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.
Nyeri county is perhaps the most well-known of these central counties. Year after year Nyeri coffees are beloved for their crisp and citrus-dominant profiles that often strike the palate like mandarin juice or tropical fruit-flavored candy—rich, tangy and zesty.
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. The Karie processing station, or “factory” as they’re known in Kenya, has 700 contributing farmer members and is one of 5 total factories that comprise its local farmer cooperative society (FCS), called Rutuma. Rutuma FCS was created in 2005 after the dissolution and re-formulation of 3 local cooperatives. So while the farmers and processing sites are decades old, like most of Nyeri’s coffee industry, the Rutuma organization itself is still considered very young.
Kenya is of course known for some of the most meticulous at-scale washed 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 often prefer drinking Kenya’s tea (abundantly farmed in nearby Muranga county) to its coffee. Rutuma FCS is no exception: the nearby Ruthagati Dam holds all the fresh water needed for processing throughout the dry season. It also supplies cooperative members additional water for their cattle, which are commonly kept by coffee farmers throughout Kenya as additional sources of income.
Processing at Karie factory is typical of the area, in that cherry is delivered each day by participating cooperative members, sorted for ripeness, and then depulped and fermented overnight. Once fermentation is complete it is washed with freshwater in long channels and sorted by density into “P1” (the highest quality), “P2”, “P3”, and “P light”. Each density grade is dried individually on raised beds and stored separately to condition on the factory property. Karie factory, like more and more factories in central Kenya, skips the post-fermentation soak in favor of expediency and chooses instead to let the fresh water washing clean the parchment to spec.
“14NG0183” in the title refers to this coffee’s “outturn” number. Outturn numbers are unique microlot codes that are given to each and every batch of parchment delivered to dry mills from individual factories or estates anywhere in Kenya, and are the units on which Kenya’s entire microlot export system is built. Outturns in Kenya are tracked with a shorthand code that places the specific batch of parchment coffee in time, place, and sequentially with other coffees. Outturns are stylized as an 8 or 9-character code, including a 2-digit “coffee week” number, a 2-letter mill code, and a 3 or 4-digit intake number for the coffee’s delivery. So this particular lot was delivered in harvest week 14, to the NKG dry mill (code “NG”), and was the 183rd delivery that week.
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 farms themselves, and most often this arrives many months after harvest. However, Kenya coffees are sold competitively by quality, which means well-endowed counties like Nyeri achieve very high average prices year after year. As a result the majority of the smallholders here, with a few hundred trees at the most, along with additional employment or land uses in the highlands, are widely considered to be middle class.