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intro

Intro by Chris Kornman

Mahiga factory has caught our attention before (and my personal favorite from its first year of participation in the Red Cherry Project in 2017) and a Crown Jewel in years past — it has a solid pedigree for quality coffees. This year, the anticipation was tangible… the coffee’s preshipment samples, and the visit paid to the station in February by our CEO Max Nicholas-Fulmer and trader Caitlin McCarthy-Garcia, created a buzz like static in the air before a lightning strike.

Upon arrival in Oakland, that potential energy from the farmers and processors became absolutely kinetic. This coffee is electric. Elegant, effervescent, and zippy citric and phosphoric acids project flavors of pink grapefruit and cranberry across the cup. They are joined by lavish floral notes of lavender and lilac, underscored by chocolate candy and brown sugar, and accented by notes of pear, cola, and sage. This supercharged Kenya is one of our favorites of the year, a lively jolt of a coffee if there ever was one, and not to be missed.

The 400 contributing farmer cooperative members are organized under the station manager, Daniel Kingori, who’s experience also recently included management of the nearby Rukira factory, also a member of the umbrella Othaya Cooperative Society. Mahiga translates to “stone,” and the coffee and processing here are nothing if not rock-solid.

Mahiga, in addition to the Red Cherry program participation, has undertaken an especially unique and complex processing model. We’re calling it “double fermented and double washed.” Here’s the details: after pulping (on the factory’s brand new machine), the coffee is fermented underwater for 12 hours. It’s then washed to minimize mucilage and fermented underwater again for 12-36 hours. After this second fermentation, the tank is drained, filled with fresh water and soaked for an additional 16 hours. Lastly, the coffee is cleaned and sorted in grading channels and taken to drying beds for two weeks before delivery to Othaya’s dry mill.

green

Green Analysis by Nate Lumpkin

This double washed coffee from Kenya comes to us with average density, somewhat below average moisture content, and about average water activity. As expected for an AA coffee, its screen size is tightly sorted into size 18 and above, with less than three percent falling into sizes smaller. These metrics should lend this coffee to consistent roasting–you shouldn’t have much trouble at all getting it to cooperate.

The varieties that comprise this coffee are classics of Kenyan specialty coffee. SL28 and SL34 were both selected by Scott Agricultural Laboratories in the 1930s for their drought resistance. SL28 is known for its excellent sensory qualities, and SL34 for its high production and adaptability to low altitudes. Ruiru 11 is a composite hybrid of two parent plants, both themselves complex hybrids of a number of varieties, including SL28 and 34. It is known for its acidity and body, over its sweetness and flavor profile. Because it requires manual pollination, Ruiru is time consuming to breed. Batian is an F5 selection of Ruiru, named for the highest peak of Mount Kenya, and exhibits excellent cup quality and a very short span between planting and harvest: a full harvest of fruit can be gathered only at the third year after planting.

taste

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Ikawa Analysis by Nate Lumpkin

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.


This high quality, tightly sorted, dense coffee from Kenya ended up being easy to roast and delicious no matter what I did with it. Though the faster roasts gave the cup a more complex and sweeter flavor profile, my other experiments were really nice as well. You’ll have a hard time going wrong with a coffee this good, but it shined the most with a high charge temperature and quick roast.

I’ll start with my least favorites, which to be clear were still pretty good. The low airflow profile, with a longer cooler roast, behaved as expected in the Ikawa, and in the cup showed notes of honey, blood orange, and jasmine, but was a little bit simple, like an orange slice. Still good, but not the best. The Maillard +30 profile also had some nice flavors, with notes of pineapple, green apple, and cranberry, but also a touch of breadiness. It spent a little longer in post-crack development than the other profiles, and its acidity was just a little bit overwhelming and unbalanced.

The standard hot and fast profile really shined. It cracked pretty late, which was a surprise given how much energy it was given early in the roast, but in the cup had a great balance between a lovely peach-like acidity and winey body. Other tasting notes included peach nectar, sweet basil, heirloom tomatoes, lemongrass, golden raisin, prune, dried orange, turbinado sugar, dark chocolate, and molasses. I’d recommend giving this style a shot to let this coffee express yourself, and don’t be afraid to give it a little extra heat–I’m sure it can take it.

You can download the profile to your Ikawa Pro app here:

Roast 1: Crown 7m SR Low AF

Roast 2: Crown Maillard +30 SR 1.0

Roast 3: Crown Standard SR 1.0

diedrich

Diedrich IR-5 Analysis by Alex Taylor

If there were ever a kind of coffee that were too easy to roast, it might be high quality Kenyas like this one! After my adventures with last week’s adventures with some very-high density Ethiopias, I felt prepared for these dense Kenyas as well. The density here was a bit above average – nothing extreme – and the prep was meticulous, as one would come to expect from a high-quality Kenya from Nyeri like this one. We had enough of this coffee to roast a 6lb batch in the Diedrich IR-5, which is a bit of a luxury when it comes to Crown Jewel analysis. With the higher density, and wanting to give this coffee plenty of energy in the first phase of the roast, I started with a slightly higher charge temperature than usual (370F) and a little bit higher heat application to start.

