Forgoing a trip to Kenya in January, we favoured further exploration of Ethiopia as it continues to open up in terms of traceability and access. Still selling all their coffee through an antiquated auction system, building long-lasting relationships in Kenya remains a lot harder. Our approach, therefore, has always been to purchase the most delicious, tantalising coffees we can, showing off as much sweetness and acidity as possible, regardless of if we've heard of the factory or not.
Casting the net wide this season, we only selected three coffees from over fifty samples vetted in our Vyner Street roastery. Seemingly, it's getting harder and harder to find Kenyan coffees that offer the profile we initially fell in love with, but we're thrilled to have found these three sweet, expressive coffees, from three new factories we haven't had the pleasure of working with before; Gondo, Githembe and Muchagara.
Githembe washing station (typically called a factory in Kenya), is located in the north of Kiambu County close to the border with Murang' a County, where around 1,500 smallhold farmers sell their harvested coffee cherries to be processed. The operations are run by a Farmers' Co-operative Society (FCS) named after a local river - Thiririka. Founded in 1995 and today comprised of around 2,400 members, they oversee not just Githembe washing station, but Ndundu and Kiganjo stations, also located on the Kiambu-Murang' a border. What is not so typical with the coffee from Githembe is that after the coffee cherries are purchased and processed, the wet parchment is then transported to the Kiganjo washing station to be dried, where the FCS have more security. Coffee is a valuable and sellable commodity, which unfortunately means it is prone to theft.
The members of Thiririka FCS are all working with seeds from Kenya's CRI (Coffee Research Institute) and are provided with detailed training and materials regarding caring for their coffee plants. This includes information about clearing weeds and the pruning of coffee trees alongside applying mulch and fertiliser at the appropriate time of year. This season, in particular, has seen a greater need for copper to be sprayed to combat an onslaught of CBD (Coffee Berry Disease), which has decimated up to 80% of some farmers' crops who couldn't afford to act fast enough in combating the spread of the disease.
This particular lot from Githembe is an AB selection, meaning it comprised of seeds with the second largest screen size offered in Kenya. We always assess coffees on the cupping table with no details about what each sample is at the time of tasting, and only once we've made our notes and decisions do we reveal the coffee information. This AB selection performed head and shoulders above seven AA selections on the table, telling us that screen size is not everything when it comes to quality in coffee. Please enjoy this tart, structured coffee from Kiambu County!