trading whereby farmers can by-pass the auction and sell directly to speciality roasters around the world. It is this system we have chosen since we believe it brings about better returns for the smallholder.
SL34: SL34 was created in the 1930s as a mutation between Bourbon and Typica. It differs to SL28 as it has bronze tipped leaves. This could perhaps mean it has greater similarity to the Typica varietal. SL34 is known to be fairly resistant to heavy rainfall at high altitudes and produces top quality coffee with complex citrus acidity and a heavy mouthfeel.
SL28: This varietal was created in the 1930s by Scott Laboratories as botanists searched for different mutations of Bourbon and Typica. It has copper coloured leaves and its beans are broad. It is native to Kenya and is relatively low yielding, however the cup qualities are highly sought after. Characteristics can include intense lemon acidity, great sweetness, balance and complexity.