Intro by Charlie Habegger
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.
Kirinyaga county is certainly well-known among these central counties for its jammy, exuberant coffees. 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 Kirinyaga 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.
Kabare is a Farmers’ Cooperative Society (FCS), which is the central management body for 11 different cooperatives in Kirinyaga County: Kiringa, Konyu, Karani, Kiangombe, Kaboyo, Mukure, Mukengeria, Kimandi, Kathata, Kiangothe, and Kiamiciri. Combined, these groups represent almost 10,000 farming households, whose land spans from nearby Kerugoya town all the way to the forest border at Mt. Kenya National Park.
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 Kirinyaga 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. Cooperatives at Kabare FCS are no different, sorting their pulped and fermented coffee into 4 different density grades with the use of fresh nearby water, and conditioning the moisture of each grade independently during drying, before transport to the mill.
Green Analysis by Nate Lumpkin
This washed peaberry from Kenya comes to us with low density, and average moisture content and water activity. It is very well sorted, with a little over 80% of the coffee falling into screen size 15 and 16. Its good physical specs should lead to consistent roasting, though its low density may lend it to scorching under high heat, especially early in the roast, so consider a gentler approach.
The varieties which comprise this coffee were all developed by laboratories and research stations in Kenya in the 20th and 21st centuries. SL28 and SL34 are popular selections in Kenya, made by Scott Agricultural Laboratories in the 1930s. SL28 is known for its high sensory qualities, though it is lower yielding and less disease resistant than intended. SL34 was selected from a single tree in Kabete, and is known for its high productivity. Ruirui 11 is a disease resistant variety developed after the coffee berry epidemic of 1968. It has high yield and good disease resistance, but requires pollination by hand for mass propagation, leading to difficulty in producing enough seed to meet farmer demand. Batian is another variety related to Ruirui 11, SL28, SL34, and several others, and is known for its high stature and resistance to disease.
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.
This unique double washed peaberry from Kirinyaga gave us a run for our money in the Ikawa. While all three roasts were unequivocally delicious, each behaved rather uniquely. The standard sample roast (blue) performed to spec, with a near-perfect 50/30/20 ratio and almost exactly 70 seconds development after first crack, a picture perfect roast. As expected, the shorter overall roast time and quick Maillard progression gave the coffee a thinnish body with a lot of emphasis on the tart fruit notes, such as sparkling cider, cranberry, and lemonade. Lively aromas on grinding and a clean finish in the cup make it an enjoyable roast, despite an arguable slight lack of balance.
The Maillard +30 profile yielded, again as expected, more carmely sugars and a full body. The roast reached first crack a little earlier relative to the other two, allowing some more browning. There was plenty of sweetness to be found, a lush body and vivid grapefruit and nectarine flavors.
But it was the 7-minute low fan speed profile that really surprised me. After mentioning it to Candice, she noted “I always gave peaberries a longer roast than my usual Kenyans in smaller roasters (by a minute or so, if that!). This is a gold reminder!” The roast, despite a very late start to first crack, offered similar deep velvety mouthfeel to the Maillard +30 roast, but with an explosion of complex deep fruit flavors that layered a lovely anchor on which the citrusy notes could add accents. I love the blackberry and dark plum flavors you can find in these types of Kenya roasts, and this one really hit all the high points.
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
Roast Analysis by Candice Madison
I get really annoyed by Kenyan coffees every year. How dare they be so good!! Honestly, I think my first sip of a new harvest is utter joy, swiftly followed by distinct outrage – both emotions borne of the fact the origin flavor profiles are profoundly and consistently delightful to me! This coffee comes to us from Kirinyaga county and the Kabare Cooperative (please do go back and read Charlie’s introduction, which gives an excellent 30,000 ft view of Kenya’s cooperative system). It is a multi-variety peaberry, which can usually spell all sorts of trouble in the roaster, if not for immaculate preparation, which is very nearly always the case with Kenyan coffees.
I was wary, then, when approaching the roaster but not worried! Wary was correct. It may be that the batch size meant less stability, but I found myself making reactive changes in the roaster. It may take a batch or two to settle on the correct roast profile, but you will be roundly rewarded!
Dropping the coffee in at 360 degrees F, I started with 3 amps of heat and no airflow. This coffee is extremely dense with a low moisture content. You may feel the need to blast this coffee, but I would suggest that might be the wrong approach, too much heat too quickly. In fact, I tend to treat dense peaberries more gently – the tightness of the cell structure would suggest that whilst it may take on heat and move quickly up the curve, it may rush through the coloring stage without the necessary sugar development being achieved.
