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. 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. It’s not perfect, 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 Nyeri 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.
The Karogoto processing station, or “factory”, as they’re known in Kenya, is one of four sites managed by the Tekangu Farmers’ Cooperative Society (FCS), an umbrella organization that centralizes management and marketing relationships for their member factories. Karogoto itself has 1000 contributing farmer members.
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 Nyeri 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 continues to thoroughly wash and soak its coffees according to tradition.
At Karogoto, cherry is hand-sorted for ripeness and floated for density before accepted and depulped each day. After the coffee is washed, it’s soaked in fresh water to stop sugar fermentation and clean the parchment. The coffee is dried over a period of two weeks on raised beds, which are carefully constructed to ensure proper air circulation and temperature control for optimal drying.
“12NG0144” 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 12, to the NKG dry mill (code “NG”), and was the 144th delivery that week.
Tekangu FCS includes the Ngunguru, Wakamata and Tegu factories along with Karogoto. The Society’s name is a port-manteau of the original three factories: Te-ka-ngu. Tekangu recently added Wakamata to the society, whose coffee we are also carrying. Tekangu was founded in 1998 and retains its main office at the Kayu factory, 17 kilometers from Kangema town, in the Mathioya district of Muranga County.