Introduction by Chris Kornman
This unique Kenyan coffee is the result of contributions by about 750 farming families to their cooperative washing station called Kathima. The cooperative society of Thambana oversees this factory, and two others in the region, representing a total of about 3,000 farmers.
Kathima is located in Embu County, situated to the east of the more commonly seen growing regions Nyeri and Kirinyaga, but still within a stone’s throw of Mount Kenya. In all of Africa, only Kilimanjaro tops the maximum elevation of Mount Kenya.
Smallholders like those that contribute to Kathima Factory tend to measure their plots by number of trees rather than acreage, averaging around 250 coffee plants per plot. Many are inter-cropping to improve the biodiversity of the region and the security of their harvest, planting banana, grevillea, and macadamia in addition to coffee. Kenya’s auction system elevates the value of exceptional coffees, and keeps the country’s coffee margins high, stable, and independent of the volatile C Market.
Like most Kenyan growing regions, coffee in Embu benefits from its equatorial location and two distinct annual rainy seasons, resulting in a main crop in the winter and a “fly” crop harvested in the summer. However, East Africa has been hard-hit by climate disruption in recent years, and Kenyan production is very low this year by comparison to last. Early predictions seemed to indicate a good year, but drought, irregular rains, and a frost in Othaya have cut yields for both main and fly crops.
Green Analysis by Chris Kornman
Dry and dense, as per usual for Kenyas, this coffee from Embu fits the standard frame. Kenya’s precision size grading, using the British classification system, ensures super-tight adherence to screen sizing. This AA is over 95% screen 18 and up.
The lot is built on a blend of common Kenyan varieties. SL-28 and SL-34 are two of the most highly regarded varieties produced by Scott Laboratories in Kenya in the 1930s. Scott Labs no longer exists as such, but is now the National Agricultural Laboratories, a part of the larger Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization. Both varieties are Bourbon derivative cultivars, though from different lineages: SL-28 was developed from a drought-resistant variety originally cultivated in Tanganyika, a territory that makes up part of modern day Tanzania; it’s generally considered to be of the highest quality but is not very productive compared to other commercial Arabica varieties. SL-34 is a Kenyan mutation originally found near Kabete, and excels at lower elevations. Both of these SL variants exhibit bronze-tipped leaves on the newest growth.
Joining the classics are two relative newcomers. Ruiru-11 was developed in the mid-1980’s as the result of attempting to make an SL-28 more productive and resistant to Coffee Berry Disease and Leaf Rust by crossbreeding with varieties as disparate as Sudan Rume (for quality) and Catimor (for disease resistance), among others. In response to qualitative feedback, the Coffee Research Institute retraced the steps to creating Ruiru-11, attempting to improve cup quality without compromising disease resistance. Since 2010, the new variety has trickled into production, and early results are promising.
Roast Analysis by Jen Apodaca
Roast one began with a low charge temperature, and heat was applied just after turnaround to 3 gas which carried the roast all the way through first crack and the finish. This coffee lost momentum at first crack and needed time to recover, which is fine because this is a very large screen size. In my second roast, I wanted to put more energy into the coffee at the beginning and shorten the drying time. I did this by increasing my charge temperature. I noticed a dramatic incline just after turnaround and so I did not apply more heat until yellowing began. This shortened my overall roasting time. I also increased my post crack development by just 13 seconds, but pulled the coffee 2.3 °F lower than my first roast. Although more energy did not mitigate the loss of momentum just after first crack, I was able to lengthen my post crack development time and produce a bright and balanced cup without muting the acidity.
Roast one: Hibiscus, blackberry, nectarine, cocoa
Roast two: baked grapefruit, lemon lime, mango, sundried tomato
Behmor Analysis by Evan Gilman
For the past week, I have been roasting with the Behmor indoors underneath a ventilation hood. If your stove has an effective ventilation hood, I must say that I recommend working indoors with the Behmor since ambient temperature definitely changes the way a roast turns out! Specifically, I have been achieving more development in less time. That is to say, the coffee gets roasted quicker.
This Kenya was the last roast I performed this week, and I got gutsy. Maybe a little bit too gutsy in fact. Since roasts were developing more quickly, I decided to engage the cooling cycle after 45 seconds of development time instead of removing the drum from the roaster and cooling manually after a minute plus. I expected the coffee would continue roasting at a slower pace for a bit of time, but it turns out I was proven incorrect!
This coffee was clearly underdeveloped. Once the heat application is finished and the cooling cycle is engaged, the Behmor truly stops the roasting. Lesson learned! Check the stats below to see what an underdeveloped coffee looks like.
Brew Analysis by Evan Gilman
The Kenya Embu Thambana Kathima is a classic Kenyan coffee, and you can expect to pull plenty of bright notes from this Crown Jewel. On the Chemex, my extractions of Jen’s two roasts ended up being very similar, with identical TDS readings. Jen’s second roast was slightly more syrupy than the first (which had a great black tea note), but the main difference here seemed to be in texture. Both roasts displayed lemon and lime zest zippiness, a plummy stonefruit flavor, and a slight herbal/spicy finish.