Mt. Kenya, at the helm of Kenya’s Central Province, is the second tallest peak on the continent of Africa and a commanding natural presence. The mountain itself is a single point inside a vast and surreal thicket of ascending national forest and active game protection communities. The central counties of Kenya extend from the center of the national park, like six irregular pie slices, with their points meeting at the peak of the mountain. It is along the lower edge of these forests where, in wet, high elevation communities with mineral-rich soil (Mt. Kenya is a stratovolcano) many believe the best coffees in Kenya, often the world, are crafted.
Kirinyaga county is certainly well-known among these central counties for its jammy, exuberant coffees. Kenya’s coffee is dominated by a cooperative system of production, whose members vote on representation, marketing and milling contracts for their coffee, as well as profit allocation. Konyu processing station, or “factory” as they’re known in Kenya, alone has 1000 contributing farmer members, and is one of 11 factories that comprise its local cooperative society, Kabare. Farmers belonging to Konyu average 500 pounds of picked cherry each, the same as roughly three-fourths of one 60kg bag of exportable green coffee. High FOB prices for great Kenyas, while the norm, are not a panacea, and in Kenya in particular the number of individual margins sliced off an export price before payment reaches the actual farms is many, leaving only a small percentage to support coffee growth itself, and most often this arrives many months after harvest. However, Kenya coffees are sold competitively by quality, which means well-endowed counties like Kirinyaga achieve very high average prices year after year, and the smallholders here with a few hundred trees at the most are widely considered to be middle class.
Kabare Farmers’ Cooperative Society (FCS) is the central management body for 11 different cooperatives in Kirinyaga County: Kiringa, Konyu, Karani, Kiangombe, Kaboyo, Mukure, Mukengeria, Kimandi, Kathata, Kiangothe, and Kiamiciri. Combined, these groups represent almost 10,000 farming households, whose land spans from nearby Kerugoya town all the way to the forest border at Mt. Kenya National Park.
Kenya is of course known for some of the most meticulous at-scale processing that can be found anywhere in the world. Bright white parchment, nearly perfectly sorted by density and bulk conditioned at high elevations is the norm, and a matter of pride, even for generations of Kenyan processing managers who prefer drinking Kenya’s tea (abundantly farmed in nearby Muranga and Kiambu counties) to its coffee. Ample ground and river water supply in Kirinyaga has historically allowed factories to wash, and wash, and soak, and wash their coffees again entirely with fresh, cold river water. Conservation is creeping into the discussion in certain places--understandably in the drier areas where water, due to climate change, cannot be as taken for granted—but for the most part Kenya cooperatives continue to thoroughly wash and soak their coffees according to tradition. Cooperatives at Kabare FCS are no different, sorting their pulped and fermented coffee into 4 different density grades with the use of fresh nearby water, and conditioning the moisture of each grade independently during drying, before transport to the mill.