Introduction by Chris Kornman
Nyeri coffees are almost always at the top of a cupper’s list of favorites, and this special offering from the Ndaro-Ini Factory (aka Washing Station) is the top of the top. It somehow achieved that near-impossible accomplishment of mind-bending flavors, mouth-saturating sweetness, and impeccable balance that made it an instantly recognizable stand-out during our tastings. This early darling of 2017 Kenya arrivals will be tough to beat.
Ndaro-Ini belongs to an all-star Cooperative Society called Gikanda that includes Gichatha-Ini and Kangocho factories and together represent around 2,800 smallholder farming families. The farms and factories are located within Central Kenya’s Nyeri county, bordered on the west by the Aberdares range, and on the northeast by Mount Kenya. In all of Africa, only Kilimanjaro tops the maximum elevation of Mount Kenya.
Smallholders like those that contribute to Ndaro-Ini 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 Nyeri 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
This delicious Ndaro-Ini fits into the AB sizing category, meaning it’s almost exclusively screens 16-17, the second-highest exportable grade. Kenya’s precision size grading, using the British classification system, ensures super-tight adherence to screen sizing. Beyond that, the coffee is very dense and has very nice looking moisture numbers: not too wet, not too dry.
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
Sometimes a coffee can be super reliable and offer a consistently delicious cup regardless of the roast approach. Lately I have been playing with the way that we apply heat through the roast and juxtaposing a high charge temp/low gas with a low charge temp/high gas during the beginning of the roast. This technique has allowed me to play with the length of the drying stage, which ultimately can give me more flexibility during the maillard stage and the post crack development stage. Roast one is an example of the first with a charge temperature 12°F higher than roast two and low heat throughout the drying stage. Roast two had a lower charge temperature and was propelled through the roast by increasing the gas as needed.
Roast one: clementine, lemon, cherry, pineapple, guava, plum
Roast two: jasmine, honeysuckle, cherry, apricot, black currant, basil
Brew Analysis by Chris Kornman
Taking this coffee for a spin in a pair of Chemex brewers was a breeze. Similar extraction profiles from the two different results still yielded some sensory differences between the two brews, but ultimately this Kenya is a joy to work with. As delicious brewed in drip filters as cupped on the analysis table, we picked up loads of fruit notes on the plum, blackberry, cranberry, pomegranate, and blood orange spectrum. Jen’s first roast was a little, rounder, and more complex (and we all seemed to prefer it slightly), while the second roast offered brighter acids and a more citric profile, adding pink grapefruit and lime zest to the fruit cocktail.
This is a versatile coffee with a wide range of flavor and a lot of potential for application at home or on the bar at a busy cafe, and comes enthusiastically recommended as one of the top Kenyan offerings for the year.