BEWARE: This unfriendly Holiday coffee will destroy you. Long gone is the time of families gathered around the fire singing songs of joy, feasting in abundance to all this year has brought. Instead, all that lies under that sad, decrepit tree is this dark roasted Kenya coffee. Pure black and smelling of sweet tobacco, this Kenya auction lot still boasts of caramelized sugars, fired roasted citrus fruits and a rich, thick body. Performs diabolically well as a filter or espresso.
This coffee comes to us through our new friends at NKG Mills, Tropical. Each year we coordinate a post-harvest trip to Kenya in order to cup selections from the harvest, and over the last two seasons, we’ve added Tropical to our route. Chris at NKG routinely puts amazing coffees on the table while upholding a very high level of hospitality. Early this year we visited for some quick cupping, and during that time selected a few lots to fill in some gaps of our Kenya offerings. We cupped through two tables during our time there and selected this Kagumoini AA to be the bulk of our Krampus offering, due to it’s pronounced acidity and layered complexity that holds up to the developed roast of our holiday single origin. It’s only natural that our ‘unfriendly’ offering for the year was facilitated by one of the friendliest people at Tropical. Never one to just settle for normal cupping, Chris coordinated a trip into Nairobi National park, where we tracked some lions while driving on what would barely be a horse trail. Topping off the trip, we finished up the day at an incredible farm to table restaurant on the outskirts of Nairobi. Kenya is always full of surprises.
Kenya has a pretty advanced coffee system. Two avenues are used to sell and export most coffee: the Nairobi Coffee Exchange (central auction system) and a direct-sale system with a marketer. Cooperatives tend to lean towards the first and use the auction system to sell their coffees based on quality. You must be a licensed marketer to buy coffee through the competitive auction system by bidding on coffees. Auctions are held every Tuesday with samples of the coffees going out to the marketers and cuppers the week prior. This way you can cup the outturns for the week and decide which coffees you wish to bid on. An outturn refers to the week of wet milling and production of coffee. You’ll see a number next to all our Kenya lots which describe which outturn it was. We tend to like outturns between 14-21, which are in the middle to the end of harvest time and usually have the most nutrient-dense and best-tasting coffees.
This year coffee production was down about 25% in Kenya. This means the auction system for the coffees that cupped higher reached almost unprecedented levels. While this does mean our Kenyans will be a bit more expensive this year, it also meant less competition for us. And we were able to purchase quite a few more lots than we normally do. This is our personal best year of sourcing in Kenya. We are really excited to release some special lots all year long.
In the Kenya process, first the cherries are sorted, and under-ripe/overripe cherries are removed. Once the sorting is finished the coffee is then depulped. This is done by squeezing the cherry through a screen and removing the fruit and skin from the bean. The coffee is then left to ferment in white ceramic tiled tanks for 24 hours. Next, the coffee is stirred for a short amount of time and left to ferment for another 24 hours. After two days of dry fermentation, the coffee is washed with fresh water, removing the sticky mucilage attached to the beans that are loosened by bacteria during the fermentation. It’s then soaked in water to ferment overnight slightly. The coffee goes through sorting and density channels which separates the lots, and then it is taken to raised beds to dry. Once it reaches 11.5-12% moisture content, the coffee is brought to conditioning bins to rest until it goes to the dry mill.
Once a coffee has been processed, dried and then milled it goes to a sorter that separates the beans by specific characteristics, mainly size. Coffee goes into a machine that vibrates sending beans through different screens with certain size holes and sorts the coffee based on size and density. This results in a more uniform coffee and cup profile. Then the coffees are auctioned based on the grade (size & density) they have.
AA (screen size 17 & 18)
The largest and most celebrated grade of Kenyan coffee. Usually the highest priced coffee on the auction from each outturn and factory. AA is is the most common grade we buy and what we normally expect from an outstanding Kenya cup.
AB (screen size 15 & 16)
This grade represents about 30% of Kenya's production. While AB is usually considered lower quality than AA, we find that to not be accurate in the cup. Over the years of cupping, we have consistently found incredible AB’s that actually cup better than their more prestigious AA relatives, enforcing the idea that everything must be cupped and not have its value determined based on classification or reputation.
Peaberries represent about 10% of Kenya's production. They are a result of a coffee cherry only producing one bean instead of two. Technically they are fused together during the early stages and form one round bean instead of two half spheres. We tend to notice more fermentation tasting notes here. Winey, syrupy, and mouth coating are some of the attributes that we usually notice in the cup.