Intro by Charlie Habegger with Chris Kornman
There is no coffee quite so iconic as one from Nyeri. Well regarded for their singular flavor profile (grapefruit and currant are the classic descriptors), their screaming acidity, cleanliness, and meticulous sorting, coffees from this county in central Kenya are among the worlds’ most coveted and memorable.
This offering, from the Wakamata washing station, has earned its place among the favored Nyeri coffees of memory. Zesty citric acidity, a slight savory note accompanying the sweetness, and a bit of dried berry here (replacing the “currant”, perhaps) align it with its peers, yet its delicate clover-honey sweetness, chardonnay-like silkiness, and delicate melon, bright cranberry, and ephemeral orange blossom flavors are what set it in a league of its own.
The central counties of Kenya extend from the center of a national park, like six irregular pie slices, with their points meeting at the peak of Mt. Kenya. 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 Wakamata 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.
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 Wakamata, 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. Their coffee this year is grapefruit-like, juicy in structure and with a refined sweet spice quality to the flavor balance.
Tekangu FCS includes the Ngunguru, Karagoto and Tegu factories along with Wakamata. The Society’s name is a port-manteau of the original three factories: Te-ka-ngu. 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.
Green Analysis by Chris Kornman
Kenyan coffees are almost universally sorted according to the British grading system, assigning letter grades based primarily on the size of the bean. E grade is the largest, but generally disregarded as low density and inferior quality. This coffee is a AA, the most coveted grade, screened at a very tight 18-19 size. Kenyan coffees, too, are frequently noted for their high density, as we have here, and usually are also relatively low in moisture. That is the metric where this coffee breaks the curve, as it is close to 12% and has a slightly elevated water activity. The coffee came to us vac-sealed, and it’s likely that at least in part this higher moisture level is due to its packaging type. You’ll likely find that the coffee craves heat in the roast and the high moisture may cause early delays in absorption but will likely also pick up pace as the roast progresses.
By and large, Kenyan coffees are also characterized by a limited number of highly controlled cultivars. The oldest of these are SL28 and SL34, selections made in the early days of cultivation from legacy Bourbon and Typica populations which were suited to growing conditions in Kenya. More recently Ruiru 11 and Batian have entered the fold, and are proprietary hybrids integrating the genetics of more than a dozen separate varieties in order to improve quality, yield, and disease resistance. All four are present here in this coffee from Wakamata.
Ikawa Analysis by Chris Kornman
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, and were recalibrated in September 2019.
I was really looking forward to getting a chance to roast and taste this particular coffee from Nyeri, and I have to say it really lived up to some pretty high expectations at basically each of the three sample roast profiles on the Ikawa. The coffee tended to reach first crack at or slightly before the expected time/temperature marks.
The shortest roast (blue) was my favorite, earning high marks in aromatics and aftertaste especially. The flavor spectrum really ran the gamut from softer melon and raspberry notes to zesty cranberry, grapefruit, and lemonade. It was bright but not aggressive, and had a lot of savory-sweet characteristics like salted caramel and raw honey. The relatively short color development (1:45) didn’t seem to have a detrimental effect on the perceived viscosity, as the body reminded me a little of an oaked Chardonnay – silky, almost buttery.
The Maillard +30 roast (red) performed exactly as intended, extending color development by half a minute and otherwise leaving the curve almost untouched. It presented as a little simpler and more savory than the faster roast, with jackfruit, rhubarb, sarsaparilla, and tamarind as the dominant flavors.
The longest roast (yellow) — intended to produce darker roasts for coffees of lower density — in fact performed quite admirably here, producing a lush cup with muted acids but lovely persimmon, rose, orange blossom, and cherry popsicle notes layered on a milkshake-like viscosity. I think this really speaks to the resilience of this type of coffee, and how you could manipulate your heat approach pretty dramatically and get different but excellent results just about no matter how you adjust. Happy roasting!
You can download the profile to your Ikawa Pro app here:
Roast 1: Crown Standard SR 1.0
Roast 2: Crown Maillard +30 SR 1.0
Roast 3: Crown 7m SR Low AF
Quest M3s Analysis by Candice Madison
I have to admit I love getting my hands on Kenyan coffee and Nyeri, to me, shouts its Kenyan roots from the hilltops of its iconic flavor profile. The hilltop in this case being provided by Mt Kenya, and the coffee being meticulously sorted, processed and sorted again by the Wakmata factory (processing station) on behalf of the Tekangu Farmers Cooperative Society.
