You might follow our trips on Instagram, but I thought it was high time to recollect a few of my impressions from the last two trips to Kieni here. I’ve had the good fortune of spending a week both in November and again in February with Josphat and Charles at Kieni.
Josphat is Kieni's factory (mill) manager. He's responsible for overseeing the operations at the Kieni cooperative, where over 1.000 farmers deliver their coffee cherries. Josphat has a crucial role in making sure that only high quality, fully ripe cherries are delivered to Kieni.
When delivering coffee, the farmers have to sort out over- and underripe berries, so only the fully ripe goes into the best selection. The overripe are usually brought back to the farmer's house, where it's processed as Mbuni - low grade Natural processed coffee, where the whole cherry is dried, typically just on a tarp on the ground. The underripe and other bad quality cherries are put into a separate hopper at the mill and de-pulped and kept separately from the high quality throughout the processing.
Josphat has a machine operator, who’s responsible for maintaining the de-pulper. The adjustment of the de-pulping discs is crucial. Too loose and you'll have a large portion of the coffee not getting de-pulped and also leaving skin and pulp to ferment. Too tight, you end up damaging the beans, causing "pulper nips". Correctly adjusted discs can be used as an extra sorting mechanism, as only the fully ripe cherries are de-pulped. Down the line of the de-pulping machine, water is used to separate lighter "floaters" from the heavier, high-quality beans.
So, at this point, besides the selective picking of coffee on the tree, the first sorting is done at the farm you also have the second sorting at the mill and a sorting step in the de-pulper.
The high quality is referred to as P1 (Parchment 1). In any step along the way, whatever is removed either go into P2 or P-Lights (sometimes also called P3).
After fermentation, the coffee is washed in channels. The first coffee flowing out at the other end of the 50-meter-long channel will be the lighter beans, which will go into P-Lights. The coffee is pushed with clean, flowing water as well as hand-held paddles, to wash off the remnants of the fermented mucilage. After about 10 minutes or so, the workers can see that all the lighter beans have floated down the line, and it's time for the high P1 quality to finish washing and be moved into its own soaking tank.
The soaking tank can hold the coffee for several hours, but the water is changed frequently. Next, the coffee is moved to the drying tables, where it will be dried over the course of 10-14 days to a moisture content of around 11%. This stabilises the coffee. Too high moisture and you will have microbial growth and even risk mold. Too low, and the coffee will taste flat and papery.
Last year, as part of our 10th birthday we collected all the money from our coffee shops and gifted it to Kieni. They used it to construct a series of metallic drying tables and buy a moisture meter, to help measure the exact moisture level. Both things are a big help to Josphat's work. But still, it's impressive to see Josphat, with his many years of experience, bite into a green coffee bean and guess the moisture content within 0.4% accuracy. Experience goes a long way.
Besides spending time at the Kieni mill I also got to visit a bunch of the farmers, who deliver cherry to Kieni.
The first farmer was Paul Mugo Waithaka. He bought his farm 6 years ago and planted a lot of new trees. 1007 to be exact, which gave him around 2.600 trees in total over 7 acres, divided into 8 plots.
He chose to plant the newer Batian variety, as it's supposed to have the same decease fighting capabilities as Ruiru 11 but a higher taste quality closer to the SL's. One of his plots is kept with old SL28s that was here from the 1960s.
A new tree cost KSH 30 to buy and Paul gets it from a nursery at Barichu factory in Karatina. It's cheaper and easier to buy it there rather than building his own nursery and spending time on the seedlings.
Typically, he is getting 7 - 10 kg cherry per tree, which is decent, but he's hoping to get much more. 15 kg of pr tree shouldn't be too difficult. He's using manure and fertilizer to help improve his harvest yield. In October he uses a 17-17-17 NPK and in April 23-23-0, which is what has been recommended to him based on soil analysis. He also has several other trees providing shade for the coffee trees and foliage for mulching.
He has 11 pickers hired through the harvest season. A picker earns approximately KSH 300 pr day. That's only about US$ 3.00 for a whole day of picking coffee, and a stark reminder that coffee, in general, is too cheap and we should be paying more for our daily cup.
At the end of my visit to him I was invited for tea. Most of the farmers in Kenya don't drink coffee themselves, but rather drink tea. It goes back to colonial times, where the British colonialists made it illegal for Kenyans to roast or drink coffee. Paul, however, was an avid coffee drinker. Black, no sugar or milk. He usually buys his coffee at the local Central Kenya Coffee Mill in Mathira, where they sell a collection of all the ground cupping samples. It's better quality than the supermarket coffee (and freshly roasted and ground), but he also says it's expensive. So, he was very happy when I could gift him a bag of his own coffee, roasted in Copenhagen.
This method of grafting is seen all around Nyeri. Ruiru 11 is more resistant to deceases such as CBD and will produce more cherries than SL28. The downside is that it's by many regarded as inferior to the SL in flavour quality.
Grafting is a horticultural technique where tissue of different plants is joined and continue to grow together. The benefit is that the Ruiru can use the old and complex root structure of the SL, which is better at getting nutrients from the ground. It also means that at any time, the farmer can revert to the SL variety, simply by letting a new stem grow from the root.
Moffat Ngari Mwangi is one of the Kieni farmers. His father has been a coffee farmer there since the 1960s (before independence) and is still farming coffee at the age of 81.