Our second round of Kenyan arrivals have landed and we couldn’t me more thrilled. There’s something pretty special about coffees from this part of the world. Blessed with optimal growing conditions and excellent variety selections, Kenya’s tradition of double washing adds value and quality to the coffee flavor as well. Soaking the parchment coffee after fermentation and washing contributes to the precision acidity and articulation of flavor in Kenyan coffees – it jump starts the seeds germination process, and in doing so subtly alters the chemistry of the coffee before its flavors are locked in on the drying tables.
This selection comes to us from the Gatomboya Factory near Karatina town in Nyeri county. A member of the Barichu Cooperative society, which also includes Gaturiri and Karatina factories, together they 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.
Gatomboya is a word taken from the local Kikuyu dialect meaning “swamp,” indicating the presence of a water source nearby – indeed, the coffee was fermented and washed in water from the Gatomboya stream. Gatomboya’s coffee flavors, however, are far from swampy: soft peachy sweetness, juicy citrus, balanced sweetness – there’s much to love about this coffee.
A large screen size coffee, this Kenya AA exhibits many of the physical hallmarks we’ve come to expect from high quality washing stations. High density, moderate water activity, and low moisture content all indicate good drying and storage practices. AA is usually the most coveted screen designation in the so-called British grading system, possessing both the largest desirable size and lowest defect counts.
Built on common Kenya cultivars, this lot includes SL-28 and SL-34, produced by Scott Laboratories in Kenya in the 1930s. Regarded as the best of the SLs in terms of quality and resilience, 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. For the newest release, Batian, the Coffee Research Institute retraced the steps to creating Ruiru-11, attempting to improve cup quality without compromising disease resistance. Since 2010, Batian has trickled into production. It’s named for Mt. Kenya’s highest peak, in turn named for a prominent Masai leader.
Kenyan coffees have a lovely, complex acidity that is praised highly by all coffee drinkers. However, a simple light roast can easily taste grassy and imbalanced. In addition to the very bright acidity, Kenyan AA coffees are very large and will take ample heat and time to thoroughly develop in the roaster. The density of this particular coffee will require ample heat at the beginning of the roast, and time. Unlike other coffees we have received this year, this Kenyan coffee cracked early at 402.3°F with some solo pops much earlier in the roast. Any concerns I had with not having enough time for internal development went away at that moment.
With a short roast on the Ikawa and ample post crack development time, the cup profile was juicy and sweet with no vegetal or tomato which can often be found in a light roasted Kenyan coffee. There was even a beautiful, soft floral note like blackberry blossoms in the aromatics. A truly dynamic and lovely coffee.
It can be difficult to transfer profiles from the Ikawa to the Probatino because of the different types of heat transfer that are in play. One similarity in the two roasts was the low first crack temperature, which I was prepared for. I used a high charge temperature to push the roast along. My batch size is small with only 400g in a one kilo roaster, so the heat from my charge temperature went a long way. I did not apply more heat until 2:35 minutes into the roast which was seconds before I reached the yellowing stage of the roast. At this point, the rate of change began to decrease at the rate I was looking for, but not quick enough. Midway between yellow and first crack I turned the heat down a quarter tick, knowing that first crack would happen earlier than other coffees.
After a few isolated pops, first crack kicked into gear at 6:26 & 391.8°F which is 3 degrees lower than the majority coffees that have come across my desk this year. Because of the large screen size, I finished with 1:11 minutes of post crack development time. In the cup was a vibrant and sweet coffee with no grassy flavors. Adding more time, 20 – 40 seconds, to the Maillard stage or the post crack development stage will make this coffee even sweeter.
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.
This coffee cracked quite early, as compared to most Kenyan coffees I have had the opportunity to roast. Again, I wanted to get some sweeter notes and juicy mouthfeel from this coffee rather than the overarching bright acidity that’s generally guaranteed in high quality Kenyan coffees.
For this coffee, I decided to engage an even lower power profile (P3, 50% power) after first crack rather than before. This coffee had a quick succession of puffs before true first crack, so judge the start of first crack with confidence when you hear the very distinct cracking start. Since this coffee started crack early, it needed little provocation to continue cracking.
The result of this roast was a floral nose with juicy blackberry sweetness. This is a classic Kenya, and unabashedly my favorite from this year’s crop so far. Roast with confidence, this is a lovely coffee!
This coffee from the Barichu Cooperative is incredibly complex. My cupping panel’s tasting notes were all multilayered: rather than blackberry, it was blackberry jam. Instead of lime zest, it was key lime pie. The bright notes of various fruits like cranberry, plum, and kiwi were pleasantly balanced out by brown sugar, honey, and cocoa powder.
There are times when our cupping panel uses the same words to describe the same flavors; this was not one of those times. Instead, everyone used slightly different vocabulary to describe the notes we all found. Despite this, it was clear that everyone was closely calibrated – it’s just that this coffee is so complex that it can be described a multitude of different ways.
To maximize on the clean and extremely complex characteristics of this lovely Kenya from the town of Karatina, I brewed it on a V60 at 1:16 brew ratio. Standard procedure for this brew method includes stirring the bloom during the first 10 seconds of brewing to ensure that all the grounds are saturated, and using concentric circles to add 100g pulse pours with the Stagg kettle from Fellow. The first brew had bright citric acidity, juicy notes of hibiscus and cranberry, and a base note of fig jam and honey. Since the TDS reading on this first brew was fairly high, I used a coarser grind on the next brew, making sure to keep everything else static. TDS and extraction percentage when down significantly, but I lost some of the juiciness that had made the first cup really outstanding. This juiciness was replaced by complex notes of rhubarb, candied ginger, and dried apricot, as well as a pleasant cedar finish.