Kenya Day One – Wednesday Feb 6: Crazy traffic, Great Farmers, and Chuck of Birdrock Coffee attacked by a monkey and sent to the hospital.
Being from Los Angeles, you would think I have seen it all when it comes to traffic but today was the worse, and it does not help that they drive on the wrong side of the street. In Nairobi it seems signals mean nothing and traveling 5 miles can take one hour. Every street we were on today seemed like leaving a football game or concert with traffic and cars cutting everywhere and going nowhere. But eventually we did get to the SMS (Sustainable Management Services) office and lab to learn how they support farmers. The work of SMS is very good and showing great results including; Increased participation of women, Increasing yield per tree from 1kg to 3.5kg cherry per tree, Establishing 2000 Promotor farmers as demonstation plots, Increased use of Organic Materials, Increased supply of Certified Coffees (Organic, Fair Trade, UTZ), Adaptation to climate changes, and Ultimately higher prices for farmers.
We also visited the Kinogerama Farmers Co-op where the leaders of the Co-op were having a meeting about upcoming training seminars and their recent approval by Fair Trade (something they will earn a premium for and help them get more money for their coffee). And Chuck Patton of Birdrock Coffee Roasters (a friend on the trip) was attacked by a monkey and had to go to the hospital where he spent 3 hours getting patched up and shot up from the bites he sustained from the monkey. One thing we did not get to do today was the cupping we had scheduled due to the crazy traffic and all. Fortunately we have a down day this weekend and will make up the cupping then.
Thursday Feb 7 and Friday Feb 8: Travel, Farm Visits, Wet and Dry Mill Visits
Thursday started where Wednesday left off, in traffic, as we departed Nairobi and headed North toward Nyeri and the coffee regions of Mount Kenya. Our first stop was the Highlands Dry Mill in Thika where we not only got a tour of the milling of the parchment and green separation, but our first real cupping. We enjoyed over 50 of their top lots personally selected for our enjoyment and advanced about 14 to a final cupping with other top lots before we left.
From there we headed to the Ruarai Wet Mill, also referred to as a washing station as here is where the beans are washed of the fruit on the bean. Ruarai is the oldest (built in 1951) of seven wet mills who are members of the Ruthaka Coffee Society. In total they produced 1,165,690 kg of coffee last year. The Chairman of the Ruthaka Coffee Society, who also is Chairman of the Ruarai Wet Mill, was kind enough to escort us personally and explain the operation.
Kenya Fermentation (Double Wash)
First, the coffee cherry is received at a collection or sorting room where the ripe cherry is separated from the unripe or green cherry if needed. Then the different coffee is weighed and added to the appropriate cherry tank where they are flooded with water so the lighter and hollow floaters rise to the top and are separated out.
From there the cherry passes through a gate at the bottom of the cherry tank and gravity fed to a de-pulper where the fruit or meat of the cherry is removed, leaving the bean (or seed) to continue on. The fruit or pulp is collected to be used later for mulch and fertilizer. The bean at this stage is covered by a protective skin called parchment. It is led by water toward a first fermentation tank. On the way there the beans are separated by weight through different channels to different tanks. The best and heaviest are called P1, next are P2 and finally P lights. We are only interested in the P1. After staying in these fermentation tanks for 16 to 24 hours (depending on how cold it is), the sticky parchment is rinsed and washed in the long washing channels. The best P1 beans are then re-circulated and pumped up to a soak tank where the beans (parchment actually) are covered with water and left to soak for an additional 24 to 40 hours. Its this soak tank or double wash process that makes what we call the Kenya fermentation or double wash which results in the clean and special coffee we have come to appreciate.
From here, the parchment is released to the skin dry beds for 6+ hours to remove most of the excess water before being transferred to the final drying beds (referred to as African Drying Beds) for 7 to 10 more days. Next the dry parchment is moved to storage rooms where they rest for or more weeks before being shipped to the dry mill which removes the parchment from the green bean and the bean is further separated by density, weight, size and color for shipment to customers world wide.
Thursday Feb 7 and Friday Feb 8: Travel, Farm Visits, Wet and Dry Mill Visits Continued.