At the turn, I raised the heat to 9 amps keeping the air at 0, but as soon as I saw the coffee color, at around 5 minutes into the roast at 279 degrees F, I turned the amperage down to 7.5 and the airflow up to 3.
First crack, at 385 degrees F, was faint and sparse, but picked up after about 30 seconds. As I had extended the Maillard stage, I decided to extend the roast to just over 12 minutes, dropping at 401 degrees F, giving the coffee 1 minute 15 seconds of post-crack development.
My patience was rewarded in the cup, in fact beforehand. Grinding the coffee was, as usual, a revelation with fragrances hitting me before I even had my nose to the cup. The fruit aromas that hit my nose, landed square on my tongue also – blackcurrant, lime zest, plum and hints of cantaloupe. These were accompanied by a zingy grapefruit acidity, the sweetness of light brown sugar and a creamy, silky and heavy body. I begrudgingly let the other staff have the rest of my roast – but that’s because they don’t know I still have some green coffee in hand to roast all for myself!
I would recommend this coffee more, but I have no idea how I could. Summer days look different this year, but sitting out in the sun with a flash brew of this coffee? Just perfect!
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.
Kenyan coffees tend to be very dense and generally need swift, high heat application. This coffee in particular is a counterexample in that it seems to (like many peaberry coffees) react better to a longer, slower application of heat. It is, however, true to form for Kenyan coffees with its incredible density.
For this roast, I treated the coffee like a typical Kenyan selection as I hadn’t seen Chris and Candice’s notes at the time of roasting! The result certainly wasn’t bad, but I do feel like it could shine a bit more with an extended roast.
I started with 225g, my usual P5 (100% heat application) and high drum speed, and kept the high heat on all the way through to the finish. Crack occurred at 10:20, I opened the door for 30s to abate heat and smoke at 10:30, and I stopped the roast by hitting COOL at 11:10. The spare 50 seconds of post-crack development was meant to highlight the acidity of this coffee, but I still think I could have held out for a bit longer.
My first tastings of this coffee gave me some rather pinched notes; I got tasty flavors like blackberry, lime acidity, and general chocolatiness… but it needed time to open up, and it seemed a bit light for my taste. After a few days and a few different brews, I was able to pull much more from this coffee. Nectarine, calamansi, cranberry, and sweet honey notes came through on my brews, which you can read about below!
Brew Analysis by Evan Gilman
Like many things loaded with complex flavors (scotch, mezcal, and absinthe come to mind), dilution can really be a boon to opening up the flavor of a coffee. This Kenyan coffee from Kirinyaga county has an incredible amount of soluble material to work with, but just because you’ve gotten a good amount of dissolved solids doesn’t mean you want to experience them all at once, especially since my roast of this coffee was a bit on the light side.
My first brew on the Chemex was an attempt to dilute a bit with a 1:17 ratio and my standard grind size of 22 on the Baratza Virtuoso. The result was an extraction percentage of 20.25%, which falls well into the ‘ideal’ range for SCA. This brew left me wanting more, however. The flavors seemed a bit pinched, and I decided that it deserved a coarser grind.
I switched up to 24 for the Virtuoso, while simultaneously reducing my H2O application to a 1:16 ratio. I also poured faster for this brew, wanting the coffee and water to have less contact. The result was an extraction percentage of 18.03%, and much more lively flavors of cranberry, cocoa powder, and lime. Things were lightening up a bit! I still thought I could get cleaner flavors from this coffee, though.
For my next trick, I decided to do what I like to do with mezcal or a fine scotch – some dilution. Bypass brew has been my friend with the Chemex these days, and I find that I am really enjoying the results. I brewed with only 70% of my water, meaning I only poured 448g of water through the grounds, and added the remaining 30% (192g) directly to the brewed coffee. The result was fantastic! Clear and sweet honey, nectarine, and blackberry came through in the cup with so much more clarity. I even got a touch of calamansi, a small, kumquat-like citrus used a lot in Filipino cooking. Bright indeed!
If you tend to enjoy a lighter roast, I would recommend bypass brew for this fantastic Kenyan coffee. I might recommend against espresso, but who knows… a little dilution goes a long way!