So it seems the showers of April’s Central American coffees landings at port have begun to give way to the African flowers of May. This lovely Kenya from Kiambu county is from our first landed container of the new harvest, and we’re pretty jazzed about it and all of the lovely, fresh coffees available now.
This lot is from the Gathanji Factory, a cooperative-owned washing station operating under the umbrella of the New Gatanga union in Thika, a town just up the road from Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi. While there’s plenty of coffee fields to be seen surrounding Nairobi, they haven’t always been associated with the high quality more readily found further north, on the slopes of Mount Kenya.
Thika is an industrial town, surrounded by agriculture and waterfalls. It is home to Mugumo Gardens, a historical site named for a sacred fig tree, about which Gikuyu seer Mugo wa Kibiru prophesied. The tree’s death was foretold to be the harbinger of Kenya’s independence, a prediction even the British took seriously, reinforcing the trunk with an iron ring. Remarkably, despite their best efforts, the tree was struck by lightning and split in two in 1963, shortly before the country became independent.
Coffee cooperatives in Kenya, like Gathanji, have a mixed history. Smallholder farmers under British colonial rule weren’t even allowed to grow coffee on their own land until 1934. A decade later, all smallholders were required to join cooperatives, a move that weakened their standing with the Coffee Board, whose directors were mostly large estate owners. However, in 1963 when Kenya gained its independence; plantation lands were nationalized and redistributed, loans were meted to cooperatives to build washing stations, and the government mandated all coffee move through the Nairobi Coffee Exchange weekly auction.
Many cooperatives still have little outlet besides the NCE, which can fetch high prices but can also leave smallholders with few alternatives to a convoluted system that guarantees very little money actually returns to the farmer. In 2008, a “Second Window” option opened allowing direct exports. While not without drawbacks and abuses, using this option has proved advantageous and traceable for many growers and buyers alike.
Royal Coffee purchased this delicious Gathanji, and many of our Kenyan offerings, directly from Kenya Cooperative Coffee Exporters, a farmer-owned company founded by a group of cooperative unions in 2009. We’re pleased to have this delightful Gathanji Kenya on the menu, and thrilled to be a sustainable part of the supply chain.
This Gathanji is a AA grade, meaning screen size 18 & 19, and while graders are quick to point out that this is not a quality designation, AA coffees frequently earn the highest prices at auction. Its slightly higher percentages of smaller beans and a slightly lower density betray the modestly lower elevation at which it was grown closer to Nairobi. Otherwise, it has a typically dry constitution for a Kenyan coffee.
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. 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 cultivar – called Batian – has trickled into production.
Here are two roasts on the Ikawa with strikingly different results. Ikawa Roast (1) follows the same temperature profile line, but the fan speed profile is set up in a V pattern, reducing until Maillard Begins then increasing until the end of the roast. The higher fan speed requires more heat to reach the set temperature profile. The V form profile also results in a higher and later First Crack that you are more likely to see in an air roaster. Ikawa Roast (2) has a slowly decreasing fan speed until first crack, then the fan speed steadily increases through the end of the roast. The slower speed (and therefore more heat retained in the roasting chamber) led to a lower First Crack in time and in temperature.
While First Crack occurred with a 6.9 °F difference, both roasts kept a total of 59 seconds of post crack development time. This also meant that Ikawa Roast (1) was 15 seconds longer than Ikawa Roast (2). On the cupping table Ikawa Roast (1) was bright and showed some signs of savory tomato while Ikawa Roast (2) was jammy and showed lots of dried fruit flavors. This particular Kenya is very sweet and has several delicate fruit punch like qualities. The shorter roast teased more of these fruit notes out.
Taking what I learned from the Ikawa Roasts, I knew that I wanted to keep this roast short and sweet. With a high charge temperature and a single increase in heat at minute 1:18, I easily sailed into Maillard and even reduced heat by a quarter tick so my roast would get a bit more time in the drum. This reduction in heat allowed me to have a one minute plus post crack development time. If you examine my Rate of change curve closely, you will notice the slight flick upwards at the tail end of my roast. This seemed to have little impact on the deliciousness of my roast. On the cupping table, this coffee is juicy and bright, but not as loud as a typical Kenyan coffee. For a more delicate and sophisticated fruit punch, this Kenya is probably your jam.
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 dense and sweet coffee from Kenya was easy to work with, and easier to drink. While this was a relatively dry coffee with low water activity, I had no trouble expressing the sugars in this coffee with the Behmor. I am particularly fond of roasting Kenyan coffees since they take heat so well, and this coffee was no different than I was expecting.
I engaged P4 (75% power) immediately at first crack, but knowing this coffee would continue developing without much push, engaged P3 (50% power) 40 seconds later. While I only achieved 11% roast loss, this coffee did not seem underdeveloped on the cupping table. There is not much water weight to lose with this coffee, so don’t let low roast loss percentages scare you.
Dates, grapefruit, and black tea came through on the cupping table. Dark fruity sugars and serious heft can be achieved with this coffee, and if I were to opine, I would have to say that this is my kind of Kenya. While Kenyan coffees are often prized for their incredible acidity, there is a lot of sweetness to be had from this origin.
With this coffee’s density and moisture content in mind, I chose the flat-bottomed Kalita Wave to kick off analysis of this coffee; I had a feeling that the extra contact time would be necessary for successful extraction. “Successful” is one way to describe my first brew – it got all the way up to nearly 26% extraction! But despite being so high above the normal range for desirable extractions, it didn’t have the usual hallmarks of over extraction. No dry tackiness, no heavy tobacco. Instead, my cuppers detected apricot, lemon, cranberry, and almond tart. However it did lack some balance, and I wanted to bring both the TDS and percent extraction down significantly. I coarsened my grind up a full notch to 9 on the EK43 and tried again.
The second brew was more well rounded, with some campari herbaceousness to balance out the white grape acidity and brown sugar sweetness. Here also was a hint of the Kenya tomato, as well as a fascinating note of sweet green mango. But in spite of the big change in grind size, my TDS reading only went down a few hundredths of a decimal point. As you’ll see in my detailed analysis of the Kenya Kirimukuyu Rutuma Ndurutu Double Washed Crown Jewel, I’ve become convinced that there’s something in these coffees interfering with accurate refractometer readings; luckily, one doesn’t need a refractometer to get a great dial!
There are all kinds of amazing flavors packed into this coffee, and I wanted to unpack and restructure them. I’ve been playing around with bypass brewing for several months now with some success, and decided to try it out on this coffee. Using just 40% of my original brew water, I made a concentrate and then diluted it 20%. In this extreme brew method I found a syrupy, balanced, sweet brew full of raspberry and cranberry, canned peaches, banana, and some almond brittle.