Introduction by Chris Kornman
Last week we released two Kenyas: one from Nyeri and one from Embu. This Kenyan offering, hailing from Kirinyaga county, completes a trifecta of coffee-producing regions that converge at the peak of Mt. Kenya and cascade down its southern slopes. In all of Africa, only Kilimanjaro tops the maximum elevation of Mount Kenya. Kirinyaga is situated between Nyeri and Embu.
Kiangombe is the the name of the factory (washing station) that produced this lot, which is located in the western part of Kirinyaga. It belongs to the Kabare Cooperative Society, and accepts contributions from over a thousand smallholder families and is capable of producing over 20 containers of coffee annually.
Smallholders like those that contribute to Kiangombe 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 Kirinyaga 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 bright and classic-tasting Kirinyaga coffee, much like its neighboring lots, has come in dry, dense, and big. No real surprises here: Kenya’s precision size grading, using the British classification system, ensures super-tight adherence to screen sizing. Raised bed drying and double-washing will keep this bright and juicy Kenyan coffee tasting great for months to come.
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
A very friendly and forgiving coffee, this dense Kenyan coffee produced similar tasting notes with very different roast approaches. Roast one began with a high charge and high heat applied after turn around and well before the Maillard stage began, while roast two took a more casual approach with a low charge and a reduced heat applied at relatively the same time. Interesting that although roast two is one minute longer in overall duration, the weight loss percentages of both roasts were identical and had very similar end temperatures. Both roasts suffered from a loss of momentum as first crack started, so I recommend keeping the heat on through this stage to prevent stalling. Roast two color tracked slightly darker which makes perfect sense because it spent more time in the drum. Both roasts displayed a vibrant pink grapefruit quality with the classic descriptors of coffees from Kenya.
Roast one: Pink grapefruit, black currant, mango, juicy
Roast two: Pink grapefruit, red plum, sundried tomato, tangerine
Behmor Analysis by Evan Gilman
This coffee did very well in the Behmor, and on the cupping table. At the P5 power level, this coffee did well with 1:10 development time after first crack. You won’t have trouble recognizing the beginning of first crack, either. The Kiangombe pops off about as loud as the firecrackers did last week. We did notice that the Behmor imparted more plummy stonefruit notes, rather than the bright grapefruit found in Jen’s Probatino roasts.
Brew Analysis by Evan Gilman
It’s rare that a coffee gets the same tasting note from three people independently, but this is one of those coffees. Jen’s first roast of this coffee got a unanimous ‘lemonade’ from all tasters participating, and what could be more refreshing on a summer day?
Through the two roasts, we consistently found that lemony brightness alongside a tart cranberry fruitiness, with an extra bit of juniper-like herbal in Jen’s second roast. These ethereal herbal notes aren’t usually something that comes out in our cuppings of these Kenyan coffees, but sometimes makes itself known in our filter drip.
Regardless, this is an obvious candidate for single origin drip service or even an iced coffee offering. It would be tough to disappoint with this coffee!