We’re excited to launch this year’s Kenyans. Admittedly, they’ve been delayed this year, mainly due to the worldwide shipping situation, where containers are in short supply and shipping vessels hard to book. Good thing we always have all our Kenyan coffee vacuum-packed at origin immediately after sorting.
This year we cupped through all of the different outturns from Kieni. To explain what an 'outturn' actually is, you can think of it sort of as a micro lot. But where a micro lot will usually denominate a specific field from a farm, a single variety selection or a specific processing type, the outturns from Kieni are separations based on picking time.
You see, Kieni is a cooperative of around 1,000 members. Each of these members is a small-scale farmer, who owns anywhere between 100 and 4,000 trees, that they grow, nurture and pick themself (maybe with hired help for picking). They deliver their fresh-picked coffee cherries three times a week to Kieni during the primary harvest season which spans from October to December.
The picking days are determined by the 'factory manager' - at Kieni this is Josphat Muriuki – and could for example be Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
In Kenya, the wet mill (or washing station) is referred to as a 'coffee factory'. When the cherries are delivered, they are de-pulped and fermented overnight. The next morning they are washed thoroughly and then put out for drying on raised tables for about 12 days.
Depending on the amounts coming in, the factory manager will assemble smaller lots or 'outturns', from these different picking days. In some factories each outturn can be from one week, in others it can be several weeks together.
The different qualities, which are separated during processing are also kept apart, so lower quality won’t be mixed with the better coffees. And if there was a problem with a certain picking day, for example, if the de-pulper broke down and there’s a risk the coffee is over-fermented, the manager can also keep that coffee aside, so it won’t risk ruining the quality of a larger outturn.
It really is up to the factory manager to determine how these day pickings are bulked together to create an outturn.
When the coffee is delivered to the Dry Mill each outturn is assigned a unique identifying number, which follows that coffee all the way to our roaster.
This year Kieni had about 2.5 times the amount of last year coming in. A really good harvest for the farmers. This also meant there were many more outturns to choose from.
Due to our long-standing relationship with Kieni, spanning over 13 years, and due to us paying higher prices than anyone else for the coffee, we are allowed first picks of all their outturns. This actually means that Kieni won’t sell any of their coffee before we’ve had a chance to cup through all the outturns and select ours.
This is a huge advantage for us, as it gives us a first-hand impression of their entire quality range, and of course exclusivity on some of the best outturns in Kenya.
Naturally, this also means we must act fast when the outturns have come in, so we don’t delay their opportunity to sell to other buyers. But we are very open with Kieni that they are free to sell to anyone they please, and also to try to get higher prices.
So far, they’ve never had better offers than ours and also appreciate the long-term business rather than someone buying one outturn for just one year. The long-term relationship is what provides stability and has also meant that Kieni is among the highest paying cooperatives in all of Kenya year after year. Again this year, they were the highest paying in the Nyeri region.
This year we cupped through 14 different outturns from Kieni, and each of these is then separated into different sizes - AA, AB, and PB are the ones we cupped, but there are also lower quality separations. Out of those we bought 5 different AA outturns and 3 AB outturns.
The AA is what we’re releasing on 250 g bags, and we roast one outturn at a time. The variance between each outturn is super small but sometimes detectable.
Unfortunately, we can’t mark the outturn numbers on the bags, as that’s logistically difficult, and for the majority of consumers completely irrelevant. Although if you’ve followed this far, you’d probably be curious now. I can say that all the outturns are from the middle to the end of the harvest. Sometimes the early outturns are also good, but this year we thought these particular 5 outturns really stood out.
The flavour profile of Kieni is very much exactly what I love about Kenyan coffee: A deep, juicy acidity first and foremost. There’s really nothing that rivals the lush acidity of a truly great Kenyan. But the very best also has a rich sweetness, to complement the acidity. Blackcurrant and blackberries are the cornerstones of Kenyan aromas, and although many coffees are lacking them these days, Kieni still has an abundance of them. The best outturns also have a floral note to complement the fruit and berries.
And under all of it is a super soft and pleasant mouthfeel. Some would call it creamy or oily. Yes, I’m painting a good picture of the taste and aroma profile, but honestly, I think this type of coffee is so interesting, as that complexity means I never get bored with drinking it. I hope you’ll find it as pleasurable as I do.
Again this year, Kiangoi really stood out on the cupping table. Kiangoi is part of the Rung’eto society, which was formed in 1997. It is one of the most well-managed cooperative societies in Kenya, and as such, they’ve been consistently getting some of the highest prices in Kenya in recent years. All due to great quality.
We visited Kiangoi for the first time this past November, after having had their coffee on the menu for almost a full year (due to Covid, we couldn’t visit sooner).
We met up with: Kenneth Njeru - factory manager, Davis Muchira - chairman of Kiangoi, and George Njogu - farmer and board member.
Upon visiting it struck us how many beautiful metal drying tables they have at the Kiangoi factory. The fermentation tanks and washing channels are all tiled, which makes cleaning and maintenance easier.
They have CC TV for protection against theft, digital scales and a smart, digitized weighing and reporting system for farmers, including text messages for delivered amounts of the coffee cherry. Other than that, it’s pretty much your traditional Kenyan cooperative. Many smallholders deliver cherry to the washing station (factory) from the nearby area.
It's situated in Kirinyaga county right at the border to Embu county in the East, and just south of Mount Kenya, which is clearly visible. In fact, the huge supplies of water coming into the area, of which they use some for washing their coffee, is from Mount Kenya.
The area is super hilly and immensely beautiful. Red soil everywhere, and mostly old SL trees, especially the rootstock on which some farmers have grafted Ruiru 11. Newer plants are usually Batian. But from the flavour, I suspect something like 80% of this coffee is still SL28 and SL34. However, no one honestly knows.
The taste profile of Kiangoi is different to Kieni. Not as sweet maybe, but a more defined acidity, slightly lighter than Kieni, with rhubarb and raspberries in the nose. We get an intense aroma of gooseberries and citrus with light floral rose notes.
But I think it’s an amazing chance to showcase two different 'terroirs' from Kenya – that Kenyan coffees are also different. They both share high acidity, clean cup profile, sweetness, low bitterness etc. But they differ especially in aroma, mouthfeel and how the acidity is perceived.
The Kiangoi will be released a couple of weeks after Kieni. And then we’ll get an AB lot from Kii (sister-factory to Kiangoi in the Rung’eto society) at a later stage. But we’ll save that one for now and concentrate on these two killer double-A's for now. Enjoy!