Introduction by Chris Kornman
Nyeri coffees are almost always at the top of a cupper’s list of favorites, and this exceptional coffee from the Karatina Factory (aka Washing Station) is unquestionably the cream of the crop. Described as having a prototypical Kenya profile, an argument could be made that this coffee is the standard against which to measure the rest. The flavor profile reads like a summer music festival lineup of classic Kenya flavor notes, opening with juicy blackberry, savory sundried tomato, and blackcurrant jam, and headlined by zesty-sweet ruby red grapefruit.
Karatina belongs to a small but exceptional Cooperative Society called Barichu that includes Gaturiri and Gatomboya factories and together represent fewer than 1000 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 Karatina 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 originally 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 coffee is quite dry, even by the standards of this season’s Kenyan arrivals. Its high density is par for the course for these high-grown, high acidity coffees, and the screen size is 90% 18 and up, placing it squarely in AA category according to the so-called British grading system.
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 called Batian has trickled into production, and early results are promising.
Roast Analysis by Jen Apodaca
This is a very dense coffee, but with low moisture content. My first roast was not incredibly long at 8:46 minutes, but we all noticed several roast notes in the cup. The roast aso plummeted just after first crack and nearly stalled. I decided that a faster roast time would give me the best result. I started with a high charge temperature and applied high heat one minute after turnaround. As soon as the Maillard stage began, I turned down the heat so I wouldn’t race through this critical development time and turned the heat back up to 3 gas less than a minute before first crack. I left the heat on until I noticed a rise in the rate of rise. My second roast was preferred by the table and I believe I could have shortened my post crack development time for more acidity if desired.
Roast one: tomato, Rose, dried fig, black plum
Roast two: Ruby red grapefruit, green apple, cherimoya, juicy
Behmor Analysis by Evan Gilman
This Kenyan coffee was a dream to roast, and moving deeper into explorations of heat application on the Behmor, I decided to ramp down heat after first crack to preserve as much of that beautiful Kenyan acidity as possible. Immediately upon first crack, I lowered the heat by engaging P3. This roast did indeed turn out very light, at 10.6% roast loss, but had more body than my roast of CJ1130 with 10 seconds less development time.
On the cupping table, this coffee performed well and displayed notes of vanilla, grilled peach, purple grape, and honeydew. Try for low roast loss and delicate heat application with this Kenyan coffee, and you’ll be sweetly rewarded.
Brew Analysis by Evan Gilman
Chris and I brewed this coffee multiple times, both on Kalita and Chemex, and using both Jen’s roast and the Behmor roast. Perhaps we got a bit hedonistic with this coffee.. It was so good, I even took some home for my weekend cups of coffee.
Chris achieved a screamingly soluble cup of Jen’s second roast on the Kalita, coming in at 23.67% extraction. We both noted tart purple plum, and herbal notes with grapefruit undertones. I thought this cup had a touch of vanilla at the finish as well.
The same roast on the Chemex brought forth more of the pleasant herbal notes like rhubarb, as well as currant and cranberry-like fruitiness. I could keep mentioning red fruits, but I’m sure you get the point. I believe this was our preferred roast and brew method, for its balance as well as its clarity.
The Behmor roast turned out quite well, but with slightly lower complexity. I wanted to get a bit more of the brighter ‘top notes’ out of this coffee since my Behmor roast was on the light side. So for comparison I brewed a Chemex with a standard 1:16 ratio, and another Chemex with a stronger 1:14 ratio diluted to achieve at 1:16 ratio. As predicted, we definitely noted more fruits and acids in this second pot with the bypass. The texture seemed to suffer slightly, but the bypass method can help bring out clearer fruit notes.
This coffee may be available in full size bags as well. Contact Us to find out more.