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The first wave of Red Cherry Project coffees from Kenya landed recently here in Oakland, and we’re thrilled to have fresh crop offerings back on the cupping table and in our warehouse.
Once more for those in the back: KENYAN COFFEES ARE HERE and they are SO GOOD.
Take this Ichamama. For me, it was love at first sip. I’ve been known to be generous with cup scores if the mood strikes, but for me this is an easy example of a 90+ coffee that doesn’t have to shred your soft palate with a blazing acidity. Rather, its calm demeanor is an understated haiku of flavor and sweetness: Rose, white grape, peppercorn, black tea, currant, honeycrisp apple, plum candy, pineapple, plum, vanilla, and sweet cherry tomato are just a few of the myriad expressions we picked up in our early roasts.
The coffee is a cut above the rest, in part due to meticulous sorting and precision processing. The essence of the Red Cherry Project for Royal is to encourage excellence and to repay in kind. The additional time and labor poured into ripe coffee selection, the attention to detail during washing and fermentation, and the care with which the coffee is dried and sorted are all rewarded with a premium that returns to the local cooperative that does the work.
Ichamama is the largest washing station, known in Kenya as a “factory,” that operates under the umbrella coop called Othaya in Nyeri county, named for the nearby river. Around 700 active members in the region contribute their ripe cherry to Ichamama, and then it’s up to Bernard Karuga, the factory manager, and his owner-employees to process. The triple washing process involves a pre-fermentation float to sort out floaters and a post-fermentation soak that cleans the coffee and improves the consistency. The coffee is then dried and marketed by KCCE (Kenya Cooperative Coffee Exporters); one of just a few organizations in the Kenyan coffee industry that, from the top down, is fully cooperative-member-owned and operated.
Ichamama’s position in Nyeri could hardly be better for coffee cultivation. The Aberdares Mountains erupt from central Kenya, just west of the mountain that bears the country’s name. The forested mountain range also happens to be fertile soil for coffee, among other crops, and the coffees from western Nyeri county benefit from its particular ecosystem.
Precisely sorted as AA – just 18 & 19 screen sizes here – and of low moisture and extremely high density, this is an exceptional coffee in physical grade alone. Be prepared to use a little extra heat to compensate for that density, at least in the earlier stages of roasting.
By percentage, growers in Nyeri – and those contributing to Ichamama specifically – are still growing mostly SL28, a lower-yielding but high sensory potential cultivar originally selected from Tanzania in 1931. Coffee berry disease (CBD) remains a major concern in this area of the world. It’s a highly transmittable fungal affliction (a farmer I knew in Zambia used to literally strip down and burn his clothes upon returning to his farm from travel abroad to prevent CBD infecting his trees), and much like with leaf rust, research has focused on breeding resistance. Ruiru 11 entered the market as a complex F1 hybrid, and more recently the high-yielding and early-maturing Batian variety (essentially an F5 backcrossed Ruiru 11 with less Sarchimor) have been offered as solutions to farmers. Ichamama’s farm manager, Bernard Karuga, has specifically mentioned the need for more of these resistant cultivars in his cooperative if farmers are going to be able to continue producing coffee.
We’ve updated our V2 Ikawa Pro machines with the latest Firmware version (24) and run on “closed loop” setting. Our roasters underwent full service in October of 2018 which included replacement heating elements and an updated PT 1000 temperature sensor.
I used the same Ikawa profile, a high airflow 6-minute roast designed with high density East African coffees in mind, for all of the Kenyas we evaluated this week, the idea being to create an even playing field for initial evaluation. This coffee absolutely sparkled at this profile, offering loads of floral notes and stone fruits with a cranberry accent on the acidity. Ultimately, though, it was the sweetness that impressed us here. If pressed, it’s probably that characteristic above all others that stands as a proxy for the impressive sensory potential of this Ichamama Red Cherry.
You can download the profile to your Ikawa Pro app here:
Roast 1: RC ckornman 6m afmod dec2018v3
Evan and I usually roast our Crown Jewel offerings on the same day. This week, however, I had the pleasure of being able to spend some dedicated time with our fantastic head barista, Alex Taylor. Alex is my favorite kind of coffee person – dedicated and curious! I wanted to be able to do justice to his nascent love of production roasting, and so we spent a day and a half roasting on our Probatino and Diedrich roasters here in the lab. It was not only fun, but a masterclass in proving that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve roasted for. With a little time, experimentation and guidance – either in person, or through research – you can produce a delicious cup of coffee. And what a coffee for a newer roaster to nail! Alex’s roast of this coffee put on a fireworks display of this incredible Kenyan Ichamama Red Cherry that has scored 90 and above. What a way to announce yourself to the Bay Area roasting community! As Alex is incredibly busy at his day job, after discussing all of our roasts together, he has allowed me to describe his process and its results to you; so here goes:
The meticulous sorting of the Ichamama ‘factory’ in Nyeri has ensured that this coffee has an almost exclusively even distribution between the higher screen sizes (18 and 19), with very few falling outside of this range, less than 6% to be exact. This meant that we knew that a lot heat would be involved. A lot of heat! Alex keep the gas at a medium setting until just after the turning point. Turning the gas up to the maximum setting to give fuel to all of the enzymatic reactions occurring at this point in stage one, but wanting to still allow for the highest roast ratio to take place within the Maillard phase of the roast, Alex stepped down on the gas evenly, at two points, to bring it back to a medium gas setting of 2.5, on our machine, about 30 seconds before first crack began its roll.
