About This Coffee
Mt. Kenya, at the helm of Kenya’s Central Province, is the second tallest peak on the continent of Africa and a commanding natural presence. The mountain itself is a single point inside a vast and surreal thicket of ascending national forest and active game protection communities. The central counties of Kenya extend from the center of the national park, like five irregular pie slices, with their points meeting at the peak of the mountain. It is along the lower edge of these forests where, in wet, high elevation communities with mineral-rich soil (Mt. Kenya is a stratovolcano) many believe the best coffees in Kenya, often the world, are crafted. Nyeri is perhaps the most well-known of these central counties. Kenya’s coffee is dominated by a cooperative system of production, whose members vote on representation, marketing and milling contracts for their coffee, as well as profit allocation. Othaya Farmers Cooperative Society, the umbrella organization that includes Kiaguthu factory, is one of Kenya’s larger societies, with 19 different factories and more than 14,000 farmer members across the southern Nyeri region. The Kiaguthu factory is located between the Ruarai and Chinga rivers in far southern Nyeri near the Murang’a county border. Both rivers originate in the Aberdare mountain range, to Nyeri’s west, whose cool air and precipitation is a contributor to Nyeri’s coveted coffee terroir. Kenya is of course known for some of the most meticulous at-scale processing that can be found anywhere in the world. Bright white parchment, nearly perfectly sorted by density and bulk conditioned at high elevations is the norm, and a matter of pride, even for generations of Kenyan processing managers who prefer drinking Kenya’s tea (abundantly farmed in nearby Muranga county) to its coffee. Ample water supply in the central growing regions has historically allowed factories to wash, and wash, and soak, and wash their coffees again entirely with fresh, cold river water. Conservation is creeping into the discussion in certain places--understandably in the drier areas where water, due to climate change, cannot be as taken for granted—but for the most part Kenya continues to thoroughly wash and soak its coffees according to tradition. The established milling and sorting by grade, or bean size, is a longstanding tradition and positions Kenya coffees well for roasters, by tightly controlling the physical preparation and creating a diversity of profiles from a single processing batch.
Growing Coffee in Kenya
Coffee is grown through the highland regions of Kenya, including Kisii, Nyanza, and Bungoma in the west; Nakuru and Kericho in the Great Rift Valley; Machakos, Embu, and Meru to the east of Mt. Kenya; and the Taita hills near the coast. The largest and oldest coffee growing areas are the central highlands, particularly Nyeri, sandwiched between the foothills of Mt Kenya to the east and the Aberdare mountain range to the west. Most coffee in Kenya is grown between 1400 and 2000 meters. Nearly all of Kenya’s 700,000 coffee producers are small land holders belonging to cooperatives. Most common varieties in Kenya are Ruiru 11, SL28, SL34, and K7. SL34 and K7 were developed from heirloom bourbon known as “French Mission,” which was the primary variety grown prior to the 1930’s that can still be found today, as can Blue Mountain on some farms. Kenyan coffees are graded by screen size and while there are several grades, specialty coffee is AA, AB, or PB (peaberry), used in combination with quality grade FAQ or FAQ Plus (Fair Average Quality).
History of Coffee in Kenya
It seems likely that coffee grew wild within the region that would become Kenya, buried deep inside impenetrable forests, or perhaps hiding in plain site; but it wasn’t until 1895 that missionaries both protestant and catholic attempted to grow coffee for commercial purposes. The 100 seeds from Reunion Island that would serve as progenitors to the Kenyan coffee industry arrived on a train, carried by priests belonging to an order known as “Holy Ghost Fathers.” On August 12th, 1899, they arrived at the spot that would quickly become the country’s capital city. One of the early protestant medical missionaries was Dr. Henry Scott. After his death in 1911, a new hospital complex was named after Dr. Scott and when the department of agriculture took over the complex in 1923 they kept the name: Scott Agricultural Laboratories, or “Scott Labs.” This is the origin of the “SL” in SL28 and other coffee varieties selected at the lab.
Farm: Smallholder farmers around the Kiaguthu Factory
Elevation: 1847 MASL
Variety: Ruiru 11, SL28, SL34
Tasting notes: Heavy yet clean with blackberry, cherry, caramel and floral notes.