After the tour, we met with the Chairman’s Management team to discuss their needs and hopes for the future. Because of the mills old age, much help was needed. High prices in 2011, becoming part of Fair Trade and earning a premium for their coffee last year, and higher yields since getting training and assistance from SMS have allowed the Co-op to buy a new de-pulper and begin the improvements but much more is needed. Their hope is for higher prices again, to this end we assured them the best way to get higher prices was through higher quality and they understood.
The Chairman next took us to one of the Promoter Farmers. These are farm and farmer examples to others in the Co-op with each Promoter Farmer responsible to teach 50 other farmers what he has learned and proven. Abraham was the farmer and he showed us his farm and operation, which consisted of about 275 coffee trees and other crops. While avocado and a few of these other crops helped, he told us that 75% of his income came from coffee. With the help of SMS he had been able to increase yield from 1kg of cherry to 3kg of cherry per tree. Amazingly, most of the trees were originally planted in 1958 and continue to produce today. The variety he grows are SL 28 and SL 34. Since 5 kg of cherry are needed for 1kg of grean beans, this means 75% of his income for the year would be based on the selling of 363 lbs of green coffee beans.
Since it was night fall we headed to our accommodations for the evening, arriving around 10 pm and just in time for a quick meal. The next morning we were up early and visited another mill.
Saturday Feb 9th,
This might have been our most fun and busiest day to date. We started at 7am by cupping 56 coffees at the Sangana Lab in Nairobi. About 10 of them really stood out so selected them along with our previous top lots to be re-roasted for a final table on Monday. After cupping it was lunch time so we walked across the street to a local hangout called Golden Wings where fresh goats were hanging in a window (see pictures) and cooked as needed. We enjoyed great fried fish (see picture) with some boiled goat and a popular Kenyan food called Ugali (a type of dough made with maize); Oh yea, and a little bit of local beer would be nice!
After lunch and a quick stop back at the hotel, it was time for Safari. Nairobi is home to a National Park just at the edge of the city. It was here, at the entrance to the park, where Chuck was attacked by the wild monkey and sent to the hospital. At this time Chuck was recovering nicely but still under heavy medication and continued shots for rabies and infection.
Our driver and guide assured Chuck we would view the wild animals from the safety of the van so he bravely joined in on the safari. The safari was similar to our Wild Animal Park where you drive a vehicle within the 100 square miles of African Plains and look for animals but stay in your vehicle. Our van had a pop up roof so we could stand and view and see everything. I was amazed how quickly and how many animals we found, and how close we were able to get to them. Also, at how close we were to the city as the houses and buildings were right to the edge of the park. We saw many Wildebeest, Antelope, Gazelle, Impala, Hippo, Ostrich, Zebras, Monitor Lizard (looked like a type of alligator lizard), Giraffe, Monkeys, and various birds. Lions in the park must feel like the only guest at an all you can eat smorgasbord. Most intriguing was the White Rhino, who we followed for a while till he came right up near us, and the Giraffes. Driving in our Safari Van and seeing the Giraffes felt so surreal, kind of like scene from Jurassic Park where they see dinosaur from their jeep. Because it was near sunset and the park closing we had to head back without searching for the elusive lions or tigers. About a quarter mile from the exit, on a paved road, it happened……. a lion came walking down the road straight toward us. With full mane and awesome presence, it was clear this was his territory. He came within two feet of our van and showed no fear as he continued on his path. What an awesome experience.
Monday Feb 11th,
After a relaxing day off on Sunday, we started the week with a final cupping of the top lots from our trip so far. Twenty-six coffees were prepared for us at the Sangana Lab. All of the coffees were previously cupped by us and passed through to this final round so the anticipation was high. Needless to say, the table did not disappoint. With so many great coffees, the challenge was to pick a winner or winners. Several of course seemed to rise to the top, specifically #16, 19 and 20. The cups varied from floral, to fruity, to intense and vibrant. As usual, the sweet and complex were our picks and I will return with samples from my top seven lots to cup and home and make final decisions.
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