Coffee from Kenya has for a long time been an eye-opener for a lot of people in the specialty coffee world. It is to me a flavour profile that really shows that coffee is a cherry, a fruit! Once you understand that, coffee becomes a whole new world.
On a Monday morning, Dan, our driver, came to pick us up. The direction of the region of Nyeri is to visit Josephat and Charles who runs the wet mill station Kieni. It is always a unique feeling to be at a place that you have seen in pictures so many times.
Unfortunately, we came on a wrong day as the depulper was getting fixed and the sad reality of climate change has caused the river to dry off.
We all hear about the devastating results of climate change in our western society and it’s hard to acknowledge it when you are somehow far away from it. Being there, and witnessing the entire wet mill not functioning throws you back to reality. Luckily they could use the water from their neighbour's mill Kiamabara situated a few meters higher. Kieni and Kiamabara are part of the same society called Mugaga which includes 5 wet mills.
In those situations, they can help each other but also provide different options for the members to drop their coffee at multiple places.
Joseph is one of them. Member of the society for several years and a regular at Kieni, he was on his way to bring his daily harvest to Kiamabara that day.
There is a school next to the mill that we had the chance to visit. The teacher sat down with us to share a bit of her routine and explained life at the school. Being a company where we want to convince people that there is a good future in coffee farming, it was very interesting to hear about students’ mindsets.
I realise that growing coffee in Kenya is something very common. Everybody has a few trees in their garden. Some people are growing it as a full-time job but a lot are doing it as a side activity.
Through my journey, I’ve met many different factory members with different backgrounds. I found it very interesting that you can see the same diversity at the farm level as the one we can experience in coffee shops in our country. On delivery days, wet mills are very much a gathering point for the whole area.
On our second day, the plan was to visit as many farmers as we could. Those visits are so crucial in the relationship that we are trying to build at Collective. For those farmers, it is incredibly rewarding to have visitors. Once the farmers have dropped their cherries they have no clue what happens afterwards. Our visit gives them the opportunity to understand the process of their products and also hear feedback. We often take the example of being a Barista that makes coffee all day for a crowd that you can’t meet.
The more farms you visit around here the more farmers want to show their farms. Around lunchtime, Patrick, one of the farmers, invited us for lunch. We sat down in his living room while it was pouring down outside. One of them was really quiet but the other was very talkative, curious and smart. It was a very humble experience to explain what was a coffee shop, and what’s an espresso and show that the name of their mill was written on the bag to share their work. It sounds very basic but it's a good reminder that our routine is so far from theirs.
The last farmer we visited was Joseph whom we bumped into the day before. He’s someone with a lot of knowledge very passionate about the SL variety and takes his job very seriously. Joseph lives on a beautiful small farm with his wife and 2 kids. He grows coffee of course but also a bunch of different vegetables. Everything is neat and well organised. It is truly inspiring to see someone taking the farming craft as seriously as we can take the brewing craft on the other end of the chain, the name “ Collective “ couldn't make more sense on that day.
On the following day, we wanted to spend some time at the Kii in the region of Kirinyaga. It is our new addition this year on top of Kieni and Kiangoi. Kii is part of the Rungeto society formed in 1997. However, Kii has been processing coffee since 1995. Situated at the bottom of Mt Kenya, Kii has been named after the river that crosses it. The river is obviously used to wash the coffee. Coming straight from Mt Kenya, some people say that the fresh and pure water might be one of the reasons for the clarity and crispness that this coffee offers.
We arrived on a delivery day, the high energy was everywhere. People were delivered by foot, cars, trucks, motorcycles, and horses. While some of them were sorting their cherries to make sure they will pass through the quality level, others were already at the weighting stage. This is where you can see how much you have been picking on the day and therefore how much you will earn.
We are now heading toward the picking season and those days will soon become 6 days out of 7. I was very impressed with the teamwork at the washing station. When you wash coffee you are using a paddle to move the coffee around several times until the water gets completely clear. At Kii, they all stay as one group following the same movement. It was like watching people on a rowing boat. The more experienced were at the front giving the rhythm whereas the youngest was at the back trying to follow and learn. Despite the hard physical work that it requires, they all looked like they were having a lot of fun!
Isaac the factory manager is a young and ambitious guy. From what I understand in Kenya, a lot of decisions and elections in the coffee industry are very much influenced by your network, connections, and relations with the community and can get very political. We often see chairmen or factory managers being in their position not really because of their knowledge but more for the benefit of it.
Isaac is proof that things are changing and developing in the right direction where young skilled people like him are starting to take over. The Rungeto society such as many others is now looking at using Eco-pulper in most of their mills which is a huge step and a beautiful mindset that is rare to see in those countries.
This is one of the freshest Kenyan flavours I have tasted this year, and that can only taste better once you have a proper understanding of the craft behind it!
The Coffee Collective
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