Kenya Gathaithi Farmers Cooperative Society Microlot
Altitude: 1,220 – 2,300 m.a.s.l.
Variety: SL-28, SL-34, Ruiru 11, Batian
Tasting Notes: blackcurrant, nectarine, brown sugar
Kenyan coffees are the crown jewel of the specialty coffee industry because of the complexity and refinement of their flavour profiles. Flavours can run the gamut from punchy citrus, to bright blackcurrant and plum, zingy pineapple and passionfruit, sweet caramel and chocolate, and even savory tomato. This particular microlot is intensely plummy, with blackcurrant fruit, brown sugar sweetness, and a cola note reminiscent of the Tanzania Lunji Estate we recently sold out of. For us, it was love at first taste.
Gathaithi Farmers Cooperative Society has 1,100 active members who collectively farm about 143 hectares of land. Today, most coffee in Kenya is produced by smallholder farmers who deliver their cherry to a local washing station (or factory, as washing stations are known in Kenya), but this wasn’t always the case. When the country was a British colony coffee was produced mostly on large estates. All coffee Kenyan coffee was sold and controlled by the market in London. At the time, Britain used Kenyan farms to corner both the tea (already a Kenyan staple crop) and coffee markets worldwide.
In 1933 the Kenyan Coffee Board was established, which brought the sale of coffee back to Nairobi, and established the Nairobi Coffee Exchange (N.C.E.), a weekly auction that is still in use today. Kenya gained independence in 1963 and land reforms redistributed land from European landowners back to native Kenyan smallholders. Today, more than 75 percent of the coffee farmers in Kenya own less than 3 hectares, and around 80 percent of farmers are of Kenyan, not European, descent.
Kenyan coffees fetch some of the highest prices in the coffee industry partly because of the way coffee is sold there. Every week agents representing cooperatives list their available lots in a catalogue for exporters to bid on. The auction system can drive prices up for the highest quality, most sought after lots. Alternatively, coffee buyers can approach agents outside the auction system to contract coffee—this is called the “second window” and it’s how this coffee was bought.
Claudia Bellinzoni, the coffee buyer from Cafe Imports had this to say about the experience: “Kenya is very different from every other origin I [buy from]. The main challenge is to fly there as soon as the coffee is ready to cup, and cup thousands of samples, and commit immediately, ‘I will buy,’ or ‘I will not buy,’ because you are surrounded by other buyers.” In just over a week’s time, she might cup 1,000–1,400 coffees, make split decisions about lot sizes and price.
For us as roasters, the high price tag for this coffee is absolutely justified. It’s a once-a-year splurge we look forward to. We’re thrilled to be able to show our customers how spectacular a cup of coffee can be with this microlot.
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