The density, coupled with the moisture content, as well as the fact that 91% of the beans selected for green analysis of this AA sample were either 18 or 19 screen size, all indicated to me that the little Quest and I had a heavy, wet boulder to push up the hill of the roast curve. I knew there would be resistance to the roast process after the turning point, so planning accordingly, I decided to start my roast a little differently from my usual tack.
I chose my usual batch size of 150g for the Quest and a charge temperature of 360F. However, instead of dropping the beans in with 2 or 3 amps of power, I chose to start at 5amps, giving a little more heat to the beans before the turn than I usually do. I then turned the heat up to 11 amps, the maximum on this Quest dial at the turning point, before stepping down off the amperage to 9 amps at 250F, and 7 amps at 306F, just after the beans started to change color.
Floating through the Maillard stage, the beans started to rumble at about 386 degrees, and knowing that first crack was coming, I came off the heat completely. I do a ‘u-turn’ at first crack for beans I know will release a lot of moisture into the drum at first crack and can, if heat isn’t judiciously applied, and has the potential to stall your roast.
This u-turn makes a u shape in the gas graph, hence the name. Just before first crack I will come off the heat completely, next I’ll wait to hear the rolling pop of first crack, and then I will turn the heat up again to support the roast through the humidity of first crack. In this case, I waited to hear first crack roll, at around 392F, before turning the heat back up to 4 amps on the dial, I also turned the airflow up to 9 on the dial. I managed a respectable 1 minute 21 seconds of development and could barely wait until the next morning to cup.
And what way to start my morning, blackcurrant, dark purple plum juice, sweetened by butterscotch and notes of raisin lifted by the piquant acidity of lime zest and pink grapefruit, all delivered by a buttery, viscous body. A delicious, welcome reminder of a classic flavor profile that stays in fashion year after year.
Behmor Analysis by Evan Gilman
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.
The relatively high moisture content and large screen size of this coffee had me wanting to apply extra heat in the beginning of the roast, but the Behmor doesn’t allow us to do that. So the next best idea was to make sure this coffee got nice and even development once it did pass the Maillard stage, so that it didn’t rush through development too quickly.
I’ve found that roasting coffees with higher moisture content (11% and above) can really give some false indicators of when first crack starts, especially on the Behmor. This was the case here, when the coffee started making small puffing sounds around 9:30. These, to my ear, were clearly not cracks, but were an indicator that first crack would begin within the next minute or so. To that effect, I engaged P4 (75% power) at 10:10 to allow slow and even development through first crack.
Crack in proper began at 10:40; much to my delight, it was very loud and distinct with this dense, large bean coffee. I opened the door of the roaster to abate smoke just after the start of crack, and left it open for about 30 seconds while the coffee held its temperature. After 1:20 of development, I hit ‘COOL’ and the roast was concluded.
My initial tasting of this coffee did not truly impress me – perhaps full immersion isn’t the most expressive method for brewing this coffee. I did get clean citric lime acidity, and sweet chocolate notes on tasting, but I didn’t experience the complexity in flavors that I expected from smelling the green and the freshly roasted coffee.
Check out my brew notes below – I was able to find a sweet spot for this coffee when brewing! Not all coffees cup as well as they brew..
Brew Analysis by Evan Gilman
This is an example of a fantastically sensitive coffee. Upon my first brew, I believed that my roast was inadequate. I thought to myself “wow, you’ve really flattened this coffee out” not knowing whether it was because I ‘baked’ it or simply let it develop too long after first crack. But I was wrong!
My first brew followed my usual Chemex routine, trying to find a baseline for this coffee – and that’s pretty much all I found. At a grind of 22 on the Baratza Virtuoso and pulse pours of 150g apiece, all that I noted in the cup was simple lime acidity and some cocoa. This coffee tasted flat! My extraction percentage was just below acceptable at 17.47%, so I decided to try something that’s worked in the past: agitation during preinfusion and draw down.
I coarsened up the grind to 24 on the Virtuoso, and performed thorough agitation at preinfusion and during draw down after my final pour. The result was completely enlightening! The lime still came through, albeit in a much finer expression. Peach flavors blindsided me, and cranberry tartness lit up my cup. Crisp green grape and juicy cherry somehow both fit into the finish; and all this just with a little agitation and a coarser grind.
Honestly, I would drink this coffee all day. I would specifically recommend it as a single origin option for filter drip, because the control that method offers the brewer is what is going to really allow this coffee to shine. Definitely try agitation and pulling as much as you can from this coffee. While it isn’t as easily soluble as some Kenyan coffees i’ve encountered, the effort is definitely worth your time.
Brew and chug with confidence!