A smooth descending RoR and a minute of PCD, ending at 400 degrees, meant that the coffee was within the ratio goals he had wanted to hit for that roast and meant that he didn’t suffer any stalling issues. It also ensured that he was able to give the coffee a full 17% post-crack development for that roast.
And what a roast, just wow. Color me impressed and very proud! Alex’s diligence and careful planning prior to the roast meant that the already marvelous coffee translated into a spectacular cupping experience. The cup was full of orange and vanilla, cider, plum, and pineapple. With white grape and black tea flavors cutting through the syrupy body and sweet flavors of caramel, toffee and roasted hazelnuts and a complex array of citrus acidity. There were also notes of cinnamon and dry spice to really add to the mix. Enjoy this as a flavorful, silky smooth drip coffee, or as a viscous, sweet and bountiful espresso. I wouldn’t advise it, obviously, but I have a feeling that you could throw this coffee into a blender with some hot water and it would still be better than anything you’ve had your hands on this year! Get while the getting is good, I don’t think this particular Crown Jewel will be around for very long at all!
Observing how much heat my previous roasts of Kenyan coffee needed, I decided to go for a higher charge temperature with this particular batch, 400F. My turning point for this batch was only at a marginally higher temperature (228F), but this roast was much shorter overall.
I started the roast of this coffee with the fan off, and the back of the roaster open to stymie airflow a bit. At 1:45/240F, I increased the fan speed to ‘3’ on the dial, but noticed that the coffee kept developing quite rapidly. At 3:30/314F, I increased fan speed to 100% but this coffee just kept chugging along, exuberantly exothermic. Crack occurred at 6:15/383F, and I reduced heat to 7.5A at 6:40, just afterwards. I finished the roast at 7:30/400F – the very same temperature I started at.
On the cupping table, this roast was tasty, but did have the hallmarks of a fast roast – black tea, cola, and a bit of herbal grapefruit on the finish. Slower development would have yielded a bit more sweetness in this coffee, though there was a definite confectioner’s sugar hit here – a sort of dry sweetness. This coffee stood up to my pushy roast, but I’d recommend taking it a bit easier than I did here. Still, an excellent roast for your drip coffee drinking pleasure.
You’ll notice a trend for this week’s roasts on the Quest M3s: I tend to increase fan speed just after turning point, and increase to full when Maillard begins. For the next few Crown Jewel coffees, I’ll try a different approach – increasing fan speed to full immediately at turning point, and increasing power to the burners as well. Keep an eye out for that in the coming weeks.
Let it be known, I have transitioned to becoming an ice coffee drinker. Each morning, when I enter The Crown, nothing sounds better than pouring cold brew from our elegant tap system. Yes – I understand the privilege I enjoy.
That may be absolutely absurd to some of our readership, but consider this. I can spend 15 seconds preparing that first cup, or turn on four machines and wait a whole lot longer.
Our Lead Barista, Alex Taylor, has become our resident cold brew expert. We do not use cold brew as a dirty word – we are big fans of the method and think you should be too. I spent my morning preparing and conducting brew analyses and during that time, Alex shared that his previous place of employment used to power through cold brew.
This sparked a conversation about flash brewing over ice, something I basically know nothing about. Seeing as many of you will purchase this coffee and serve it over the summer it seems fitting to see how it tastes over ice.
Alex took one roast and one ratio, and brewed one hot and one onto a bed of ice cubes. While that’s not how we serve coffee in our Tasting Room (yet), it was certainly delicious.
This coffee will crush hot. It will crush cold. I’m fairly certain this coffee will spend some time at our Tasting Room and I do hope it makes an appearance as a cold offering.
The best part about having a Tasting Room in the heart of Oakland is you never know who will join us. Kiana Cruz of Progeny Coffee, a friend of the project, just happened to be sipping a cappuccino while the team was sipping this coffee. I offered her both temperatures and she loved the coffee’s sweetness and juiciness in both expressions. You might too.