About Kenya AA Kabingara
Arrived mid September, new crop in vacuum packaging.
For years we have had a particularly good relationship with one of Kenya's top coffee exporters and each season we evaluate many top lots of coffee. In particular, some of these lots were acquired through the Kenya auction system. In Kenya there are private, regional factories, called washing stations in other African coffee producing nations. Coffee from area farms are processed - beginning with coffee cherries and resulting in coffee beans that can be roasted - in these factories. Some of the best coffee, like this one, is separated and sold in private lots or auctioned, while the remainder is sold in large bulk quantities. Kenya has some of the highest quality in the world and some of these small lots represent not only excellent quality, but a good value too. This is our first Kenya lot of the season, having just arrived. It will be here briefly before a subsequent selection takes its place.
Gate at the entrance to the washing station
This coffee comes from the Kabingara Coffee Factory located in Kirinyaga County and is a member of the Karithathi Farmers Cooperative Society. It is situated at 1500 meters above sea level.
Kenya has a unique double soak washing process. Washed coffee is distinguished by the clarity of the flavors and attributes that it can achieve. During this process, the sugars present in the mucilage are removed through natural fermentation or mechanical scrubbing. Fermentation can be done by stacking the coffee outside or placing them under water and allowing nature to take its course. After the sugars are removed, the beans then can be taken through a secondary washing to remove any additional debris, or taken immediately to the patios or beds for drying. During wet processing, the pulp is removed mechanically. The remaining mesocarp, called mucilage, sticks to the parchment and is also removed before drying. Mucilage is insoluble in water and clings to parchment too strongly to be removed by simple washing. Mucilage can be removed by fermentation followed by washing or by strong friction in machines called mucilage removers. Fermentation may be natural or accelerated by chemicals or enzymes. Mechanical mucilage removers operate by rubbing parchment beans against each other and against the mobile and static parts of the machines. Fermented coffee is washed manually in the tank itself or in channels, by centrifugal pumps or by several types of specific machines. The method and supervision of fermentation can make or break a coffee's final outcome.
There are several varietals in this lot, notably SL28, Ruiru 11 and a little Batian, all hybrids noted for either their drought or disease resistance. "SL" varieties, which are Bourbon derivatives, were developed decades ago by Scott Labs for the best flavors and are now being reproduced in areas around the world when conditions are right. The region has deep, fertile well drained red volcanic soils which are ideal for coffee production though many of the area farmers grow tea.
Plant nursery at the washing station
- Farm Name: Kabingara Coffee Factory
- County: Kirinyaga County
- Coffee Varieties: SL 28, SL 34, Ruiru 11
- Flower season: March-April and September- October
- Harvest season: May- June and November- December
- Altitude: 1,500m above sea level
- Soil: Red volcanic soils
- Processing Method: Fully washed
- Membership: 500 cooperative members
Assistant washing station manager David Nyaga
Cup Characteristics: A big, juicy and complex cup with lots of body and bright notes for liveliness. Like other top Kenya lots, this is a sophisticated cup of coffee with floral aromas, hints of blackcurrant and cassis. Tart, tannic stone fruit finish.
Roasting Notes: Kenya can be roasted successfully to various roast levels due to the bean density and high elevations where grown. Light roasting, midway between 1st and 2nd crack will produce a more acidic, delicate and flavorful cup; taken to 2nd crack the body becomes considerably more emphasized and the acidity plays a lesser role. But Kenya AA can also be roasted beyond 2nd crack to dark roasted, caramelized levels because there is considerable inherent natural sugar, acidity and bean hardness.
Kenya coffee facts:
Population (2006): 34.7 million People
Coffee Production: 880,000 bags (60 kg)
Country bag capacity: 132 pounds - 60 kg
Domestic Consumption: 50,000 bags
Coffee Export: 850,000 bags
Cultivated Area: 127,000 Hectares (314,000 acres)
Harvests: 2 per year
- Main crop October to December
- Fly crop June to August
Arabica Introduced: Introduced from Ethiopia via Yemen at the end of the 19th century, by the Fathers of the Holy Spirit Congregation. Bourbon varietal introduced from Reunion in 1901 by missionaries. Kent varietal introduced early 20th century from the Indies.
Specialty Coffee Regions: North and northeast of Nairobi; high plateaus surrounding Mt. Kenya. Soil is volcanic.
Grades: AA Plus, AA, peaberry
Farms: About 350,000 farms with an average of 0.2 hectares (about 1/2 acre). 8 major preparation cooperatives.
Botanical Varietals: Bourbon, Kent, various hybrids (SL-28, SL-34, Riuru 11), Blue Mountain (from Jamaica).
One of the great coffee producers. Coffee accounts for 27% of the country's exports and half of their agricultural output. Shading, by banana trees, is a common practice.
Kenya has a weekly auction system that has been in place for many years. It does not provide transparency of revenues to growers and the system is said to be flawed by a complex web of middlemen. There are allegations of corruption as well. The government is working to develop a more direct model whereby growers can offer their coffees more directly to foreign buyers thus reaping a better price.