Kenya Kirinyaga Washed
This classic Kenyan—enhanced with a complex acidity and lively structure—is produced with a focus on small farms, dedicated families and a focus on careful processing.
COFFEE GRADE: AB Fully Washed
VARIETY: SL28 & SL34
PROCESSING: Fully washed
ALTITUDE: Farmers – 1,500 to 1,900 meters above sea level; Washing station - 1,600 to 1,700 meters above sea level
SUBREGION/TOWN: Kerugoya and Kianyaga, Kirinyaga
History of Coffee
Despite sharing over 865 kilometers of border with Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, coffee had to circumnavigate the world before it set roots in Kenya. While the earliest credible reports place coffee in Ethiopia around 850 C.E., coffee was not first planted in Kenya until 1893 when French missionaries planted trees in Bura in the Taita Hills.
Under the rule of the British Empire coffee production geared for export expanded. Large, privately owned coffee growing estates were established and most harvests went to England in parchment, where it was sold to roasters prior to milling. Roasters often blended the bright flavors of Kenya with more chocolatey South American coffees.
Though large estates grew in hectare and value, indigenous Kenyans did not benefit. In fact, European settlers took direct action to exclude indigenous people from growing coffee themselves.
In order to decrease competition, make labor accessible and inexpensive and continue the increase of demand for high-quality coffee, the Coffee Board was created to make regulations on coffee production and marketing. The Nairobi Coffee Exchange (NCE) (which continues to this day) was established in Nairobi to leave more of the value of green coffee at origin.
The Coffee Board tightly controlled licensing for coffee growing and processing. While the laws put in place did not explicitly state that indigenous people could not grow coffee, large estate owners made it functionally impossible for indigenous farmers to attain coffee growing licenses until the 1950s.
These laws protected the interests of the large landowners. Not only could more cultivation drive down the price of Kenyan coffee, but large farmers feared that if smallholder and indigenous farmers had their own coffee farms to tend, they would not work as paid laborers on settlers’ farms.
Coffee in Kenya Today
Today, more than 600,000 smallholders farming fewer than 5 acres compose 99% of the coffee farming population of Kenya. Their farms cover more than 75% of total coffee growing land and produce nearly 70% of the country’s coffee. These farmers are organized into hundreds of Farmer Cooperative Societies (FCS), all of which operate at least one factory. The remainder of annual production is grown and processed by small, medium and large land estates. Most of the larger estates have their own washing stations.
Most Kenyan coffees are fully washed and dried on raised beds. The country still upholds its reputation for high quality and attention to detail at its many washing stations. The best factories employ stringent sorting practices at cherry intake, and many of them have had the same management staff in place for years.
Of the 1,500+ active members contributing cherry to Gakuyuini Washing Station, over a quarter (670+) are women. Together, they harvest around 250 tons of cherry and deliver it to the station each year.
The station is owned and managed by the Thirikwa Farmers’ Cooperative Society. The cooperative is led by 5 democratically elected board members.
Farmers delivering cherry to Gakuyuini typically own less than 1 hectare each. On this small plot, they cultivate both subsistence and cash crops to support their families throughout the year. Each farmer has about 250 coffee trees on average and their trees are typically intercropped with their other crops.
While low yields might mean less profit, many farmers are embracing specialty coffee cultivation as a way to increase the value of each cherry picked.
Farm labor is usually entirely provided by family members, which can often make maintaining specialty cultivation and picking practices easier. Many of the farmers also grow tea, maize and legumes to consume or sell at local markets for additional cash income.
Harvest & Post-Harvest
Farmers hand pick ripe cherry and deliver it to the Gakuyini mill for processing the same day. At the mill, cherry sorting is carried out prior to pulping and ripe cherries are separated from underripes, overripes and foreign matter.
The mill uses clean river water for its processing and recirculates the water before disposing of it in seepage pits. The coffee is then dried in the sun on raised beds before it's delivered to the dry mill for secondary processing.
Farmers selectively handpick ripe cherry and deliver it Gakuyuini Washing Station. Cherry is sorted at intake where under- and over-ripes, along with any foreign matter, are removed.
Sorted cherry is then added to the hopper and pulped. Pulped cherry is fermented for 12 to 16 hours and then washed with clean water to remove any remaining mucilage. While parchment is drying on raised beds, wet parchment is sorted and any damaged beans that remain are removed. It is turned regularly to ensure even drying and covered at the hottest part of the day and during evenings to prevent cracking and/or condensation. Drying time is usually around two weeks, depending on the weather at the time.
Kenyan coffees are classified by size. AB beans are those that are between screen size 15 and 18 meaning that beans are between 6 and 7 millimeters in size.