Even with the added heat, I was surprised to see the coffee act a bit sluggish around turning point; there was no cause for alarm, but this coffee definitely drank up even more heat than I was expecting it to, and then asked for more! For the sake of my roast plan, I stayed the course and did not give it an extra boost. I didn’t want the coffee to have too much pent-up energy at the end of the roast. The roast proceeded at a fairly typical rate through the first phase, and the rate of change wanted to stay elevated, so I began stepping off the gas in small increments pretty much right at color change. I was happy to see the coffee respond predictably and reasonably, with the rate of change slowly declining through phase 2 of the roast, and then I was caught a bit off guard by an early first crack (right before 380F). The roast slowed even more after first crack (I was already at my lowest gas setting), and while it never crashed, causing the roast to flat line, it was moving so slowly that by the time I reached 1:30 post-crack development, I was still only at 396F! I ended the roast there, not wanting to spend any more time in PCD, even though I would have preferred the end temperature to be closer to 400F. Again, these were not major concerns, more like personal frustrations at the roast not going 100% to plan. Plus, I would rather the roast wind up a few degrees lighter than I planned than a few degrees darker. I digress; time to cup!

To put it bluntly, I really really like this coffee. The aromatics brought a blast of florals and citrus, and in my first sips, I found notes of grapefruit, mandarin orange, and brown sugar. The body was incredibly creamy and silky, which made the milk chocolate sweetness in the cup even more delicious, and also played nicely with the lavender and lilac florality as it cooled. A few days later, I made a batch brew with this coffee, and was further delighted. The sweetness came through really strong, without overpowering the delicate floral finish. This coffee has lots to offer, and is so cooperative at the end of the roast that you should be able to dial in your roast profile with ease!

 

behmor

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. 

I’ve come to realize that there’s simply nothing nicer than roasting Kenyan coffees on the Behmor. I routinely tell people that Ethiopian coffee is my favorite, but the truth is that I’m pretty conflicted due to how delicious coffees like this are. This Nyeri from Mahiga factory blew me away on the cupping table and after brewing as a filter drip. Besides the roasting, the rigorous processing techniques noted above clearly made this coffee a pleasure to roast and to drink.

For my own part I wanted to take this coffee through development quickly. I wanted to preserve those acids, and keep my sugar browning to a minimum. Luckily for me, I’ve found Kenyan coffees to achieve first crack a little earlier than other origins. I’m not sure if this has to do with the processing or the actual structure of the coffee, but it is a pattern I have noticed. I kept 100% heat on (P5) until 10:50, then ramped down with P4. First crack happened at 10:40, and I opened the door of the roaster to abate heat and smoke until I deemed the roast finished at 11:20.

This was one of the classic Kenya flavor profiles: brown sugar sweetness was garnished with clean, crisp pear, tart cranberry flavors, and a cola-like herbal quality that kept me coming back. This was just on the cupping table, too. As I brewed this coffee in my Chemex, I found even more beneath. Aromatic lemon, sage herbals, maraschino cherry overtones.. This coffee just keeps going with the flavor.

I would be happy to drink this coffee every day for a long time. And I say that as someone who thinks variety is the spice of life. This coffee, however, is more like the spice featured in Frank Herbert’s Dune. Granted, I’m not able to navigate faster-than-light spaceship (yet), but I think this coffee might be putting me well on my way to that ambition.

brew

Brew Analysis by Nate Lumpkin

This coffee was so delicious when I tasted it earlier this week that I couldn’t wait to give it a few more test brews. Like the previous Kenya Peaberry, I decided to brew this Kenya Nyeri three ways, just to see how it expressed itself in different concentrations.

My first brew, on the V70, turned out really well. It brewed through fairly quickly, at 2:30, and showed a routine TDS of 1.28, with an extraction of 19.2. In the cup I tasted notes of heirloom tomato, tangerine, raspberry, plum, cantaloupe, honey, and milk chocolate, with a touch of sage, and a pleasant sparkling quality. This was a clean, easy-drinking cup.

My second go, on the F70, brewed a little faster, at 2:19, with a slightly higher TDS and extraction, of 1.3 and 19.5% respectively. I found this cup to be a little brighter and more acidic, with again that signature note of heirloom tomato, along with green apple, white grape, kiwi, plum, lemon, and basil. If you want a bright and dancing cup, consider pushing the extraction a little bit with a device like this one.

I was excited for my last go on the Aeropress, but was not particularly pleased with the results. I used 18g of coffee and 200g of brew water, with a 1:35 total brew time, but found the acidity overwhelming in the cup. The lemon and lime notes which were so well balanced on the pour-over were just a touch too loud on Aeropress, and the more interesting and broader flavor profile of the pour-overs was muted. If I had time, I might try it again with a coarser grind, but I mostly just preferred the clean and sparkling qualities of the filter pour-overs.

Origin Information

Grower
400 producers organized around the Mahiga Factory
Variety
SL28, SL34, Ruiru 11, and Batian
Region
Mumwe, Nyeri, Kenya
Harvest
October-December 2019
Altitude
1700-1890 masl
Soil
Volcanic loam
Process
Double Fermented and Double Washed: Pulped, Fermented underwater for 12 hours, Washed to minimize mucilage, Fermented underwater for 12-36 hours, Soaked in fresh water for 16hrs, Cleaned and sorted in grading channels, Dried on Raised beds for 14 days
Certifications

Background Details

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 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. Othaya Farmers Cooperative Society, the umbrella organization that includes Rukira Factory, is one of Kenya’s larger societies, with 19 different factories and more than 14,000 farmer members across the southern Nyeri region. The Mahiga Factory has 400 members actively harvesting and delivering to the processing center. The factory’s total cherry intake tends to hover around 130,000 kgs, meaning the average member of Mahiga is farming enough coffee fruit for roughly two 30kg unit of exportable green. The economics of smallholder systems are consistently difficult, 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 coffee trees at the most, plus additional land uses available and local job markets, are widely considered to be middle class. 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 county) to its coffee. Ample water supply in the central growing regions 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. The established milling and sorting by grade, or bean size, is a longstanding tradition and positions Kenya coffees well for roasters, by tightly controlling the physical preparation and creating a diversity of profiles from a single processing batch.