The first day in Kenya I spent in Nairobi at Dorman’s head offices tasting about 400 cups of coffee (Or more. I lost count) I was hoping to find some gems on the table, but unfortunately Kenya has had severe problems with drought that has affected the production both in quantity and quality. Therefore, I was very dissappointed that I did not find any coffees that were as juicy and intense as our last years Tekangu lot.
Bridget, one of the head cuppers and also one of the bosses at Dorman’s was unsure whether the lack of quality was because of the drought or if it was still a bit too early after the harvest and therefore the coffees we tasted were mainly from the first picking (which is normally of inferior quality.) I was hoping it was the latter one being the reason. Still, after a full day of cupping without any luck I was feeling miserable but Bridet gave me hope when she told me that when the production is low and the trees are stressed and there is less of the big beans (AA+ top quality) she often finds that the peaberries are tasting better (Peaberry is when a coffee cherry only contains 1 bean instead of 2). Maybe because there is more mucilage and energy directed into 1 bean instead of two and when there is less water and therefore less energy the PB becomes more tasty.
Regardless of theories, there is no doubt that because of the lower production this year and inflation, we are going to have to pay a higher price for the Kenyan coffees this year compared to the 2008/2009 crop which was a very good year for Kenya in terms of coffee production.
On Tuesday morning I had breakfat with Mr. Kamau who is the manager of CMS (Coffee managment services) which is an organisation which helps the farmers sell their coffee and also educates the farmers in good agricultural practices. In addition, CMS are the ones monitoring the transaction between the buyers (Tim Wendelboe in this case), the cooperatives and the farmers. They provide documentation to assure full transparency in the money flow, etc. This is essential when trading in a country like Kenya that is struggling with a lot of corruption and it is important for us as a buyer to ensure that the farmers are getting paid according to the price we paid. If the farmers are not getting paid, they stop growing coffee, and the reason why we choose to pay a premium for the coffee it is to honour the quality of the coffee and to motivate the farmers to keep up the good work so that we can have as great or even better coffees for the future. It is simple; to grow quality coffee takes more time and work and therefore the expenses are higher.
After an hour breakfast and interesting conversation, I headed for Nyeri which is located in Kenyas Rift Valley in the Central Highlands.
When I arrived at the Central Kenya Coffee Mill, I was welcomed by one of their agronomists and the cupper Ernest. Ernest had set up 6 coffees for me to taste, three of them coming from the Tekangu cooperative that we allready bought from last year (and won the Nordic Roaster Competition with). The coffees were already a little bit cold, as I was a bit late, but after tasting a couple of fair coffees there was a sudden explosion of flavours in my mouth when I tasted the 3rd cup on the table. It turned out to be a Tekangu coffee and it was by far miles ahead of all the coffees I tasted in Nairobi. The coffee was extremely juicy with tonnes of fruity berry flavours remniscent of rasberries, blackberries, black currants, rose hips and yes, yes, YES! The buttery mouthfeel and the juicy acidity made me think about great white burgundy wines. I never decide upon which coffee to buy in origin, but this coffee was just too good to take the risk of someone else buying it. Therefore I offered to buy it immediately.
After the cupping we went to visit the Tekangu cooperative society located only 5 minutes away from the mill. I was welcomed by their chairman and his staff and we had a long discussion about prices, coffee quality, the future of coffee and how we could work together in order to build a long term relationship based on sustainability and developing quality together to secure future coffee supplies and to secure future income for the farmers. Afterwards they showed me their 3 faktories; TEgu, KArogoto and NGUnguru (therefore TEKANGU). The managers of the different factories explained to me what their biggest issues were in terms of ensuring the quality of the coffee and they spoke about their 5 year strategic plan and what they were trying to improve before the next harvest. Hopefully we will be able to help them a little bit in their investments by paying a premium price for their coffees this year.
Now I am sitting outside an old colonial style house, enjoying a Tusker Malt overlooking the impressive Mount Kenya lit by a beautiful sunset. I have yet to digest all the impressions and information from today’s excursion, but all in all I am very excited to tell you that once again we will bring great coffee back home from Kenya.
Tomorrow I will be tasting more coffees and visit another cooperative.