Update from Nairobi, Kenya – February 2013

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We have known for a while that the 2013 harvest would be a little later than last year; the crop smaller. As a result, we have been expecting improved quality from last year: more intensity in flavor and better processing. And this is exactly what we have found!

Timing is key
The cooperatives have held onto their coffees until recently, waiting until the market went up. In the Nyeri region, the cooperatives we usually like best, have kept their coffee at their warehouses to rest, but have also “timed” when to present them to the Kenya Coffee Auction in Nairobi, where they are trying to fetch as high a price as possible. We don’t blame them for this. That said, one of the reasons we were there now is to buy the best coffees before they are presented to the auction at all. These days, the very best coffees aren’t usually sold at auction; they are being sold right off the cupping table! Thus, we need to be present at origin, tasting all the coffees and informing the coops what we want before anybody else does. The competition for the best lots is fierce. And fun.

Perfect timing is best
We could have been in Kenya two weeks ago and we would have gotten first choice on some lots. At the time, however, there was much less variety in the coffees being offered. We could have waited until after the elections in March to go: a time when most coffees are made available. But this is too late – the best lots would have been sold in the meantime.

We want to get first pick of the best lots, but we also want to choose from as many lots as possible, which is why last week proved to be perfect timing for choosing the best lots from the 2013 harvest.

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Mission completed
It should go without saying that we always cup blind. Still, we usually end up choosing lots from the same cooperatives we have liked in the past. Frankly, these consistent favorites are now famous and internationally recognized for producing the best Kenyan coffees, fetching the best prices and in turn, paying the best prices to farmer-members. Overall, this is a win-win situation we like being a part of.

Generally speaking, the lots chosen have a powerful aroma with the characteristic berry notes one can expect from a great Nyeri coffee. Below are the names of the coops we have selected from:

the Good Old names:

from Tekangu Coop in Karatina, Nyeri
– TEGUfeb2013_3
– KARAGOTO
– NGUNGURU

from Barichu Coop in Karatina, Nyeri
– GATOMBOYA

from Gikanda Coop in Karatina, Nyeri
– KANGOCHO

from Mugaga Coop in Karatina, Nyeri
– KIENI
– KAGUMOINI

the Good New names:

from Aguthi Coop in Nyeri, Nyeri
– KAGUMO

from Mugaga Coop in Karatina, Nyeri
– GATINA

from Gakuyu Coop in Karatina, Nyeri
– NDIMAINI

from Barichu Coop in Karatina, Nyeri
– GATURIRI

from Rumukia Coop in Mukurwe, Nyerifeb2013_5
– KIAWAMURURU

from Karithathi Coop in Kianyaga, Kirinyaga
– KIUNYU

On Screening and Quality Selection
Size matters, but not always in the way one would think.

In Kenya, a coffee “lot” is made from a bigger batch of coffee that is delivered to the dry-mill from a cooperative on a given day. When a coffee batch arrives at the mill, it is processed (hulled), analyzed (technically and sensorially), screened (separated due to bean sizes) and given an outturn-number. While the parchment is taken off the beans in the hulling process, the beans are screened and separated due to shape and size.

AAs are flat with screen size 17+. ABs are flat with screen sizes 15&16. PBs are pea-berries. There are always a certain percentage of lower grades too.

For example: the whole truckload of coffee from Gatomboya’s warehouse that arrived at the mill in Karatina last week was given the outturn-number 20CK0032. Let’s say this outturn is 30% AA, 55% AB, 5% PB and 10% lower grades. These qualities are of course kept, tasted and sold (or auctioned) separately.

In actual fact, we are getting Gatomboya 20CK0032 in AA, AB and PB because we think there is an interesting and consistent good linkage amongst the various screen sizes.

Screen size does not necessarily correlate with quality in terms of flavor attributes!
For example, last year we found many of the AB-selections to be superior to the AAs from the same lot. It is NOT true that PBs are necessarily more intense in flavor or better in quality than the flat beans.

The only truth is that EVERY lot and ALL qualities must be evaluated. Separately. As Always, Cupping is Key.

That said, we do see some patterns. This year we have found many of the AAs to be superior – by far. (Thus they come with a much higher premium.) Still, all the qualities we have chosen are the best in their respective category. All the AAs this year are stellar!

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