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.
This coffee, from the Kamoini village and washing station (aka “factory”) of the same name, was a clear standout on initial cupping. Next to its companion lot from Ichamama, this coffee is thoroughly unsubtle and immediately recognizable as distinctively Kenyan. Bright, immaculate citrus notes like mandarin orange, Meyer lemon, and lime take center stage with support from fresh cherry tomato, cranberry, black tea, and white grape flavors, capped by a champagne-like effervescence. It’s a stellar coffee and our only regret is that there is so little of it to go around.
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.
Kamoini factory is one of about 20 cooperative-run washing stations under the Othaya cooperative umbrella in Nyeri county, using the Ichamama river as its water source. Established in 1987, around 600 active members in the region contribute their ripe cherry to Kamoini, which is processed on site. 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.
Kamoini’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.
Much like its counterpart, this Kamoini is almost exclusively screens 18 and 19, large size beans that equate to an AA grade in the British system still employed by the former colony. Fairly dry and quite stable, the standout spec (aside from precision screen size) is the exceptionally high density. The theme for this week seems to be heat, apropos as we head into the summer months. This coffee will likely crave heat in the roaster, at least early in the roast.
By percentage, growers in Nyeri – and those contributing to Kamoini 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.
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. Juicy and tart with orange, peach, tomato, and grape notes, this roast offered an insight into what was to come, though it should be said that the Ikawa profile for this Kamoini paled in comparison to later production roasts.
You can download the profile to your Ikawa Pro app here:
Roast 1: RC ckornman 6m afmod dec2018v3
Since Alex did such a great job showcasing the work put in by the producers from Nyeri from Ichamama’s Triple Washed coffee as part of the Red Cherry project, that I decided to let him take the lead again. As has been mentioned, by Chris, part of the high quality of this coffee – as is true for all specialty coffee – is due to meticulous sorting and precision processing. We at Royal Coffee encourage excellence along the whole supply chain. The Red Cherry Project calls for additional time and labor to be put into selecting only the ripest coffee, the attention to detail during washing and fermentation stages of the processing of the coffee, in addition to 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. There is no way to take this type of excellence and diligence for granted and I’m proud that we can support this stellar work.
So back to the lab… And again, being a busy head barista, Alex has allowed me to put down his process on paper. Alex started at 2.5 gas, then turned the heat up from this medium gas application, to our highest setting just after the turning point, mimicking his previous roast of the Ichamama offering, CJ1287. Just about a minute after the color change, heralding – at least visually – the onset of the Maillard stage of the roast, he turned the heat down just a smidge and then let the coffee proceed unimpeded through the roast. An almost even split between stage one and stage two of this roast, meant that Alex had the time and control, which he managed by applying those early gas changes, to maneuver the coffee through to an 18% PCD ratio.
A smooth calm sail through the roast led to a sublime result in the cup. This incredible coffee was full to the brim with excellent examples of all attributes. A smooth, syrupy, and silky body acted as the perfect foil for the complex and characteristic flavors of black tea, plum, red apple, cherry tomato, blackberry, cranberry, and jasmine. Red grape, mandarin, lemon, and lime are just a few notes recorded about the fantastic acidity this coffee shows off. Much like the note of white grape I found, this coffee is at once super sweet, tart, juicy, and delectable. I would love to try this as a flash-brewed balm to some of the unseasonably warm days we’ve been experiencing here in The Bay, but equally, as a hot, full immersion brew (think French Press or Clever Dripper – even an inverted Aeropress). But I think I’ll wait for the heat to break to really do justice to that cup!
For this excellent Kenyan coffee I took guidance from what I learned during the previous two roasts, the Kenya Kiambu Muiri Estate and the Kenya Nyeri Ichamama. Both of these coffees had similar green profiles – dense, around 10% moisture content, and fairly low water activity. The difference was their screen size – and the Nyeri Kamoini was much more similar to the Nyeri Ichamama in that regard. Both of these conventional Kenyan coffees from the Othaya Cooperative are veritable giants.
For this roast, I started with a high charge temperature again: 398F. Turning point was at 221F/1:17, and I engaged the fan to ‘3’ on the dial shortly afterward at 1:50. I was able to slow the development of this coffee down a bit, and Maillard began at 3:42. At 4:00/310F I increased fan speed to full, and reduced amperage to 7.5A at 6:20/360F, significantly before first crack happened at 7:45/386F.
I was able to stay in Maillard for the majority of this roast (44%), and you’ll be able to see the positive effect of that in our tasting notes. Clear notes of plum, toffee, and white grape were agreed upon by more than two cuppers. I’d like to think that my manipulation of this roast led to clearer tasting notes. This sort of roast would be excellent for a single origin drip coffee, and yes, even a flash-brewed iced coffee. Sweet and clear, this delicious coffee heralds the beginning of an excellent season of East African arrivals.
Our Red Cherry Crown Jewels lead the league in acidity, citrus, and flavor. I recommend this coffee to anyone who will listen. Whether to roasters around the world or to guests visiting our Tasting Room at The Crown, this coffee is what I’d recommend.
In true hype-mode fashion, when brewing this in our Tasting Room I offered some samples to regular customer Jon Kulpa. Jon is passionate about coffee in a way that you’d hope – knowledgeable, great palate, open to trying everything, and comes in all the time. When offered to Jon, he exclaimed, “This is the best brewed coffee I’ve had in my life.” Exclamatory or not, I’ll take it.
If you are reading this, stop and buy this coffee. Give it to your barista competitor, send it to your top clients or as a VIP package to that wholesale account you are trying to get. Run – don’t walk. Am I being subtle enough?
Using two different brew methods, including our brand new (and gorgeous) Origami drippers, I brewed Alex’s roast for the team at a 1-to-16 ratio. The Kalita produced a very floral cup with lots of citrus fruit (this was Jon’s favorite). The Origami dripper, using a Kalita filter, choked a little but still yielded pleasant results: lots of chocolate, sweet spice, and red fruit.