Introduction by Chris Kornman
The Mahiga Factory for processing coffee cherry is located in a valley between the Aberdares mountain range and Mount Kenya, the African continent’s 2nd tallest peak.
This majestically complex and compelling coffee wowed us with its plethora of sweet and somewhat uncharacteristic fruit notes. Beyond the standard citrus and dried fruits common to Kenyan coffees, the Mahiga offered plentiful blackberry and cranberry alongside sweet tropical notes like passionfruit, guava, tamarind, pomegranate, and kiwi. It’s a stunner and will stand out in any lineup as a pretty darn special coffee.
Our CEO & Kenya buyer Max doubled down with longstanding partners at the Othaya and Aguthi Cooperative Societies this season to create a limited selection of coffees that go above and beyond. In exchange for the highest price we paid for any Kenyan coffees this season, Red Cherry Project coffees undertook a number of extra steps to isolate and enhance the highest quality coffees. It’s a win-win scenario: we get great coffee, farmers get guaranteed pricing without having to wait for auction results.
Model farmers identified for exceptional performance were selected exclusively to participate, and asked to deliver only ripe cherries which undergo a secondary hand-sort visually and then a pre-fermentation soak (the first of three washes the coffee receives) to remove any low-density floaters before pulping. After an extended 72 hour fermentation and channel grading (the second wash) the wet parchment soaks for 16-24 hours in clean water (the third wash). In addition to the usual hand-sorting during parchment drying, the coffee spends time under shaded tarps prior to skin drying to help prevent damage from the sun, and once the parchment is fully dried it is stored in GrainPro packaging even before transportation to the dry mill.
Green Analysis by Chris Kornman
As has been the trend all season, Kenyan coffees are drier than average. This coffee follows suit, matched by a low water activity reading and a high density. It’s also graded AA, meaning its size achieves over 90% screens 18 and 19… the 2nd-largest and traditionally most valuable auction grade in Kenya.
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
My first roast of this coffee was quick. Because of the low moisture content and high density, this coffee developed quickly and produced many sugar browning flavors in the cup. On my second roast I wanted to slow the process down and achieve a lower rate of rise through the Maillard stage and the post crack development stage. My end temperature on roast two is much lower and my post crack development time is 15 seconds longer. This allowed me to preserve more fruit character in the cup and taste the complex acidity that Kenyan coffee is known for.
Roast one: Plum, dried fig, milk chocolate, cane sugar
Roast two: Lemonade, blossoms, blackberry, basil
Behmor Analysis by Evan Gilman
Unless otherwise noted, I follow a set standard of operations for all my Behmor roasts. Generally, I’ll use the 1lb setting, manual mode (P5), full power, and high drum speed until crack. Read my original post and stats here.
One of our clear favorites in terms of Kenyan arrivals so far this year, I’m not sure if I nailed this roast or if the Mahiga is simply hard to mess up. All my statistics were right where I wanted them to be, and though current trends in coffee push me toward the steadfastly empirical, I can’t help but feel there’s a touch of the magical in this coffee.
This coffee had a very solid crack quite late in the roast cycle, and I gave it more heat and development time than most of roasts thus far. It even looked a bit darker though it had a reasonably small roast loss percentage of 12.1%. I thought I took this coffee a little too far, but the magic remained when we tasted on the cupping table.
Plenty of passionfruit and guava tropicalia showed themselves, and dissipated into a tamarind tartness. This really made me want to get on the next flight to the tropics, but I stuck around and finished the cupping. It was worth it, and admittedly far more affordable.
Brew Analysis by Richard Sandlin
To showcase the differences between this offering’s two roasts, I brewed nearly identical Chemexes, one of each roast weight (400grams vs 429 grams). My colleague and frequent brew analysis contributor Chris Kornman has written fairly extensively on how might roasting affect drip extraction. In the case of brewing this Kenya, roast one had higher solubility and produced a higher extraction percentage.
One of the many points raised in the article is that the less time a coffee spends in post-crack development stage (PCD), there is a trend for that coffee to produce a higher extraction percentage. Although not conclusive, brewing this Kenya reinforced the pattern. Roast one spent 1:01/15.3% in PCD whereas Roast two spent 1:15/15.8% in PCD. This difference of 14 seconds/ .5% – may have contributed to a higher extraction percentage. There are certainly other factors at play (roast batch size, TDS & minor changes in brewing stats) but it’s an interesting data point to say the least.
Regardless of the numbers, brewing this coffee is an easy way to make friends. I walked into a sleepy office with a pair of fresh brewed chemexes & everyone’s energy shifted from lethargic to let’s do this – this coffee has the power to alter a room.
Roast one: Pomegranate, candy-like sweetness, pear, cherry & lime zest
Roast two: Blackberry, a thick mouthfeel, grapefruit, lemonade, stonefruit & a long finish
This coffee may be available in full size bags as well. Contact Us to find out more.